Iran nuclear plans reined in by breakthrough talks

An upbeat Barack Obama, flanked by vice'president Joe Biden, hails the landmark deal. Picture: AP
An upbeat Barack Obama, flanked by vice'president Joe Biden, hails the landmark deal. Picture: AP
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Iran, the United States and other world powers have struck a historic deal to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions.

In exchange, Iran will receive billions of dollars in relief from crushing international sanctions, in a move that will to help ease the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran hanging over the volatile Middle East.

The accord, reached after long, tense negotiations, marks a dramatic break from decades of animosity between the US and Iran, which have called each other respectively the “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and “the Great Satan”.

US president Barack Obama said in remarks shown live on Iranian state television yesterday: “This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.”

In Tehran, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said “a new chapter” had begun in his country’s relationship with the world.

He maintained that Iran had never sought to build a bomb, an assertion the US and its partners have long disputed.

Beyond the hopeful proclamations from the US, Iran and other parties to the talks, there is deep scepticism about the deal among some US politicians and Iranian hardliners.

Mr Obama’s most pressing task will be holding off efforts by the US Congress to levy new sanctions on Iran or block his ability to suspend existing ones.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, predicted the deal would embolden Iran and fuel a nuclear arms race around the world. It will be difficult for congressional Republicans to stop Mr Obama, however, because of his power to veto legislation.

Israel, which sees Iran as a threat to its existence, strongly opposes leaving the Islamic republic with its nuclear infrastructure in place, and Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement a “stunning historic mistake”.

Economic effects could be substantial for both Iran and the world.

In yesterday’s trading, benchmark US crude oil prices were down. Iran is an Opec member, but its oil production has been affected for years by sanctions over its nuclear programme.

Any easing of the sanctions could see Iran sell more oil, which could bring down crude prices.

Iran also stands to receive more than $100 billion (£64 billion) in assets that have been frozen overseas, and there will be an end to a European oil embargo and various financial restrictions on Iranian banks.

The nearly 100-page accord aims to keep Iran from producing enough material for an atomic weapon for at least ten years and imposes new provisions for inspections of Iranian facilities, including military sites.

The deal was finalised after more than two weeks of furious diplomacy in Vienna. Negotiators blew through three self-imposed deadlines, with top US and Iranian diplomats both threatening at points to walk away from the talks.

US secretary of state John Kerry, who did most of the bargaining with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said persistence had paid off.

“Believe me, had we been willing to settle for a lesser deal, we would have finished this negation a long time ago,” he said.

The breakthrough came after several key compromises.

Iran agreed to the continuation of a UN arms embargo for up to five more years, though it could end earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency definitively clears it of any current work on nuclear weapons.

A similar condition was put on UN restrictions on the transfer of ballistic missile technology to Tehran, which could last for up to eight more years, according to diplomats.

Washington had sought to maintain the ban on Iran importing and exporting weapons, concerned that an Islamic republic flush with cash from sanctions relief would expand its military assistance to Syrian president Bashar Assad’s government, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and other forces opposing America’s allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Iranian leaders, backed by Russia and China, insisted the embargo had to end as their forces combat regional scourges such as Islamic State.

The deal comes after nearly a decade of diplomacy that until recently was defined by failure, with breaks in the talks sometimes lasting for months,