- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2015

President Obama and other world leaders on Thursday hailed what they said was a breakthrough accord setting the stage for a historic agreement that will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, even though Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium under the agreement and the schedule for easing international sanctions remains to be negotiated.

After 12 years of deadlock over Iran’s disputed nuclear activities — and a sleepless marathon of negotiations in Switzerland over the past week — Iranian and Western diplomats said the final terms of a 15-year phased deal will be hammered out and signed by all sides this summer.

An ebullient Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s top negotiator, hailed the agreement reached in Lausanne as a “win-win” for both sides.

In Washington, Mr. Obama said that “if this framework leads to a comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies and our world safer.”

Even as critics on Capitol Hill and Israel pointed out shortcomings and omissions in the deal, Mr. Obama told reporters in the White House Rose Garden that Iran agreed to dramatically limit the scope of its nuclear program and committed to “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.”

“It is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives,” the president said.

If it leads to a final deal, he said, the framework negotiated by top diplomats from the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran will “cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.”

Skeptics were out in force by Thursday night, and a fact sheet that the State Department circulated to reporters showed a clear gap between the president’s rhetoric and the terms of the agreement by Washington and its allies.

In a concession indicating that Western negotiators believe the Islamic republic ultimately will build a nuclear bomb, the fact sheet suggested that the agreement’s bottom line is simply to slow the speed at which Iranian scientists can pursue such a goal if they violate terms of the agreement.

The amount of time it would take Iran to “break out” with enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon is “currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months,” the State Department document said. If the deal is finalized, “that timeline will be extended to at least one year, for the duration of at least ten years.”

All sides agree that the nuclear agreement will not resolve a host of bilateral problems that have poisoned U.S.-Iranian relations for decades, including Iran’s support for insurgent proxies in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, its suspected support of terrorist groups and even Tehran’s refusal to release three Americans — a Christian pastor, a journalist and a former U.S. Marine — who are being held in Iranian prisons.

Fate of sanctions unclear

On a separate front, uncertainty loomed over the process by which Iran will achieve its top objective in the talks: an end to crushing international economic sanctions, including the global embargo on Iranian crude oil, that the Obama administration helped organize in recent years to force Tehran to the bargaining table.

The State Department fact sheet said only that sanctions relief will occur if and when Iran “verifiably abides by its commitments” under a final deal. No specific timeline was identified, leaving open the possibility that sanctions could be lifted rapidly or could continue for years after a final deal is signed.

The sanctions issue is believed to have been bitterly divisive as the nuclear talks continued past the negotiators’ self-imposed March 31 deadline and one that may cause Mr. Obama significant problems with Congress.

Iran’s Mr. Zarif at first acknowledged to reporters that sanctions would be lifted only after inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have verified Iranian compliance with the terms of a final deal.

But Thursday night, Mr. Zarif took to Twitter to assert: “There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on.” The main point, he said moments later, is that the sanctions will be lifted.

The White House said late Thursday that Mr. Obama personally briefed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Saudi officials — who are deeply skeptical of any agreement with Tehran — on the details of the accord.

Mr. Netanyahu, who addressed a joint session of Congress last month lobbying against a deal with Iran, was not assuaged.

“A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu declared in a statement after the president’s call.

In an ironic twist, the lack of clarity on sanctions could help Mr. Obama sell the deal in Washington, where Republicans and some key Democrats in Congress have been threatening to do everything in their power to keep the sanctions in place.

The unexpected extent and specificity of the deal, after multiple reports that negotiators in Lausanne were at loggerheads, appeared to give some critics pause as they tried to digest the details.

“If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, who is pushing a bill to require congressional review of any final deal before Mr. Obama can lift sanctions.

Other Republicans were offering negative reviews of the deal.

“Iranian leaders will now find a nuclear weapon dangerously within reach,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “If this deal moves forward, the consequences for the U.S. and our allies in the region will be dire.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was more generous. “While important details still need to be worked out,” he said, the framework accord shows “a negotiated resolution of Iran’s nuclear program may be possible.

Congress must ensure that its actions do not preclude reaching an acceptable agreement or be seen as scuttling a peaceful path to ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” Mr. Schiff said.

‘Decisive step’

The agreement was first announced by European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Mr. Zarif, who appeared together at the site of negotiations in Switzerland.

With diplomats from the so-called P5+1 group — the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members, plus Germany — behind them, the two read out a joint statement hailing what they called a “decisive step” after more than a decade of negotiations.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the lead U.S. negotiator, acknowledged that the deal remains preliminary but stressed that “the parameters that we have agreed to will do exactly what we set out to do: make certain that all pathways to make enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon have been cut off.”

Explaining the deal, U.S. officials said Tehran has agreed to reduce the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges it operates by roughly two-thirds, from an estimated 19,000 to roughly 5,000. The remaining centrifuges will be allowed to continue with only low-level enrichment good for civilian nuclear power use over the coming 10 years.

U.S. officials also said Tehran agreed to trim its uranium enrichment to a level of 3.67 percent for at least 15 years and committed to reducing its stockpile of about 10,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to 300 kilograms for 15 years.

Iran also has agreed to halt all uranium enrichment at its heavily fortified underground Fordow nuclear facility, although the facility will be allowed to remain as a nuclear, physics and technology research center, the officials said. Critics noted that even Mr. Obama has questioned why Iran needed the secretive Fordow facility if it was not interested in obtaining a bomb.

According to the State Department fact sheet, Iran’s enrichment activities will be confined to the Natanz facility roughly 200 miles south of Tehran, where enrichment activities also will be curtailed.

The document said Iran has agreed to enrich uranium using only its first-generation IR-1 model centrifuges at Natanz for 10 years — removing roughly 1,000 advanced IR-2 model centrifuges from the facility and placing them in “IAEA monitored storage for ten years.”

At the same time, Tehran will allow IAEA inspectors “regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow,” the department said.

Iran appears not to have agreed to surprise inspections, a provision that many critics demanded.

A combative Mr. Obama strongly defended the accord and challenged his congressional critics to offer a better alternative if they were prepared to scuttle the deal on offer.

“If Congress kills this deal not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative, then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy,” Mr. Obama said. “International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide