GENEVA — Iran and six major powers agreed early Sunday on a historic deal that freezes key parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporary relief on some economic sanctions, diplomats confirmed.
The deal was reached after four days of marathon bargaining and an eleventh-hour intervention by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and foreign ministers from Europe, Russia and China, the sources said.
The agreement, sealed at a 3 a.m. signing ceremony in Geneva’s Palace of Nations, requires Iran to halt or scale back parts of its nuclear infrastructure, the first such pause in more than a decade.
“We have reached an agreement,” Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said in a Twitter posting that was echoed by a separate posting by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The deal, intended as a first step toward a more comprehensive nuclear pact to be completed in six months, freezes or reverses progress at all of Iran’s major nuclear facilities, according to Western officials familiar with the details. It halts the installation of new centrifuges used to enrich uranium and caps the amount and type of enriched uranium that Iran is allowed to produce.
Iran also agreed to halt work on key components of a heavy-water reactor that could someday provide Iran with a source of plutonium. In addition, Iran accepted a dramatic increase in oversight, including daily monitoring by international nuclear inspectors, the officials said.
The concessions not only halt Iran’s nuclear advances but also make it virtually impossible for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon without being detected, the officials said. In return, Iran will receive modest relief of trade sanctions and access to some of its frozen currency accounts overseas, concessions said to be valued at less than $7 billion over the six-month term of the deal. The sanctions would be reinstated if Iran violates the agreement’s terms.
Speaking at the White House after the deal with announced, President Obama praised the negotiators. “We have pursued intensive diplomacy,” he said. “Today that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that’s more secure.” he said.
“For the first time in nearly a decade we have halted parts of Iran’s nuclear program.”
The agreement is a long-sought victory for the Obama administration, which from its earliest days made the Iranian nuclear program one of its top foreign policy priorities. The administration, helped by its overseas allies as well as Congress, achieved unprecedented success in imposing harsh economic sanctions that cut Iran’s oil exports in half and decimated the country’s currency. It was hoping to quickly finalize an agreement in the face of threats by Congress to impose additional economic sanctions on Iran.
The deal is also a victory for Kerry, who traveled to Geneva twice in two weeks to participate in the negotiations.
Still, the agreement is likely to face heavy opposition from key allies — chiefly Israel and Saudi Arabia — as well as congressional skeptics who have demanded much greater concessions from Iran, including the dismantling of its enrichment program.
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