Obama defends interim Iran nuclear deal

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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.

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.

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.