An interim deal has been reached in Geneva between Iran and international powers, temporarily curbing Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. But Israel remains skeptical and has denounced the agreement.
Spelling out some details of the agreement, reached early on Sunday morning, US President Barack Obama said in a statement in Washington that an "important first step" had been taken on a "new path" towards a more secure world.
"Today we have a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive settlement and I believe we must test it," Obama said. "The burden is on Iran to prove that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes."
But President Obama warned if Iran did not meet its commitments in the next six months, the United States would turn off sanctions relief and increase pressure.
If the interim deal holds, the parties will negotiate final-stage agreements to ensure Iran does not build nuclear weapons.
"We have reached agreement between E3+3 and Iran," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said early Sunday, referring to Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States, also known as the P5 +1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany).
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has hailed the deal as a "turning point."
"We must use the next months to build up mutual trust," Westerwelle said on Sunday, adding that the deal should be implemented in a transparent and verifiable manner.
Reduced uranium enrichment
Under the deal, Iran promised not to enrich more uranium above a level of five percent for six months and to dilute or convert its stockpile of enriched uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent. This means it is no longer weapons grade material.
In return the Iranians can expect relief from crippling economic sanctions. Tehran will get access to $4.2 billion (3.7 billion euros) in foreign exchange, and will receive limited relief on gold and petrochemicals.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a nationally broadcast speech that the accord recognized Iran's nuclear rights.
"No matter what interpretations are given, Iran's right to enrichment has been recognized," Rouhani said, insisting that talks on a comprehensive agreement should start immediately.
Russia has also hailed the deal, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that "nobody lost, everyone ends up winning." He also voiced confidence that Iran would cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency "in good faith."
But Israel, which from the start has viewed the Geneva talks with unveiled skepticism, has slammed the deal as completely insufficient to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that his government would not be bound by the Geneva deal.
"What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it was a historic mistake," he said.
"Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step towards obtaining the world's most dangerous weapon," he added.
Israel's cabinet minister for intelligence issues, Yuval Steinitz, also criticized the agreement, comparing it to a failed 2007 international deal with North Korea.
The agreement was "more likely to bring Iran closer to having a bomb", Steinitz said, adding that Israel could not join in celebrating a deal that was "based on Iranian deception and [international] self-delusion."
Israel, widely believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear arsenal, considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be a threat to its survival and dismisses Tehran's claims that its program is for peaceful purposes.
tj/ccp (AP, AFP, Reuters)