VIENNA (AP) â€” Overcoming decades of hostility, Iran, the United States, & five other world powers struck a historic accord Tuesday to check Tehran's nuclear efforts short of building a bomb. The agreement could donate Iran access to billions in frozen assets & oil revenue, stave off more U.S. military action in the Middle East & reshape the tumultuous region.
The deal sets in motion a years-long test of Iran's willingness to keep its promises to the world â€” & the ability of international inspectors to monitor compliance. It moreover sets the White House up for a contentious fight with a wary Congress & more rocky relations with Israel, whose leaders furiously opposed the agreement.
Appealing to skeptics, President Barack Obama declared that the accord "offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it."
p>Under terms of the deal, the culmination of 20 months of arduous diplomacy, Iran must dismantle much of its nuclear program in order to secure relief from biting sanctions that have battered its economy. International inspectors can now press for visits to Iran's military facilities, though access is not guaranteed. Centrifuges will keep spinning, though in lesser quantities, & uranium can still be enriched, though at lower levels.
In a key compromise, Iran agreed to continuation of the U.N.'s arms embargo on the country for up to five more years & ballistic missile restrictions for up to eight years. Washington had sought to keep the arms ban in place, while Russia & China joined Iran in pushing for an immediate suspension.
On the streets of Tehran, Iranians honked their horns & celebrated in the city's main square. President Hassan Rouhani said a "new chapter" had begun in his nation's relations with the world, even as he denied Iran had ever pursued a nuclear weapon.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, second right, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, second left, an …
While the U.S. partnered in the talks with Britain, France, Germany, Russia & China, the decades of tensions between the U.S. & Iran put the two countries at the forefront of the negotiations. A U.N. Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks were private, said the United States will circulate a draft resolution at the council Wednesday to authorize the agreement.
Whether the nuclear rapprochement will spark a broader thaw is unclear. Nearly 40 years after Iran's Islamic revolution & the hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the country's hardliners remain hostile toward Washington. The U.S. & its allies moreover have deep concerns approximately Iran's support for terrorism in the Middle East & its detention of several American citizens.
With key restrictions on Iran's nuclear program required for only a decade, opponents of the deal say it simply delays Tehran's pursuit of the bomb. Critics moreover say Iran will use new wealth from sanctions relief to double-down other destabilizing activities in the region.
Iran stands to receive more than $100 billion in assets that have been frozen overseas & benefit from an end to various financial restrictions on Iranian banks. Iran could moreover sell more oil, bringing down crude prices.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lobbied unceasingly against a deal, called it a "stunning historic mistake" & warned that his country would not be bound by it. Netanyahu strongly hinted that Israeli military action to destroy Tehran's nuclear program remains an option.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, sitting fourth left, briefs French journalists at the Palais …
Obama & Netanyahu, who have long had a rad relationship, spoke by phone Tuesday. White House officials said Obama moreover called King Salman of Saudi Arabia, one of the many Sunni Arab rivals of Shiite Iran who have expressed concerns approximately the deal.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans accused Obama of making too many concessions. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said lawmakers "will fight a offensive deal that is wrong for our national security & wrong for our country." GOP presidential hopefuls moreover panned the deal, some vowing to scrap it if elected to succeed Obama.
Obama did obtain a crucial show of support from Hillary Rodham Clinton, his former secretary of state & the likely Democratic presidential nominee. She praised the deal as an significant step toward "putting the lid on Iran's nuclear program."
Clinton's support could donate some Democratic lawmakers more confidence in standing with Obama as he tries to hold off congressional efforts to disrupt the deal. Congress has 60 days to review it & can try to prevent Obama from waiving sanctions on Iran as promised in the negotiations.
The president reiterated that he would veto any legislation aimed at upending the agreement. Defending it, he said, "No deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gestures as he sits next to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hamm …
The deal comes after years of international diplomacy that until recently were defined by failure. Breaks in the talks sometimes lasted for months, & Iran's nascent nuclear program expanded into one that Western intelligence agencies saw as only months away from weapons capacity. The U.S. & Israel both threatened military action.
Obama took office in 2009 promising to keep the door open for greater engagement with Iran, even as he ratcheted up economic sanctions. In 2012, he authorized secret talks that helped lay the groundwork for the formal negotiations that stretched over the past two years.
The final weeks were marked by marathon meetings in Vienna, three blown deadlines & threats by top American & Iranian diplomats to walk away.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who did most of the bargaining with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said persistence paid off. "Believe me, had we been willing to settle for a lesser deal we would have finished this negotiation a long time ago," he said. Kerry returned to Washington late Tuesday after his longest mission as the top U.S. diplomat.
The breakthrough came after several key compromises.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif waves to journalist from a balcony of the Palais Cobur …
Iran agreed to a continuation of the arms embargo for up to five more years, though it could end earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency clears Iran of any current work on nuclear weapons. A similar condition was put on U.N. restrictions on the transfer of ballistic missile technology to Tehran, which could last for up to eight more years, according to diplomats.
Washington had sought to maintain the ban on Iran importing & exporting weapons, concerned that an Islamic Republic flush with cash from sanctions relief would expand its military assistance for Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, Yemen's Houthi rebels, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah & other forces opposing America's Mideast allies such as Saudi Arabia & Israel.
Another significant agreement will allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits to Iranian military sites as part of their monitoring duties, something Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has opposed. However, access isn't guaranteed & could be delayed, a condition that critics of the deal are sure to seize on.
Under the accord, Tehran would have the right to challenge U.N requests, & an arbitration board composed of Iran & the six world powers would then decide. The IAEA moreover wants to complete its long-stymied investigation of past weapons work by Iran, & the U.S. says Iranian cooperation is needed for all economic sanctions to be lifted.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Tuesday his agency & Iran had signed a "roadmap" to resolve outstanding concerns, hopefully by mid-December.
Julie Pace reported from Washington. AP writers Bradley Klapper, Josh Lederman, Darlene Superville & Connie Cass in Washington, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Josef Federman in Jerusalem & Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.
Source: “Associated Press”