The U.S. and other world powers struck a historic deal with Iran on Tuesday to curb Iranian nuclear programs in exchange for relief from crushing international sanctions, an agreement that sparked dancing in the streets of Tehran, alarm in Israel and vows of a showdown in Congress with President Obama.
After 18 days of intense and often fractious talks, negotiators in Vienna announced that they had reached an agreement designed to avert the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and another U.S. military intervention in the Muslim world. The pact included late concessions by the Obama administration granting Tehran the right to object to international inspections of Iranian military sites and left unanswered questions about Iran’s past nuclear weapons activities.
Mr. Obama hailed the deal as a step toward a “more hopeful world,” and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said it marked “a new chapter” in his nation’s relations with the world. British Prime Minister David Cameron said it “will help to make our world a safer place.”
Israel said it would try to stop what it called a “historic surrender.”
In Congress, the announcement touched off objections from Republican lawmakers and some Democrats who said the deal doesn’t call for the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities and doesn’t meet Mr. Obama’s stated goal of forcing Iran to submit to inspections “anytime, anywhere.”
Congress now has 60 days to review the agreement, and the president has said he would veto any effort to unravel the deal. Even some opponents of the agreement conceded that Republicans would be unlikely to muster enough votes to override a veto and stop the accord.
The agreement quickly became a test in the presidential race, with Republican candidates lining up against it and some, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, calling on Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton to repudiate the deal. Mrs. Clinton, a former secretary of state under Mr. Obama, said as president she would be “absolutely devoted to assuring the agreement is followed.”
Critics pointed out that the negotiations failed to resolve the issue of three Americans who have become Iranian prisoners: Christian missionary Saeed Abedini, journalist Jason Rezaian of The Washington Post and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the U.S. “will continue to work for their safe and their swift return.”
In Tehran, young Iranians danced in streets and motorists honked their horns upon hearing news of the accord. Some people blew South African-style vuvuzela horns like those heard at the World Cup.
The accord marked a dramatic break from decades of animosity between the United States and Iran, countries that have called each other the “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and “the Great Satan.” Mr. Obama has been pushing for the agreement for years as the capstone of his diplomatic legacy, after he rallied international partners to keep economic sanctions in place to force Iran back to the negotiating table.
“This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction,” Mr. Obama said in an early-morning address at the White House that was carried live on Iranian state television. “We should seize it.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement a “bad mistake of historic proportion” that will give Iran a “sure path to nuclear weapons.” He said pointedly that Israel isn’t bound by the deal.
“Wide-ranging concessions were made in all of the areas which should have prevented Iran from getting the ability to arm itself with a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “The desire to sign an agreement was stronger than everything else.”
Mr. Kerry, who led the U.S. negotiating team, called Mr. Netanyahu’s criticisms “way over the top.”
“Israel is safer” as a result of the accord, Mr. Kerry said on MSNBC. “This is under attack by people who really don’t know the terms of the agreement.”
Mr. Obama tried to assure Mr. Netanyahu in a phone call that the agreement is verifiable and “will remove the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran,” the White House said.
The negotiating has been a major source of tension between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu for years, building up to the Israeli’s address to Congress in March that wasn’t sanctioned by the White House.
Several Jewish-American groups came out Tuesday in opposition to the deal. The Simon Wiesenthal Center likened it to the Munich agreement in 1938 that made concessions to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has depended on Iran’s support while waging a brutal civil war, praised the agreement and suggested that the lifting of sanctions against Tehran would result in more aid for his regime.
“We are confident that the Islamic Republic of Iran will support, with greater drive, just causes of nations and work for peace and stability in the region and the world,” Mr. Assad said in a congratulatory message to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, published by state news agency SANA.
Saudi Arabia’s state news agency said the kingdom warned Iran not to use money resulting from the lifting of sanctions to incite turmoil in the region. The Saudi Press Agency said Tehran must use the funds in the service of the Iranian people.
Mr. Obama dismissed skeptics who argued that Iran will cheat. He said the deal all but eliminates the possibility that Tehran could rebuild a covert nuclear weapons program.
“Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off,” Mr. Obama said. “This deal is not built on trust. It is built on verification.”
Ensuring Iran’s compliance will be a far-reaching job. The agreement calls for Tehran to reduce its number of uranium-enriching centrifuges from about 19,000 to 6,000, cut its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent and convert its heavy-water plutonium reactor at Arak to use for research instead of bomb-making.
Iran currently has enough nuclear material to build at least 10 bombs, if it is enriched further to weapons grade.
The limits on centrifuges will be in place for 10 years, then gradually relaxed over the next three. Iran also commits to using only its current models, rather than more advanced centrifuges it hoped to install.
Iran committed to convert its Fordo enrichment site — dug deep into a mountainside and thought impervious to air attack — into a research center. The site will still house centrifuges, but they will make medical isotopes instead of enriched uranium. There will be less than one-tenth as many of these centrifuges as there originally were.
The agreement also calls for Tehran to give more access to its nuclear program to the U.N. nuclear agency. If that agency identifies a suspicious site, an arbitration panel with a Western majority will decide whether Iran must give inspectors access within 24 days. All sites, including military ones, may be inspected if the agency has solid evidence of undeclared nuclear activity.
Mr. Kerry said the deal “will bring insight and accountability into Iran’s nuclear program.”
“This is the good deal that we have sought,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that the agreement “also gives us the greatest assurance that we have had that Iran will not pursue a weapon covertly.”
Under the deal, all U.S. and European Union nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended — likely beginning in a few months — after inspectors have verified that Iran is adhering to its commitments. If Iran fails to fulfill its obligations, those sanctions could “snap back” into place, although critics say such an effort to rebuild international consensus to reimpose economic penalties is unlikely.
An arms embargo against Iran will stand for five years, and restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile programs for eight years.
Mr. Obama said the failure to reach an agreement would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. He asked Congress to “consider what happens in a world without the deal.”
“We give nothing up by testing whether or not this problem can be solved peacefully,” Mr. Obama said. “No deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East. No deal means no lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. The world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, was among the lawmakers speaking out against the agreement, calling it “unacceptable.”
“If, in fact, it’s as bad a deal as I think it is at this moment, we’ll do everything we can to stop it,” Mr. Boehner said.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who led 47 Republican senators in writing to Iran’s leaders to warn against a deal, called the agreement “a terrible, dangerous mistake.”
Supporters of the pact included Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who said it “offers a verifiable, diplomatic resolution to one of our most pressing national security challenges.”
Mr. Obama said he welcomed “robust debate” by lawmakers over the deal, but he vowed to veto any effort to kill it.
“I will remind Congress that you don’t make deals like this with your friends,” Mr. Obama said. “I am confident that this deal will meet the national security interests of the United States and our allies. So I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.”
The president cautioned lawmakers not to engage in a reckless escalation of rhetoric against Iran.
“We do not have to accept an inevitable spiral into conflict, and we certainly shouldn’t seek it,” Mr. Obama said. “Precisely because the stakes are so high, this is not the time for politics or posturing. Tough talk from Washington does not solve problems. Hard-nosed diplomacy, leadership that has united the world’s major powers, offers a more effective way to verify that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.”
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.