The U.S. and five other world powers reached an agreement with Iranian leaders early Sunday in Geneva to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for a gradual easing of economic sanctions.
The announcement followed an intensive diplomatic push by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and five foreign ministers to close the deal curbing Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons program. But as the parties moved toward an agreement in recent days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed deep skepticism that Iran would abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Late Saturday night at the White House, President Obama said the tentative pact will "cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb."
"While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal," Mr. Obama said. "For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back. Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment, and neutralizing part of its stockpile. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges—which are used for enriching uranium."
Mr. Obama said the U.S. and its partners will not proceed with new sanctions that would scuttle the deal.
"Ultimately only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution," the president said. "Now is not the time to move forward on new sanctions – doing so would derail this promising first step, alienate us from our allies, and risk unraveling the coalition that enabled our sanctions to be enforced in the first place."
The agreement is aimed at freezing Iran's nuclear program for six months while offering the Iranians $7 billion in relief from crippling economic sanctions. If the six-month interim deal holds, the parties would negotiate final-stage agreements to ensure Iran does not build nuclear weapons.
In return for Iran agreeing to increased international inspections of its facilities, the U.S. and its partners will suspend sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran’s auto sector, and Iran’s petrochemical exports, potentially providing Iran about $1.5 billion in revenue.
The Associated Press reported that the tentative deal does not recognize Iran's oft-asserted right to produce enriched uranium, a necessary ingredient for nuclear weapons. Iran cannot increase its crude oil sales in the next six months, the White House said.
The deal between the Islamic state and the U.S., France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was nailed down after more than four days of negotiations.
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the independent Arms Control Association Washington, said the framework agreement "will verifiably freeze progress in all areas of acute concern regarding Iran's nuclear program" while allowing for increased international monitoring in exchange for "limited, reversible sanctions relief.
The agreement "deserves the full support of the international community and the U.S. Congress," he said.
The Iranians, mindful of opposition to any restrictions among hard-liners back home, had been insisting on retaining the right to produce nuclear fuel by enriching uranium, saying they need it to produce electricity and for scientific research.
Leaders in the U.S. Senate had put a clock on the talks by announcing plans to enact further sanctions against Iran as soon as next month. The White House on Friday had asked lawmakers to continue giving U.S. and international negotiators the “space” they need to bring a deal to the finish line.
Diplomacy was stepped up after the landslide election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as Iranian president in June, replacing bellicose nationalist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Western powers' goal had been to cap Iran's nuclear energy program, which has a history of evading U.N. inspections and investigations, to remove any risk of Tehran covertly refining uranium to a level suitable for bombs.
Tehran denies it would ever "weaponise" enrichment.
-- This article is based in part on wire-service reports.
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