Six world powers and Iran reached an agreement limiting Tehran’s progress toward building a nuclear bomb early Sunday. The breakthrough represents the first successful diplomacy between Iran and the United States in three decades.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave details on the agreement in a speech from Geneva, where negotiations took place. Per the deal, Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond a concentration of 5 percent, and it will dilute all of its enriched uranium over the next six months. It will also stop constructing new enrichment facilities and give inspectors daily access to key enrichment sites. In return, international powers will unlock $4.2 billion in proceeds from Iran’s oil sales and loosen sanctions on some imports and exports.
Kerry emphasized Iran will remain subject to sanctions that will cause it to lose an estimated $25 billion in oil revenues over the next six months.
Uranium enriched to a concentration of 5 percent is not strong enough to make a nuclear weapon. But with its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium, experts estimated Iran could have achieved nuclear status within 30 days.
Critics of the deal said it did not go far enough because it still allows uranium enrichment activities in Iran, albeit at a lower concentration. “Numerous UN Security Council resolutions have called for the full suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities, so it is troubling that this agreement still permits the Iranians to continue enriching,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement late Saturday.
Other conservatives went further with their criticism, accusing the Obama administration of capitulating to an unreliable and extremist regime.
“This agreement shows other rogue states that wish to go nuclear that you can obfuscate, cheat, and lie for a decade, and eventually the United States will tire and drop key demands,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement.
Another major critic of the deal is Israel, a key U.S. ally and sworn enemy of Iran. In response to the deal, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is responsible for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, said there was no reason for the world to be celebrating. He said the deal was based on “Iranian deception and self-delusion.”
President Barack Obama addressed the nation shortly after the deal was announced Saturday evening in the United States. He emphasized that this agreement was a first step toward a larger dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program, a statement Kerry echoed. Obama also called on Congress to halt recent threats to place new sanctions on Iran. Last week six Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced an amendment to a defense spending bill to clamp down on oil proceeds Iran held in overseas bank accounts. Other Republicans in the Senate, including Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a critic of the Geneva negotiations, indicated last week that they would hold off on new sanctions until after Thanksgiving, when the outcome of the Geneva negotiations would be apparent.
Today’s consensus came after nearly a decade of inconclusive international efforts to halt Iran's expanding nuclear program. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes and not aimed at building nuclear weapons.
The agreement built on the momentum of the dialogue opened during September’s annual UN gathering, which included a 15-minute phone conversation between Obama and Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani. The negotiations in Geneva included Iran and the United States, plus representatives from Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany. The Associated Press revealed last night that the United States and Iran secretly engaged in high-level, face-to-face talks at least three times over the past year.
The high-stakes diplomatic gamble by the Obama administration paved the way for the historic deal sealed early Sunday in Geneva aimed at slowing Tehran’s nuclear program. The discussions were kept hidden even from America’s closest friends, including its negotiating partners and Israel, until two months ago.