Iran and world powers reached an outline accord that keeps them on track to end a decade-long nuclear dispute, allowing three more months to nail down differences and reach a final settlement.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini hailed a “decisive step” in the 18-month process. Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced the accord at a press conference late Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland, venue for more than a week of talks that missed their original deadline and often stretched into overnight sessions.
President Barack Obama said the result of their work was an “historic understanding” that will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. “If Iran cheats the world will know it,” though so far it has “met all its obligations,” Obama said in televised remarks. He said Congress will be fully briefed.
The accord will set a schedule for Iran’s enrichment of uranium, limit it to a single site and allow international monitoring over the next quarter-century. It will extend the “break-out” period that Iran would need to obtain nuclear weapons to more than a year. The U.S. and European Union will lift the economic sanctions that have crippled the Islamic Republic’s economy once inspectors verify its compliance.
“This is a deal that both sides can take back home and defend,” said Ali Vaez, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, who attended the talks. “The Iranians are getting what they wanted in terms of sanctions relief and are offering more in terms of nuclear access that they had said publicly.”
‘Back to Work’
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Twitter that diplomats will get “back to work soon on a final deal.” That will be the last step in the quest to bring Iran back into the international fold, and cap the risk that tensions over its nuclear plans may escalate into war. Mogherini said she’s confident it can be achieved by the end of June.
Oil extended declines on Thursday as the talks neared their climax. Brent crude fell 4.4 percent to $54.57 a barrel at 2 p.m. in New York, near a two-week low. A settlement with Iran may add additional supply to world markets, where a glut has already seen oil prices drop by about half since June last year.
Iran has the world’s fourth-biggest reserves, and curbs on crude sales have hit its economy. It’s not clear how long it will take for sanctions to be removed, one of the main differences that negotiators were seeking to overcome. Others concerned the amount of nuclear capacity Iran would be allowed to keep, and the nature of inspections.
Reaching an outline agreement that contains specific pledges may help President Barack Obama to persuade Congressional skeptics that progress had been made. Many U.S. legislators say they share Israel’s view that the emerging agreement won’t prevent Iran from making a nuclear weapon, while Iranian critics of the talks say too many concessions to the U.S. are being made.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter after the accord’s announcement that the final deal must “significantly” curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities and halt its “terrorism” and “aggression.”
The accord would extend the “break-out” period for Iran to develop nuclear weapons technology to more than a year, whereas it’s “currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months,” the U.S. State Department said in a summary of the plan.
Mogherini and Zarif said the accord envisages ending uranium enrichment at the controversial underground Fordo complex, which will be converted into a center for advanced physics research with international participation.
Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years, and slash its stockpile of enriched fuel. It will redesign the heavy water research reactor at Arak with international assistance, and ship spent fuel out of the country.
The U.S. State Department said in its summary of the accord that the “architecture” of sanctions will stay in place for much of the deal’s duration “and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.”
Zarif said there are still “serious differences” to be resolved with the U.S., and there are no obligations until a final accord is reached.
Even so, the outline version announced Thursday is a “triumph for diplomacy,” the Crisis Group’s Vaez said. ‘This is the most complex work of diplomacy of the past three decades, as it involved legal, technical, geopolitical issues.’’
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