Iran and world powers seal landmark nuclear deal
Major powers and Iran struck a historic deal Tuesday aimed at restricting Tehran's nuclear programme, in return for sanctions relief, a diplomat close to the talks said.
The breakthrough came on the 18th day of marathon talks between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany in Vienna.
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The deal is expected to sharply curb Iran's nuclear programme and impose strict UN inspections in order to make any drive to make nuclear weapons all but impossible and easily detectable.
In return, the web of UN and Western sanctions choking Iranian oil exports and the economy of the 78-million-strong country would be progressively lifted.
The diplomatic push began when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013. In November that year an interim deal was agreed but two deadlines in 2014 for a lasting accord were missed.
Then in April, the parties scored a major breakthrough by agreeing the main outlines of an accord, aiming to finalise it by June 30, a deadline since pushed back twice.
Since April, legions of legal and technical experts have made great strides working out the nuts and bolts of how the highly ambitious and technical agreement will work.
Practically, the deal is about nuclear enrichment. Uranium can be enriched for energy, medicine and science purposes, as Iran claims are its goals. It can also be spun into material for a nuclear warhead.
However, the political and economic significance of the deal goes beyond nuclear technicalities.
Preliminary details of Iran Deal
Early reports on the deal reveal the following terms:
- All sanctions on Iran will be lifted at once in the first implementation phase.
- All Iranian nuclear facilities will remain in place, and none of them will be closed or dismantled.
- Uranium enrichment will remain at 3.67% rate for 15 years.
- Iran will keep 6104 centrifuges of IR-1 for 10 years.
- Ban on purchases of sensitive commodities and products of double usage will be facilitated through a joint commission of Iranian and P5+1 representatives.
- Conventional arms embargo on Iran will be lifted after 5 years of signing the deal. Embargo on ballistic missiles will be lifted in 8 years.
- Iran will be allowed to import "limited defensive arms" during the first five years.
- Iran's Arak heavy water reactor to remain intact, possibly modernised and equipped with latest technology.
- If Iran breaches deal, sanctions "snap-back" is within 65 days.
- Iran is recognised by the international community as a state with a peaceful nuclear programme.
- Iran will be selling its enriched uranium and heavy water in the global markets.
- Bans on Iran Central Bank, shipping, oil industry and trade, as well as many other trade companies, will be removed.
The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will monitor Iran's nuclear facilities and have access to the programme's entire supply chain.
International inspectors can examine uranium mines and mills, and maintain continuous surveillance of Iran's centrifuge rotors and storage facilities. Moreoever, IAEA will be allowed to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of covert nuclear work.
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Selling the deal to hardliners
The US president will have a hard time selling the deal to the opposition in the Senate and the Congress. The Senate can weigh in, but voting "no" won't kill the deal, because President Obama doesn't need congressional approval for a multinational deal that is not designated a treaty.
Now that negotiations dragged on past July 9, lawmakers have 60 days to review the agreement, during which Obama can't ease sanctions on Iran - even if it showed commitment.
If lawmakers were to build a veto-proof majority behind new legislation enacting new sanctions or preventing Obama from suspending existing ones, the administration would be prevented from living up to the accord.
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On the other side, Iran's hardliners, backed by Khamenei and a history of anti-US sentiment, will examine the deal for any sign of "humiliating" concessions. And groups largely beyond the government's control, such as the Revolutionary Guard Corps, may not be keen to implement the requirements.
For instance, as diplomats were sealing the deal in Vienna, one of Iran’s most outspoken hardliners has issued a controversial statement about the future of US-Iran hostilities.
Speaking on Iranian television on July 11, Mohsen Rezaee, secretary to the Expediency Council, said, "if Americans have bad intentions towards Iran and want to launch a military attack, they can be assured that we will immediately respond by capturing at least 1000 of their soldiers. Then, they will have to pay a few billion to free each one of them. That might solve our economic problems."
Yet, over the past month, Revolutionary Guards commanders, and the media arm of the Guards, Sepah News, have adopted a relatively gentler tone towards the United States. It is a departure for Iranian hardliners, who regularly speak out against US politicians, particularly regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
On the international stage, Israel has aggressively lobbied against any deal with Iran, a country described by the Israeli prime minister as "the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world". Pro-Israel lobbies are grounding their opposition on claims that such a deal would pave the way for a future Iranian nuclear arsenal.
Israel has threatened for years to attack nuclear sites if it feels the Iranians are getting too close to weapons capacity. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has appealed directly to Congress to maintain sanctions pressure on Iran.
The Saudis, similarly, say they'll do whatever it takes to guarantee their security. Along with the other Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia is particularly concerned about Iran recouping up to $100 billion in blocked assets overseas, and funneling some of that money into insurgencies and terrorist activity throughout the Middle East.
The Saudis have been coy on whether they may start a nuclear enrichment programme to match Iran's capabilities in response to an agreement. France has recently announced its readiness to build two nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia.
Many other state and non-state forces will try to influence the sunstainability of the deal. The trust built over years of political negotiations between Obama's administration and Rouhani's delegation will be severely tested now that a deal has been reached and the opposition - in both countries - examines the terms.
Despite the complexity of the agreement, media outlets across the world will attempt to decode the 100-page document in order to call a victor.
Beyond the media war, the triumph of diplomacy over force brings hope for a region desperate for diplomatic solutions to its increasingly complex conflicts.