Iran and six major world powers including the EU reached a nuclear deal today (14 July), capping more than a decade of on-off negotiations with an agreement that could potentially transform the Middle East.
Under the deal, sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations would be lifted in return for Iran agreeing long-term curbs on a nuclear program that the West has suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb.
Reaching a deal is a major policy victory for both US President Barack Obama and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist elected two years ago on a vow to reduce Iran’s diplomatic isolation.
Both men face scepticism from powerful hardliners at home after decades of enmity between countries that referred to each other as “the Great Satan” and a member of the “axis of evil”.
Final talks in Vienna involved nearly three weeks of intense round-the-clock negotiations between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Western diplomats said under the final agreement, Iran had accepted a “snapback” mechanism, under which some sanctions could be reinstated in 65 days if it violated the deal. A UN weapons embargo would remain in place for five years and a ban on buying missile technology would remain for eight years.
“All the hard work has paid off and we sealed a deal. God bless our people,” one Iranian diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
But hostility to the agreement from Washington’s closest ally in the Middle East was immediate.
Netanyahu denounces ‘historic mistake’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the agreement reached as a historic mistake and said he would do what he could to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons. Many of the restrictions that were supposed to prevent it from getting there will be lifted,” Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders in Jerusalem.
“Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world. This is a bad mistake of historic proportions.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini are expected to read a joint statement, diplomats said.
The deal will still face scrutiny by the US Congress, controlled by opposition Republicans who are skeptical of the Obama administration’s overtures to a country that has been an enemy since Iranian revolutionaries stormed the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.
US allies in the region, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, are also worried about an agreement that would benefit Iran.
Tehran does not recognize Israel and supports its enemies. Arab states ruled by Sunni Muslims, particularly Saudi Arabia believe Iran supports their foes in wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
But there is also strong reason for the United States to improve its relations with Iran, as the two countries face a common foe in Islamic State, the Sunni Muslim militant group that has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq.
For Iran, the end of sanctions could bring a rapid economic boom by lifting restrictions that have drastically cut its oil exports and hurt its imports. The prospect of a deal has helped push down global oil prices because of the possibility that Iranian supply could return to the market.