Major world powers reached an agreement with Iran early Sunday morning in Geneva, producing an interim deal that would roll back the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for limited sanction relief.
According to the terms of the deal, Iran has agreed to open itself up to more and greater inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency, while halting the installation of any further centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Tehran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent will be diluted, and construction at the heavy water reactor in Arak will be halted. Progress at Arak, which will be able to produce plutonium when fully operational, was a key concern left unresolved at the last round of talks.
In exchange, according to the White House fact sheet on the interim deal, the so-called P5+1 — the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia — will provide “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” relief from sanctions to Iran. This will include the release approximately $4.2 billion of Iranian funds currently being held and suspending sanctions on “gold and precious metals, Iran’s auto sector, and Iran’s petro-chemical exports” to the tune of approximately $1.5 billion. Embargoes against Iranian oil, banking institutions, and other financial sanctions will remain in place during the six month period the deal covers.
President Barack Obama addressed the nation shortly after the deal was first announced, aimed at relaying to the public the implications of the deal. “Ultimately, only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said. “Today, we have a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement, and I believe we must test it.”
“Huge challenges remain ahead,” Obama warned of the difficulty that will be seen in producing a final deal. “But through strong and principled diplomacy, the United States of America will do our part on behalf of a world of greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations.”
Republicans have already begun to denounce the agreement, many before the details were fully released. “It’s amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) tweet. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), one of the leading hawks on Iran, said in a statement that the deal “appears to provide the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure.”
As part of the deal, the international community has also agreed to not impose any new sanctions on Iran during the window of negotiations for a lasting deal. Congress has been pressing the administration for more and greater sanctions on Iran, even as the White House insisted it required space to conduct negotiations. The Senate was due to begin consideration of further sanctions after the Thanksgiving break, a less likely prospect given Sunday’s deal.
Secretary of State John Kerry sought to warn Congress during his remarks from Geneva, denouncing those who would “put on more pressure, turn the screws” in the hopes of a total surrender from Iran. “They too bear a responsibility,” Kerry said of those who would denounce the deal, “and that is to tell people what the better alternative is.”
The past five days’ worth of talks were the second round in less than a month, after previous negotiations fell just short of producing a deal. This round was initially due to be held only at the level of political director. Then on Friday, beginning with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, the foreign ministers of the negotiating parties began to arrive in Geneva. While talks at times seemed threatened, the P5+1 managed to finally reach an accord with Iran around 3:30 in the morning local time.
The deal was first announced on the Twitter account of the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. That was soon echoed on the Twitter of Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif. “We have reached an agreement,” Zarif’s tweet read.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a stalwart opponent to the prospect of an interim deal, has reportedly referred to the agreement as a “bad deal.” Netanyahu and Obama are scheduled to speak on Sunday on the developments.
The Associated Press reports that the U.S. and Iran “secretly engaged in a series of high-level, face-to-face talks over the past year, in a high-stakes diplomatic gamble by the Obama administration that paved the way” for the agreement reached in Geneva.