Sunday 22 October 2017

Obama hails 'safer world' after Iran nuclear deal

EU representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the UN in Vienna after the deal was sealed
EU representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the UN in Vienna after the deal was sealed
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
President Barack Obama, standing with Vice President Joe Biden, conducts a press conference in the East Room of the White House in response to the Iran nuclear deal

David Blair in Vienna

The United States and Iran overcame years of mistrust and rivalry to reach an agreement designed to settle the confrontation over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

President Barack Obama hailed a step towards a "safer and more secure" world as Iran formally promised to curb its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared: "The prayers of our nation have been answered and we now stand at a historic juncture."

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the deal a "stunning historic mistake", saying that the lifting of sanctions would give Iran "hundreds of billions of dollars with which it can fuel its terror machine and its expansion and aggression throughout the Middle East".

After 18 days of fraught negotiations in Vienna, the US and Iran defused a crisis that began more than a decade ago and threatened a new war in the Middle East.

A 159-page agreement spells out how Iran will constrain its nuclear programme, notably by placing two thirds of its centrifuges in storage and exporting almost its entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

The measures will place Iran at least a year away from being able to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb. Securing the 12-month "breakout" time was Washington's essential condition for a deal.

Once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has taken these and other steps, the Islamic Republic will be relieved of US and EU economic sanctions.

As such, a country with 75 million people and some of the biggest energy reserves in the world is set to break out of isolation. The sanctions are expected to be terminated in about six months.

"This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change, change that makes our country and the world safer and more secure," said Mr Obama.

The US had "negotiated from a position of strength" and secured an agreement that blocks every Iranian "pathway to a nuclear weapon", added Mr Obama. He promised that inspectors would verify Iran's compliance, saying: "Put simply, the IAEA will have access where necessary and when necessary."

In return, the US and its allies will lift sanctions, although some measures - notably a United Nations arms embargo - will remain for at least five years.

The detail of the agreement stirred some unease. All but 6,000 of Iran's 19,500 centrifuges will be placed in storage, but this restriction will expire after 10 years. Meanwhile, the US and its allies have conceded that Iran will be allowed to research and develop more advanced centrifuges, potentially giving Tehran the ability to reduce the "breakout" time once restrictions elapse.

The deal is the product of years of intensive diplomacy, including secret talks between US and Iranian officials in Oman in 2013, and scores of meetings between John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Over 18 days in Vienna, Mr Kerry and Mr Zarif met at least 23 times. Their officials, in the meantime, have spent hundreds of hours together.

Mr Kerry insisted: "This is the good deal that we sought. Believe me, had we been willing to settle for a lesser deal, we would have finished this negotiation a long time ago."

As well as restricting Iran's ability to enrich uranium, the agreement also enforces a redesign of the country's heavy water plant at Arak. This will make it impossible for Iran to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Mr Kerry gave warning that "if Iran fails in a material way to live up to its commitments" then sanctions "can and will snap back into place". He rejected the arguments of Mr Netanyahu and Republicans in Congress, who said sanctions should remain until Iran abandoned its nuclear programme.

"Sanctioning Iran until it capitulates makes for a good political speech, but it is not achievable outside of a world of fantasy," said Mr Kerry. The agreement offered a "stronger and more lasting means of limiting Iran's nuclear programme than any realistic alternative".

Congress will have 60 days to review the accord before passing a resolution either of approval or disapproval. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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