Historic deal with Iran seen as blocking path to a nuclear weapon

The foreign ministers of the P5+1 and Iran stood for a group photo at the United Nations building in Vienna on Tuesday after the announcement of a landmark deal.
The foreign ministers of the P5+1 and Iran stood for a group photo at the United Nations building in Vienna on Tuesday after the announcement of a landmark deal. AP

Six world powers reached a historic agreement with Iran allowing that nation to pursue a nuclear energy and research program but preventing Tehran from producing a nuclear weapon.

The agreement between the so-called P5+1 – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus Germany – and Iran was finally reached in the early hours of Tuesday in Vienna.

President Barack Obama hailed the deal in televised remarks Tuesday morning at the White House, saying the agreement would end the threat that Iran would one day have a nuclear weapon.

Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off,” he said.

In Vienna, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini said the deal would mean Iran’s nuclear program would be “exclusively peaceful. Under no circumstances will Iran seek or seek to develop any nuclear weapon.”

“It’s not only a deal, it’s a good deal,” she said.

She noted that the deal represented a “shared commitment to peace” and a new chapter in international relations between Iran and the rest of the world.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to condemn the agreement. He called it “a bad mistake of historic proportions.” He referred to the deal as “the most crucial issue of the State of Israel’s future and security.”

“Far-reaching concessions were made in areas that were supposed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” he said. “Iran will receive hundreds of billions of dollars, with which it can fuel its terror machine and pursue its aggression and terror in the region and the world.”

In its condemnation, Israel had an odd ally, Saudi Arabia. Speaking to Al Jazeera, a Saudi researcher, Mansour al Marzouki, said, “A nuclear deal with Tehran, from the Saudi perspective, means two things: Iran will have the ability to improve its economic standing, and the capability to create a nuclear weapon – since the deal will only take effect for a relatively short period of time, 15 years, and will not destroy Iran’s technical capabilities to maintain a nuclear program.”

In a round of phone calls, Obama contacted both critics and supporters of the deal. Among those leaders, the White House said, were French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, all of whom he thanked for their work. Among those questioning the agreement with whom he spoke were Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates.

The deal resolves the thorniest issues that had appeared to stall the talks in recent days: access to Iran’s military facilities, the ability of the world to determine the possible past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, and the timing of the lifting of sanctions against a nation that had been, for the most part, isolated internationally.

The deal came after a total of 12 years of discussions and 20 months of intense negotiations. The final meeting in the negotiating process ended at 1:16 a.m. in Vienna.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was at that meeting with the P5+1 representatives at the elegant Palais Coburg hotel, just as earlier in the evening he had been in final meetings involving Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and, after that, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Under the terms of the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, will be responsible for arranging for and carrying out inspections aimed at determining any “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s past nuclear program.

Yukiya Amano, the IAEA director general, on Tuesday issued a statement on a parallel agreement that he had signed with Ali Akbar Saleh, the Iranian vice president and head of the Atomic Energy Organization. Amano said he was confident his agency would be able to complete an assessment of any so-called PMD – possible military dimensions – by Dec. 15. He said the agreement was “a significant step forward towards clarifying outstanding issues.”

The agreement, he said, “sets out a clear sequence of activities over the coming months, including the provision by Iran of explanations regarding outstanding issues.”

Those explanations include “the issue of Parchin,” a particularly controversial Iranian military base known to have been used for missile research.

There was immediate condemnation of the deal from some camps.

“This is a ‘junior varsity’ foreign policy grounded in childlike optimism,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Obama said the agreement was not built on trust but verification and 24/7 access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. Negotiators insist the deal is a meticulously detailed document, laid out in 159 pages, including at least 40 pages listing companies and individuals against whom sanctions are to be lifted.

Among the highlights, taken from the accord’s text:

– “Iran will begin phasing out its IR-1 centrifuges in 10 years. During this period, Iran will keep its enrichment capacity at Natanz at up to a total installed uranium enrichment capacity of 5060 IR-1 centrifuges. Excess centrifuges and enrichment-related infrastructure at Natanz will be stored under IAEA continuous monitoring.”

These sentences reflect the accord’s limits on the size of Iran’s nuclear program. Speaking in Vienna, Kerry noted that without the agreement, Iran could have expanded to 100,000 centrifuges. Currently, Iran operates about 19,000 centrifuges.

– “Based on its long-term plan, for 15 years, Iran will keep its level of uranium enrichment at up to 3.67%.”

A bomb requires uranium that’s been enriched to 90 percent. Iran at this time has stores of uranium enriched to about 20 percent. The accord foresees uranium with no more than 3.67 percent purity.

– “Iran will convert the Fordow facility into a nuclear, physics and technology center.”

Fordow is an underground facility near the city of Qom where Iran enriches uranium. There are currently about 2,700 centrifuges at the facility. The accord would turn it into a research facility.

– “During the 15-year period, Iran will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kg (640 pounds) of up to 3.67 percent enriched UF6 or the equivalent in other chemical forms.”

This section is a major portion of the Obama administration’s talking points. Administration officials note that at this time, Iran could “break out” or enrich enough uranium to build 10 bombs within two months. The reduction in the stockpile, combined with the decrease in ability to enrich, will move the so-called “breakout” time back to a full year. At this time, Iran has stockpiled 10,000 kg (22,000 pounds) of low-enriched uranium.

– “Iran will allow the IAEA to monitor the implementation of the above voluntary measures for their respective durations, as well as to implement transparency measures. . . . These measures include: a long-term presence in Iran; IAEA monitoring of uranium ore concentrate produced by Iran from all uranium ore concentrate plants for 25 years; containment and surveillance of centrifuge rotors and bellows for 20 years; use of IAEA approved and certified modern technologies including on-line enrichment measure and electronic seals; and a reliable mechanism to ensure speedy resolution of IAEA access concerns for 15 years, as defined in Annex I.”

This lays out the level to which the IAEA will have oversight of the Iranian program.

– “Iran will not engage in activities, including at the R&D level, that could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device, including uranium or plutonium metallurgy activities.”

This simply is a statement that Iran will not even research how to make a nuclear weapon.

Obama, who threatened to veto any congressional effort to block the agreement, warned that no deal would mean “no lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.” He said killing the accord would make it more likely that other countries in the region would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, “threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.”

The deal attracted immediate praise from peace organizations.

Tariq Rauf, a former IAEA verification director who now heads the nonproliferation program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, called the deal “the most significant multilateral nuclear agreement in two decades.” He went on to note that it was such a momentous agreement that it “seals the award of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize” to Kerry and Zarif.

Paul Kawika Martin, of the Peace Action group in Washington, also hailed the accord. “This agreement will keep Iran at least a year away from having the fissile material needed to make a crude nuclear weapon for at least 10 years,” he said. “Without an agreement, that timeline shrinks to three months and the threat of war increases dramatically.”

But praise was hardly universal. In New York, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, while noting that his group hadn’t seen all the details of the deal, said Iran shouldn’t be trusted.

“Tehran has a long history of misleading the world,” he said in a statement. “Iran has in the past failed over and over again to live up to its treaty obligations. It has maintained secret military sites. I fear we may have entered into an agreement that revives the Iranian economy but won’t stop this regime from developing nuclear arms in the long term, which would have disastrous consequences for the entire region and the world.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in a statement called the deal “another Munich,” a reference to the pre-World War II international conference that many historians say paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s aggression across Europe.

“It is not the first time in history that Western leaders would be fooled by tyrants,” the statement said, asserting that the accord “confirms Iran as a threshold nuclear power.”

Schofield reported from Berlin, Clark from Washington.

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