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Obama lauds new Iran deal, EU mulls sanction changes

President Barack Obama has praised an international deal concerning Iran's nuclear program, saying the world "cannot close the door on diplomacy." The agreement was dubbed a "historic mistake" by Israeli leaders.

The US president told an audience in San Francisco on Monday that the weekend deal with Iran was the right course of action, even if "huge challenges remain."

Negotiations between Iran and the "P5+1" - the US, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany - in Geneva concluded on Sunday with a provisional deal on the country's nuclear program. Under the agreement, some western sanctions against Iran would be rolled back in exchange for Tehran curbing its uranium enrichment and other activities.

"For the first time in a decade, we've halted the progress on Iran's nuclear program," Obama said. "Key parts of the program will be rolled back."

The US president also said that the deal could help to "begin to chip away at the mistrust that's existed for many, many years" between Washington and Tehran.

"When I first ran for president, I said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the world, one that turned the page on a decade of war and began a new era of engagement with the world," Obama said. "As president and as commander in chief, I've done what I said."

Synchronized progress pledged

The temporary deal, scheduled to last six months while a permanent successor is negotiated, will limit Iran to enriching uranium only to low levels suitable for generating atomic energy. In exchange for this and other Iranian concessions, the EU and US were to ease economic sanctions against Iran.

"A Europe-wide decision is necessary," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio when asked about easing some sanctions against Iran. "That's expected in several weeks, for a partial lifting that is targeted, reversible."

EU foreign affairs spokesman Michael Mann said a deal might be reached in either December or January, but said that any movement would be coordinated with progress on the Iranian side. The White House has estimated that lifting the sanctions could eventually free up assets worth some $7 billion (5.2 billion euros) to Iran.

Israel unconvinced

Israel has been particularly critical of the agreement, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling the deal a "historic mistake." Netanyahu on Monday decided to send his national security advisor to Washington for talks on Iran, a country with a long history of belligerent statements towards Israel.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday said it was important to try to understand those who opposed the deal with Iran, but simultaneously cautioned against any actions designed to derail it.

"We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned," Hague told parliament in London.

The head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano, said his group was in the process of assessing the agreement, ahead of deploying investigators to monitor Iran's implementation of the changes.

"We are assessing all the aspects, and we certainly welcome the agreement," Amano said.

msh/ccp (AFP, dpa, Reuters)