In a striking Saturday night announcement, a team of international negotiators and Iran announced that the two sides had hammered out a deal to temporarily halt the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for modest rollbacks of American-led economic sanctions against elements of the Iranian economy.
“We have reached an agreement,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted from Geneva at 9:03 pm EST before any details of the deal were released.
But over the next hour the terms of the deal—which a senior administration official confirmed that the United States and Iran had been secretly been working on for months—became clear.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] signed by Iran and the “P5+1”—the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia—are limited to the next six months, during which time the two sides will work to hammer out a more comprehensive accord. The document insists that Iran not install or start up new centrifuges, halt work at its plutonium reactor, and submit to inspections by international nuclear inspection teams.
The deal also calls for Iran to leave inoperable about half of the centrifuges installed at its Natanz facility and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow to ensure that the plants cannot enrich uranium.
In return, the United States will temporarily halt some economic sanctions against Iran worth about $6 or $7 billion according to the White House.
“The relief Iran gets under this agreement is insignificant economically” a White House official insisted, adding that they are “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” if the Iranians do not adhere to the terms of the agreement.
The White House insisted that no sanctions targeted at Iran’s sponsorship of terrorist groups, or targeting its support for the regime in Syria, would change.
President Obama hailed the temporary deal as marking “the first time in nearly a decade [that] we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back.”
He said that the deal will “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb” while creating “time and space over the next six months for more negotiations to fully address our comprehensive concerns about the Iranian program.”
As with any negotiated deal, different interpretations of the written text emerged almost immediately.
In a press conference in Geneva after the deal was announced, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif insisted that “people should stop threatening to use force because that option is no longer on the table” and that the agreement recognizes the “inalienable right” of Iran to be able to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who rushed to Geneva on Friday to take part in negotiations shot back minutes later that “this first step does not say that Iran has a right to enrichment. It is not in this document, there is no right to enrich within the four corners of the [Non-Proliferation Treaty], rather the role and scope of Iran’s enrichment…is subject to negotiation.”
A senior administration official backed up the Secretary’s comments, saying flatly that “the document does not say anything about recognizing the right to enrich uranium. We do not recognize their right to enrich uranium.”
The official added that the document “is not a new status quo, it is a step that will give us the time and space to negotiate” over the coming months on a more comprehensive deal.
In Washington, Congressional Republicans remained skeptical. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted that “unless the agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven’t gained anything.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a statement saying that “I remain concerned that this deal does not adequately halt Iran’s enrichment capabilities,” and that Iran’s “use of secret facilities to pursue its nuclear program,” is well known.
The ink on the deal is dry. The next step is for both sides to sell it to their respective right wing elements at home, and for confirmation that the Iranians are holding up their end of the bargain.