Monday 19 March 2018

Obama: 'Historic' Iran framework could make world safer

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, uses his mobile phone while standing at a window of the hotel as the Iran nuclear talks continue, in Lausanne, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Keystone,Jean-Christophe Bott)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, uses his mobile phone while standing at a window of the hotel as the Iran nuclear talks continue, in Lausanne, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Keystone,Jean-Christophe Bott)

U.S. President Barack Obama said a framework agreement reached at talks in Switzerland on Iran's nuclear program is "a good deal" that would, if fully implemented, prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and help make the world safer.

Speaking at the White House Rose Garden, Obama said he would talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - a fierce critic of an Iran deal - as well as U.S. congressional leaders later on Thursday, and had already spoken with Saudi Arabia's King Salman.

"It is a good deal," Obama said.

"This is the best option," he added, especially when compared to military action.

Obama, who delayed a scheduled trip to Kentucky and Utah to make the statement after negotiators announced the agreement, addressed critics of the talks with Iran and acknowledged that the framework deal alone would not erase distrust between the Washington and Tehran.

"Today, the United States, together with our allies and partners, has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama said.

"If this framework leads to a final comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies and our world safer," he said.

The framework agreement would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon, Obama said as he sought to sell the deal to the American public and U.S. lawmakers.

"Iran will face strict limitations on its program, and Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history. So this deal is not based on trust. It's based on unprecedented verification," Obama added.

Obama said there was always the possibility that Iran would try to cheat on the deal.

"If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it. Iran's past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed," Obama said.

Reading out a joint statement, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini hailed what she called a "decisive step" after more than a decade of work.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif followed with the same statement in Farsi.

US secretary of state John Kerry and the top diplomats of Britain, France and Germany also briefly took the stage behind them.

In Lausanne, Switzerland, Mr Kerry said in a tweet that there was agreement "to resolve major issues on nuclear program. Back to work soon on a final deal". He was expected to brief reporters later.

Ms Mogherini said the seven nations would now start writing the text of a final accord. She cited several agreed-upon restrictions on Iran's enrichment of material that can be used either for energy production or in nuclear warheads.

Crucially for the Iranians, economic sanctions related to its nuclear programmes are to be rolled back after the UN nuclear agency confirms compliance.

Mr Zarif told reporters the agreement would show "our programme is exclusively peaceful, has always been and always will remain exclusively peaceful", while not hindering the country's pursuit of atomic energy for civilian purposes.

"Our facilities will continue," he said. "We will continue enriching, we will continue research and development." He said a planned heavy water reactor will be "modernised" and that the Iranians would keep their deeply buried underground facility at Fordo.

"We have taken a major step but are still some way away from where we want to be," Mr Zarif said, calling Thursday's preliminary step a "win-win outcome".

Israeli leaders, deeply concerned about Iran's intentions, were much less positive.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a final agreement "must significantly roll back Iran's nuclear capabilities and stop its terrorism and aggression".

Ms Mogherini said Iran's heavy water reactor would not produce weapons-grade plutonium and that Fordo would not be a site for enrichment of uranium, which can be used for nuclear weapons.

The officials spoke following week-long talks that were twice extended past a March 31 deadline for a preliminary deal.

Although the US pushed for concrete commitments, the Iranians insisted on a general statement of what had been accomplished. Negotiators worked concurrently on documents describing what needs to be done for the final agreement.

The US and its five partners want to curb Iran's nuclear technologies so it cannot develop weapons. Tehran denies such ambitions but is negotiating because it wants economic sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme to be lifted.

Washington, in particular, faces strong domestic pressure. Critics in Congress are threatening to impose new sanctions over what they believe is a bad deal taking shape and the Obama administration needed to make as many details public as possible to sell the merits of its diplomatic effort.

The final breakthrough came after a flurry of overnight sessions between Mr Kerry and Mr Zarif, and meetings involving the six powers.

Mr Obama heralded the framework nuclear understanding with Iran as an "historic" agreement that could pave the way for a final deal that would leave the US, its allies and the world safer.

Speaking from the White House, Mr Obama said the agreement "is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives".

He said verification mechanisms built into the framework agreed to in Switzerland hours earlier would ensure that "if Iran cheats, the world will know it".

Mr Obama has invested significant political capital in the nuclear negotiations. The talks have strained the US relationship with Israel, which sees Tehran as an existential threat, and deepened tensions with Congress.

One of Mr Obama's toughest challenges will be convincing politicians to hold off on legislation that would authorise new sanctions on Iran.

He said his administration would fully brief Congress on the diplomatic efforts, which he called "our best option by far".

Press Association

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