Iran nuclear deal: EU 'will lift sanctions in coming weeks'
EU could lift sanctions as early as December, French foreign minister says, as Obama reassures Israel over deal
The European Union would likely lift some sanctions on Iran in December, as part of a hard-won deal that curbs Tehran's nuclear programme, France's foreign minister has said.
Speaking on Europe 1 radio, Laurent Fabius said that EU foreign ministers would gather together in "a few weeks" to put forward a proposal to partially lift some sanctions, which the 28-member body will have to approve.
"This lifting of sanctions is limited, targeted and reversible," he said, adding that it would take place "in December".
Mr Fabius also said Israel - which called Sunday's agreement a "historic mistake" - was not likely to launch any preventative strikes on arch-foe Iran, "because no one would understand" such a move "at this stage."
US President Barack Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeking to reassure him of Washington's commitment to Israel.
Decades of bitter confrontation between Iran and America began to ease on Sunday when the leaders of both countries praised a landmark agreement designed to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The two rivals, who have lacked formal diplomatic ties for 34 years, reached a deal at 3am in Geneva on the fifth day of tumultuous negotiations.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, hailed yesterday's outcome as a “dramatic” first step that will halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear programme for six months, while a permanent agreement is sought.
President Obama hailed the deal as an “important first step”, saying it “opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure - a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear programme is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon”.
For his part, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, wrote a letter of congratulation to President Hassan Rouhani, praising the agreement as the “basis for further intelligent actions”, adding: “Without a doubt the grace of God and the prayers of the Iranian nation were a factor in this success.”
It was Mr Rouhani’s election in June on a promise of working with the West to ease the pain of severe sanctions that opened the door to diplomacy.
“This agreement benefits all regional countries and global peace,” he said. “Constructive engagement [in addition to] tireless efforts by negotiating teams are to open new horizons.”
President Vladimir Putin of Russia said: “As the result of talks... we managed to get closer to untying one of the most difficult knots in world politics.”
Russia is one of the so called P5 plus 1 - along with the US, China, Britain, France and Germany, that has negotiated with Iran.
However, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, denounced a “historic mistake”, saying: “Today the world became a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world made a significant step in obtaining the most dangerous weapons in the world”.
Israel has formed an unlikely alliance with Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, in opposing the deal. They have been united by shared concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran and the Tehran’s growing regional influence. Arabs, Israelis and more hawkish members of the US Congress have warned that Iran cannot be trusted to keep its side of a bargain.
President Obama called Netanyahu on Sunday to “reaffirm their shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
“Consistent with our commitment to consult closely with our Israeli friends, the president told the prime minister that he wants the United States and Israel to begin consultations immediately regarding our efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution,” deputy White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Tehran has built secret nuclear plants in the past, and may even possess unknown facilities where research or enrichment work could continue regardless.
There was a wary silence on Sunday from Riyadh, save for comments by Abdullah al-Askar, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council, a quasi-parliament that advises the government on policy.
“The government of Iran, month after month, has proven that it has an ugly agenda in the region,” he said.
Mr Kerry insisted the agreement “makes our partners in the region safer. It will make Israel safer.”
It would serve to “lock the most critical components of the nuclear programme into place”, he said.
Under the agreement, Iran will convert its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 per cent purity - one step away from weapons grade - into harmless oxide. It will also scale down the enrichment programme and freeze essential work on the Arak plutonium plant, which could provide another path to a nuclear weapons-capability. In addition, more intrusive monitoring of its nuclear plants by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will be allowed.
In return, America will ease sanctions and release about $7 billion for Iran - a sum equivalent to 1.4 per cent of its entire national income.
Experts believe these measures will stop Iran’s nuclear programme in its tracks, at least doubling the time the country would need to break out to build a nuclear weapon.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “It’s better than I thought it would be. I didn’t realise that the verification would be this extensive. It caps every aspect of their programme.”
He added: “They’re extending the time that Iran would need to breakout to build a nuclear weapon: they are at least doubling it, I would say. And if they hadn’t done this, the time needed would have halved. Instead of the Iranians halving the breakout time, it will double.”
The potential for difficulties as the parties negotiate a permanent settlement was shown by differing interpretations of the temporary deal offered by Mr Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister.
Addressing consecutive press conferences between 4.30am and 5.30am in Geneva, they appeared to contradict one another over the vital issue of whether their agreement recognises Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium.
Mr Zarif said that two references meant “this recognition is there - that Iran will have an enrichment programme”.
Mr Kerry, by contrast, said: “The first step does not say that Iran has a right to enrichment.”
The deal is a “first step” that will last for six months, by which time a permanent settlement is supposed to be negotiated. But critics point out that Iran signed interim nuclear agreements between 2003 and 2005, all of which fell apart when Tehran broke their terms.