Iran and six world powers sealed a historic accord to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in return for ending sanctions, capping two years of tough diplomacy with the biggest breakthrough in relations in decades.
Diplomats reached the deal in Vienna on Tuesday, their 18th day of talks. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called it a “win-win” solution to an “unnecessary crisis.”
Full implementation will be contingent on Iran meeting its obligations to curb its nuclear program and address concerns about possible military dimensions of its work. The deal sets Dec. 15 as the date for Iran to answer 12-year-old questions about its weapons capabilities. Once inspectors verify compliance, the oil-rich nation will be allowed to ramp up energy exports, re-enter the global financial system and access as much as $150 billion in frozen assets.
The accord will stand as one of the chief foreign policy accomplishments of President Obama’s two terms. Obama said it builds on a U.S. tradition of negotiating with foes including the former Soviet Union. “This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change, change that makes our country safer and more secure,” Obama said Tuesday at the White House.
“We have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons” in the Middle East, Obama said, calling the area “the most volatile region in the world.”
Before taking effect, the agreement must survive a political battle in the U.S. Opponents will press Congress to block it, while Republicans want to weaken Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid by linking the former secretary of state with an agreement they say offers too many concessions to Iran, endangering the U.S. and Israel.
“This is probably going to go down in history as one of the biggest diplomatic successes of the century,” Ellie Geranmayeh, a policy fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations, said by phone from London.
If Congress rejects the deal, Iran, backed by China and Russia, would have a perfect “blame-game strategy” that would undermine the sanctions system anyway, Geranmayeh said.
Congress has 60 days to review the document. Israel, which has threatened military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, said it will use “every means” possible to convince Congress to reject it, though the president can veto such a rejection.
“This agreement is a historic capitulation by the West to the axis of evil headed by Iran,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said via Twitter on Tuesday.
Should the agreement survive review, it would become one of the biggest foreign policy achievements for President Barack Obama, who kicked off the initiative with a phone call to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani almost two years ago. The U.S. cut diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic in 1980, after revolutionaries seized the American embassy in Tehran and held hostages for more than a year.
Iran agreed to cut 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium and eliminate two-thirds of its centrifuges, according to a copy of the draft accord obtained by Bloomberg News.
The UN ban on conventional weapons imports and exports by Iran will remain in place for five years, while the UN embargo on ballistic missiles will hold for eight years, according to the draft. The unilateral U.S. arms embargo will stay in place.
Relief, including sales of aircraft by companies including Boeing Co., would be phased in after Dec. 15 if Iran is in compliance. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency will negotiate access to all suspect sites, including military bases such as Parchin.
“This is a sign of hope for the entire world, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in Vienna. “And we all know this is very much needed in these times.”
The accord will reverberate across the Middle East, where Shiite Iran’s prominence has been growing amid a regional conflict with Sunni Muslim extremists, alarming Gulf rivals led by Saudi Arabia. Iran is a key backer of embattled governments in Iraq and Syria, and supports rebels who control Yemen’s capital, as well as Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah militia.