Original post from The Washington Post
President Obama announced that negotiators from Iran, the U.S. and other countries agreed to a framework for a final agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. (AP)
By Carol Morello and William Branigin
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Negotiators from Iran and major world powers reached agreement Thursday on a framework for a final agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions, an accord that President Obama hailed as a “good deal” that would make the world a safer place.
Participants in the talks said the sides, including the United States and its key European allies, would promptly start drafting a final accord to be completed by a June 30 deadline.
Obama, in an appearance in the White House Rose Garden shortly after the deal was announced, said the United States and its partners “reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
He said he was convinced that the deal would leave the United States, its allies and the world safer.
“It is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives,” he said. “This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.”
The key moments in the long history of U.S.-Iran tensions
He said Iran has agreed to “the most robust and intrusive inspections” ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history. Obama added: “If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it. Iran’s past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed.”
Seeking to head off what he called “inevitable” criticism, he asked whether anyone really thinks that the deal is “a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East.”
Warning that “our work is not yet done,” Obama said that “if there is backsliding on the part of the Iranians” and verification standards are not met, “there will be no deal.”
He offered assurances of “mutual respect” to the Iranian people, and he cited a fatwa, or Islamic religious edict, issued by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he declared that nuclear weapons are forbidden by Islam and renounced any intention by Iran to acquire them. “This framework gives Iran the opportunity to verify that its program is, in fact, peaceful,” the president said.
Obama also said he would personally assure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a forceful critic of the negotiations with Iran, that the accord is the best way to ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons. He said he would also “make clear our unshakable commitment” to Israel’s security.
[Transcript of President Obama’s remarks on Iran nuclear deal]
“Big day,” tweeted Secretary of State John F. Kerry. He said the European Union, the six major world powers and Iran “now have parameters to resolve major issues on nuclear program. Back to work soon on a final deal.”
Kerry later said in a news conference that if Iran violates the agreement, the sanctions can be “snapped back into place.”
He expressed hope that members of Congress would “give us the time and space” needed to fully explain the agreement.
“Today we have taken a decisive step,” said Federica Mogherini, the foreign policy chief of the European Union. “We have reached solutions on key parameters of a joint comprehensive plan of action.”
In a statement read to reporters, Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said Iran would limit the operation of uranium-enrichment centrifuges to one site — Natanz — and would convert its controversial Fordow enrichment site into a center for nuclear physics and technology research. The Fordow site, which Iran secretly built deep inside a mountain near Qom, had raised alarm because it was less vulnerable to attack if used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.
“There will not be any fissile material at Fordow,” Mogherini said in English. Zarif read the same statement in Farsi.
They also said that a heavy-water nuclear reactor at Arak would be rebuilt so that it could not be used to produce any weapons-grade plutonium. “There will be no reprocessing, and the spent fuel will be exported,” they said.
In return, nuclear-related sanctions against Iran will be terminated by the European Union and the United States, subject to verification that Iran is meeting terms of the agreement, the statement said.
A fact sheet distributed by the State Department said Iran agreed to reduce its installed centrifuges by approximately two-thirds — from about 19,000 today to 6,104 — with only 5,060 of them enriching uranium for 10 years. It said all 6,104 would be first-generation machines, not the more advanced ones that Iran has acquired.
The fact sheet said Iran further agreed not to enrich uranium above the level of 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. That level of low-enriched uranium is suitable as fuel for nuclear power plants — Iran’s stated rationale for enriching uranium — but not as fissile material for nuclear weapons, which require uranium enriched to about 90 percent purity.
Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kilograms (22,000 pounds) of low-enriched uranium to 300 kilograms (660 pounds) for 15 years, the fact sheet said.
[State Department fact sheet: Parameters of plan on Iran nuclear program]
The summary said Iran’s “breakout” timeline — the time it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material to build one atomic bomb, if it chose to pursue such weapons — would be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least 10 years, compared to the current assessment of two to three months.
The agreement calls for tightened monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that nuclear materials or components are not diverted to any secret weapons program.
The breakthrough came after an all-night session, followed by further talks a few hours later, in a last-ditch effort to get a preliminary agreement to constrain Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons in return for an easing of the sanctions that have severely crimped the Iranian economy.
“Found solutions. Ready to start drafting immediately,” tweeted Zarif. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani followed that up with a tweet from Tehran saying: “Solutions on key parameters of Iran #nuclear case reached. Drafting to start immediately, to finish by June 30th.”
“Good news,” said a tweet from Mogherini.
The German Foreign Ministry tweeted, “Agreement for framework for final agreement reached.”
The negotiators have been keeping the kind of hours usually reserved for college students cramming for exams, working double-overtime after pushing past their own self-imposed Tuesday midnight deadline.
Kerry and the top foreign envoys from Britain, Germany and the European Union were joined late Wednesday by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who had flown home to Paris earlier in the day but then returned unexpectedly.
Fabius is usually the one who takes the firmest stance on Iran’s nuclear program, frequently insisting that Iran must make many more concessions before an agreement can be reached.
But on his arrival, he sounded a slightly more optimistic note for the fate of this phase of talks, which aim to reach a preliminary agreement that will guide three more months of negotiations on complex and difficult issues revolving around nuclear technology.
“We are a few meters from the finishing line, but it’s always the last meters that are the most difficult,” he told reporters. “We will try and cross them. We want a robust and verifiable agreement, and there are still points where there needs to be progress, especially on the Iranian side.”
Iran’s chief negotiator, Zarif, sounding hoarse and sleep-deprived when he spoke briefly with reporters Thursday morning, said the negotiators would be doing an overview of the progress made so far.
At around 6 a.m. local time Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tweeted that the talks had recessed after the marathon all-night session but would resume after only a a short break.
The day’s first meeting then began five hours later — shortly before 11 a.m. — involving the full contingent of diplomats from Iran, the United States and its five negotiating partners, plus the European Union.
The U.S. State Department said late Wednesday that enough progress had been made in meetings between Kerry and Zarif to warrant continuing the tricky talks into Thursday morning. But the short period appeared to reflect lasting difficulties between the negotiators.
Iran and the six world powers, which also include Russia and China, had cited progress as a reason for abandoning their March 31 deadline for the basic understanding that would prepare the ground for a new phase of negotiations on a substantive deal.
[The big questions any nuclear deal with Iran would have to answer]
The talks appeared to be on ever-more-shaky ground as Wednesday elapsed. The White House said Iran had not made commitments about its nuclear program in the sessions Wednesday, and Iran’s foreign minister described negotiations with the West as “always problematic.”
Though the talks continued, Germany’s foreign minister said it was possible they could collapse.
“It is clear the negotiations are not going well,” two prominent Republican senators who have been wary of an agreement — John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) — said in a joint statement. “At every step, the Iranians appear intent on retaining the capacity to achieve a nuclear weapon.”
The Obama administration had sought a broad political framework for an agreement by Tuesday, with three additional months to negotiate the technical details. But a deadline that perhaps was intended to pressure Iran to make concessions came and went as the country’s representatives bargained hard. A temporary nuclear agreement with Iran remains in effect until June 30.
Diplomats and politicians sounded exasperated Wednesday, even as they acknowledged they were still exploring proposals to find a way out of their impasse.
In Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the talks were productive but that there were unresolved details. He said the United States would not arbitrarily end the negotiations if they were making progress, “but if we are in a situation where we sense that the talks have stalled, then yes, the United States and the international community is prepared to walk away.”
[Poll: Clear majority supports nuclear deal with Iran]
Zarif, Iran’s chief negotiator, was critical of his counterparts when he was approached by reporters as he strolled along the shores of Lake Geneva on Wednesday.
“I’ve always said that an agreement and pressure do not go together; they are mutually exclusive,” he said. “So our friends need to decide whether they want to be with Iran based on respect or whether they want to continue based on pressure. They have tested the other one. It is high time to test this.”
Earlier, speaking to Iranian reporters outside the Beau Rivage Palace, where talks are being conducted, Zarif sounded weary with the approach taken by the multiple negotiating teams on the other side of the table.
“The negotiations’ progress depends on political will,” he said, according to Iran’s Mehr News Agency. “The other party’s political will has always been problematic.”
The Obama administration and its negotiating partners sought an agreement that would sharply limit Iran’s ability to build nuclear weaponsfor at least a decade and maintain lesser restrictions in subsequent years. Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes. It is seeking the lifting of international sanctions that have battered its economy.
Before Thursday’s announcement in Lausanne, Netanyahu kept up his unrelenting criticism of an agreement with Iran.
“Yesterday, an Iranian general brazenly said, and I quote, Israel’s destruction is nonnegotiable. But evidently giving Iran’s murderous regime a clear path to a bomb is negotiable,” he said in a statement from Jerusalem.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who was visiting Israel on Wednesday with a congressional delegation, said in an appearance with Netanyahu: “Regardless of where in the Middle East we’ve been, the message has been the same: You can’t continue to turn your eye away from the threats that face all of us.”
The key moments in the long history of U.S.-Iran tensions………’