Obama defends interim Iran nuclear deal

US President Barack Obama: "For the first time in a decade we have halted the progress on Iran's nuclear programme"

US President Barack Obama has defended a deal between Iran and world powers on Tehran's nuclear programme.

He acknowledged that obstacles remained but said "tough talk and bluster" did not guarantee US security.

The six-month interim deal struck in Geneva on Sunday saw Iran agree to curb some of its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

The accord has been generally welcomed but Israel's prime minister called it "a historic mistake".

Some US senators also criticised the deal as too soft on Iran and have threatened to press for fresh sanctions.

Behind the scenes

The nuclear deal with Iran almost didn't happen. A senior State Department official told the travelling press corps that Mr Kerry didn't have a definite sense of an agreement in Geneva until the early hours of Sunday.

During the day on Saturday, he felt there was a chance of a deal - as did many of us in the press corps talking to all sides. But when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's body language took a turn and his anxiety from Tehran's pressure became clear, Mr Kerry's hopes took a hit.

The US team continued to work, through the pasta dinners, pizza ordered after midnight and chocolates Mr Kerry had popped out to get for his family to hold them over.

The crucial meeting, the make-or-break moment, came at midnight. Mr Zarif, Mr Kerry and EU envoy Lady Ashton hashed out some - but still not all - of the issues. US officials are still staying mum about when exactly the final deal was struck.

Meanwhile, outside the negotiating rooms in the Hotel Intercontinental lobby, the world's press waited on the edge of our seats. We had two false alarms. First, the US delegation press corps were told to get ready to go to the centre where press conferences were held. The mood was grim - we were sure the talks had failed.

Then came a news alert citing an Iranian source saying the P5+1 had overcome their differences. Iranian officials denied a deal had been reached. Other sources told us to be ready for a long night.

The West has long suspected Iran's uranium enrichment programme is geared towards making a weapon, but Tehran insists it only wants nuclear energy.

A raft of sanctions has been imposed on Tehran by the UN, US and European Union.

"Huge challenges remain, but we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world's problems," Mr Obama said during an event in San Francisco.

"We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of violence, and tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it's not the right thing for our security."

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that an Israeli team led by national security adviser Yossi Cohen would travel to Washington for talks on the deal.

"This accord must bring about one outcome: the dismantling of Iran's military nuclear capability," he said.

He has warned that Israel "will not allow a regime that calls for the destruction of Israel to obtain the means to achieve this goal".

Israel has not ruled out taking military action to stop Iran developing the capability of a nuclear bomb.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says some EU sanctions on Iran could be lifted as early as next month.

Saudi Arabia - Iran's regional rival - cautiously welcomed the deal on Monday.

"This agreement could be a first step towards a comprehensive solution for Iran's nuclear programme, if there are good intentions," a statement said.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague also welcomed the Geneva accord, but said it was only a "first step".

"We are right to test to the full Iran's readiness to act in good faith," he told the House of Commons on Monday.

Start Quote

To cheers, he told the crowd that tough sanctions had led to a deal that for the first time in a decade would roll back key parts of Iran's nuclear programme”

End Quote

The US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany took part in the talks with Iran, hosted by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Under the deal which will last six months, Iran would receive some $7bn (£4.3bn) in "limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible [sanctions] relief" while a permanent agreement is sought.

In return, Tehran has agreed to a series of measures.

Key points of the deal include:

  • Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5% and "neutralise" its stockpile of uranium enriched beyond this point
  • Iran will give greater access to inspectors including daily access at Natanz and Fordo - two of Iran's key nuclear sites
  • There will be no further development of the Arak plant which it is believed could produce plutonium
  • In return, there will be no new nuclear-related sanctions for six months if Iran sticks by the accord
  • Some sanctions will be suspended on trading in gold and precious metals, on Iran's car-making sector and its petrochemical exports.
  • Frozen oil sale assets will be transferred in instalments, bringing in some $4.2bn (£2.6bn) of extra revenue

Iran's negotiators were welcomed at Tehran's Mehrabad airport by hundreds of cheering supporters carrying flowers and flags.

The agreement with Iran - the world's fourth-largest oil producer - prompted a fall in oil prices in early Asian trading with Brent crude falling by more than 2%.

Although Iran will not be allowed to increase its oil sales for six months, analysts say the deal is perceived by the markets as reducing risk in the Middle East.

In a nationwide broadcast on Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani repeated that his country would never seek nuclear weapons.

Mr Rouhani - regarded as a relative moderate - took office in August replacing the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The deal has also been backed by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in nuclear matters.

Key sanctions against Iran since 2006

Year United Nations USA European Union

Source: UN, US Treasury, AFP, United States Institute of Peace


Resolution 1737 bans supply, sale or transfer of materials that could be used for nuclear or ballistic weapons. Entities and individuals' assets frozen.

Trade between the two countries has been restricted since 1979.


Resolution 1747 bans Iran's arms exports, freezes assets and restricts travel of more individuals engaged in nuclear activities.


Resolution 1803 urges vigilance when dealing with Iranian banks. Introduces further asset freezes and travel bans.

US banks are further prevented from processing so-called "U-turn transfers" of money involving Iran.


No additional resolutions


Resolution 1929 imposes further restrictions on arms supply, including tanks and helicopters. More individuals and firms added to sanctions list.

Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment. Targets supply of fuel to Iran by non-US firms.

Bans technical assistance in oil sector. Restricts banks and adds names to UN travel ban list.


US tightens restrictions against foreign firms and financial institutions trading in the fuel sector.

Assets of 243 Iranian entities and about 40 individuals are frozen. More visa bans imposed.


Further sanctions against the oil sector and on banks accused of doing business with Tehran.

Bans Iran oil imports and freezes assets of the Iranian Central Bank. Further asset freezes and travel bans follow.


New sanctions on Iran's Rial currency and the automotive sector.

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