Iran nuclear deal: Mixed global reactions to Geneva accord

Israel and Western-allied Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia form an unlikely alliance in their opposition to the deal

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, right; EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, fourth from left; Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, fifth from left; and other members of the Iranian delegation. Nov. 24, 2013, in Geneva.
2013 AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu harshly condemned the international community's historic nuclear deal with Iran on Sunday, while Saudi Arabia remained conspicuously quiet, reflecting the jitters felt throughout the Middle East over Iran's acceptance on the global stage.

While most Gulf countries remained silent in the first hours after the deal was reached in Geneva, Netanyahu wasted little time in criticizing it, calling the deal a "historic mistake" and saying he was not bound by the agreement.

Speaking to his cabinet, Netanyahu said the world had become a "more dangerous place" as a result of the deal. He reiterated a long-standing threat to use military action against Iran if needed, declaring that Israel "has the right and the duty to defend itself by itself."

"Today the world became a much more dangerous place," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry disagreed with Netanyahu's appraisal, saying that Israel had been made safer by the deal.

"I believe that from this day, for the next six months, Israel is in fact safer than it was yesterday because we now have a mechanism by which we are going to expand the amount of time in which they (the Iranians) can break out (toward making a nuclear bomb)," he said. “We are going to have insights to their program that we did not have before.”

Sunday's agreement is the first stage of what is hoped to bring about a final deal ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. Iran has agreed to curb many of its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for limited and gradual relief from economic sanctions, while diplomats negotiate a more sweeping agreement.

The deal includes freezing Iran's ability to enrich uranium at a maximum 5 percent level, which is well below the threshold for weapons-grade material and is aimed at easing Western concerns that Tehran could one day seek nuclear arms. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will oversee Iran's compliance.

For Iran, keeping the enrichment program active was a critical goal. Iran's leaders view the country's ability to make nuclear fuel as a source of national pride and an essential part of nuclear self-sufficiency.

But Israel views any enrichment as unacceptable, saying that turning low-level enriched uranium into weapons grade is relatively simple. It demands that all enrichment be halted and that Iran's ability to produce uranium be rolled back.

In fact, Israel and Western-allied Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia have formed an unlikely alliance in their opposition to Sunday's deal, joined by shared concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran and the Tehran's growing regional influence.

Israel feels especially threatened by Iran, given Tehran's previous threats against Israel, its support for militant groups on Israel's borders and its development of long-range missiles. Nonetheless, Israeli President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, expressed cautious optimism that Sunday's deal could change the region.

"I would like to say to the Iranian people, you are not our enemies, and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles," he said.

Another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mohammed ElBaradei, Egypt's pro-democracy leader and a former IAEA director, welcomed the deal.

In a tweet on his official account, he wrote, "After decade of failed policies, world better off w/ Iran deal. Equity, trust building, respect & dialogue R key to any conflict resolution."

The muted response in the Gulf came after the rulers of Qatar and Kuwait met Saudi King Abdullah over the weekend to discuss regional issues, foremost among them Iran.

Bucking the trend, the tiny Gulf countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates praised the agreement.

"We welcome this agreement if it will (bring) the end of the fear of any weapons of mass destruction in the region," Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told reporters in Manama.

While in Palestine, Hamas called the deal a sign of Iran's rising power and prominence.

Across Europe, countries welcomed the deal. Britain and France, which participated in the negotiations, said they were committed to seeing the deal succeed, and Spain, Norway and Sweden expressed hope for a broader solution.

"The agreement represents an important step toward the normalization of relations between the international community and Iran and toward a general agreement that promotes stability and security in the region," the Spanish government said in a statement.

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, called it a significant advance in "providing assurances that guarantee the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government also participated in the talks, said the agreement vindicated Russia's calls for a diplomatic solution.

"The result of Geneva is a win for all, showing once again that by working collectively and with mutual respect, it is possible to find answers to current international challenges and threats," Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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