International

Deal reached on implementing Iranian nuclear agreement

The interim agreement between Tehran and six world powers to curb Iran's nuclear program will take effect Jan. 20

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva, Nov. 24, 2013.
Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Iran and six world powers reached an agreement Sunday on how to implement a short-term deal that was struck in November and gives the parties six months, beginning Jan. 20, to reach a long-term agreement about Iran’s nuclear program. 

The Islamic Republic will open its nuclear program to daily inspection by international experts, starting the clock on the six months to reach a final nuclear agreement. In exchange, Iran will get a relaxation of the economic sanctions that have been crippling its economy.

Senior officials from the European Union and Iran met in Geneva on Thursday and Friday to iron out remaining practical questions related to the implementation of the Nov. 24 deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its most sensitive nuclear work in return for some relief from Western sanctions.

Western powers suspect Iran has been trying to develop the ability to manufacture a nuclear weapon, but Iran has always said that its program is purely for civilian energy needs.

"Capitals have confirmed the result of the talks in Geneva ... The Geneva deal will be implemented from Jan. 20," Marzieh Afkham, spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Tehran, according to the state's semi-official Mehr news agency.

U.S. and E.U. officials also confirmed the date and said the sides would now ask the United Nations' nuclear watchdog to verify the deal's implementation.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi later told state television that some $4.2 billion in seized oil revenue would be released under the deal. Senior officials in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration put the total relief figure at $7 billion.

Under the November agreement, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent, the grade commonly used to power reactors. The deal commits Iran to halting production of 20 percent enriched uranium — which is only a technical step away from weapons-grade material — and to neutralize its 20 percent stockpile over the six months.

In exchange, economic sanctions that Iran faces will be eased for six months. During that time, the so-called P5+1 world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — will continue negotiations with Iran on a permanent accord.

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Obama said in a news release that the deal "will advance our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

"I have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve this objective, but for the sake of our national security and the peace and security of the world, now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed," he said.

E.U. negotiator Catherine Ashton also praised the deal, saying that "the foundations for a coherent, robust and smooth implementation ... have been laid." German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the deal "a decisive step forward which we can build on."

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that further negotiations "represent the best chance we have to resolve this critical national-security issue peacefully and durably."

The deal still faces potential roadblocks, however. 

Among them is a measure proposed by U.S. lawmakers to blacklist several Iranian industrial sectors and to bar banks and companies around the world from the U.S. market if they help Iran export any more oil. The provisions would take effect only if Tehran violated the interim nuclear deal or lets it expire without a follow-up accord.

This has caused anxiety in Iran, where hard-liners have called the deal a poison chalice and are threatening legislation to increase uranium enrichment. Araghchi has said any new sanctions would halt the deal.

In his news release, Obama said that "unprecedented sanctions and tough diplomacy helped to bring Iran to the negotiating table." But he cautioned against implementing more.

"Imposing additional sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully, and I will veto any legislation enacting new sanctions during the negotiation," he said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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