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Iran nuclear deal: A breakthrough or historic mistake?

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After decades of hostility, Iran, the United States, and five other
world powers have struck a historic deal Tuesday to checkmate Tehran’s
nuclear ambition, which is short of building a bomb. The agreement
could give Iran access to billions in frozen assets and oil revenue,
stave off more U.S. military action in the Middle East and reshape the
tumultuous region.
The deal has set in motion a year-long test of Iran’s willingness to
keep its promises to the world and the ability of international
inspectors to monitor compliance. It also sets the White House up for
a contentious fight with a wary Congress and more rocky relations with
Israel, whose leaders furiously opposed the agreement.
Appealing to sceptics, President Barack Obama declared that the accord
“offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize
it.”
Under terms of the deal, the culmination of 20 months of arduous
diplomacy, Iran must dismantle much of its nuclear programme in order
to secure relief from biting sanctions that have battered its economy.
International inspectors can now press for visits to Iran’s military
facilities, though access is not guaranteed. Centrifuges will keep
spinning, though in lesser quantities, and uranium can still be
enriched, though at lower levels.
In a key compromise, Iran agreed to continuation of the United
Nation’s arms embargo on the country for up to five more years and
ballistic missile restrictions for up to eight years. Washington had
sought to keep the arms ban in place, while Russia and China joined
Iran in pushing for an immediate suspension.

 
On the streets of Tehran, Iranians honked their horns and celebrated
in the city’s main square. President Hassan Rouhani said a “new
chapter” had begun in his nation’s relations with the world, even as
he denied Iran had ever pursued a nuclear weapon.
While the U.S. partnered in the talks with Britain, France, Germany,
Russia and China, the decades of tension between the U.S. and Iran put
the two countries at the forefront of the negotiations. A U.N.
Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because
talks were private, said the United States will circulate a draft
resolution at the Council Wednesday to authorize the agreement.
Whether the nuclear rapprochement will spark a broader thaw is
unclear. Nearly 40 years after Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the
hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the country’s hardliners
remain hostile toward Washington. The U.S. and its allies also have
deep concerns about Iran’s support for terrorism in the Middle East
and its detention of several American citizens.
With key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme required for only a
decade, opponents of the deal say it simply delays Tehran’s pursuit of
the bomb. Critics also say Iran will use new wealth from sanctions
relief to double-down other destabilizing activities in the region.
Iran stands to receive more than $100 billion in assets that have been
frozen overseas and benefit from an end to various financial
restrictions on Iranian banks. Iran could also sell more oil, bringing
down crude prices.
To Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lobbied unceasingly
against a deal, it was a “stunning historic mistake” which his country
would not be bound by. Netanyahu strongly hinted that Israeli military
action to destroy Tehran’s nuclear programme remains an option.
Obama and Netanyahu, who have long had a frosty relationship, spoke by
phone Tuesday. White House officials said Obama also called King
Salman of Saudi Arabia, one of the many Sunni Arab rivals of Shiite
Iran who have expressed concerns about the deal.

 
On Capitol Hill, Republicans accused Obama of making too many
concessions. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said lawmakers “will
fight a bad deal that is wrong for our national security and wrong for
our country.” GOP presidential hopeful also panned the deal, some
vowing to scrap it if elected to succeed Obama.
Obama got a crucial show of support from Hillary Rodham Clinton, his
former secretary of state and the likely Democratic presidential
nominee. She praised the deal as an important step toward “putting the
lid on Iran’s nuclear programme.”
Clinton’s support could give some Democratic lawmakers more confidence
in standing with Obama as he tries to hold off congressional efforts
to disrupt the deal. Congress has 60 days to review it and can try to
prevent Obama from waiving sanctions on Iran as promised in the
negotiations.
Mr. Obama reiterated that he would veto any legislation aimed at
upending the agreement. Defending it, he said, “No deal means a
greater chance of more war in the Middle East.”
The deal comes after years of international diplomacy that until
recently were defined by failure. Breaks in the talks sometimes lasted
for months, and Iran’s nascent nuclear programme expanded into one
that Western intelligence agencies saw as only months away from
weapons capacity.

 

The U.S. and Israel both threatened military action.
Obama took office in 2009 promising to keep the door open for greater
engagement with Iran, even as he ratcheted up economic sanctions. In
2012, he authorized secret talks that helped lay the groundwork for
the formal negotiations that stretched over the past two years.
The final weeks were marked by marathon meetings in Vienna, three
blown deadlines and threats by top American and Iranian diplomats to
walk away.

 
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who did most of the bargaining with
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said persistence paid
off. “Believe me, had we been willing to settle for a lesser deal we
would have finished this negotiation a long time ago,” he said. Kerry
returned to Washington late Tuesday after his longest mission as the
top U.S. diplomat.
The breakthrough came after several key compromises. Iran agreed to a
continuation of the arms embargo for up to five more years, though it
could end earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency clears
Iran of any current work on nuclear weapons.

A similar condition was
put on U.N. 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 for Syrian
President Bashar Assad’s government, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the
Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and other forces opposing America’s
Mideast allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Another significant agreement will allow U.N. inspectors to press for
visits to Iranian military sites as part of their monitoring duties,
something Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has opposed.
However, access isn’t guaranteed and could be delayed, a condition
that critics of the deal are sure to seize on.
Under the accord, Tehran would have the right to challenge U.N
requests, and an arbitration board composed of Iran and the six world
powers would then decide. The IAEA also wants to complete its
long-stymied investigation of past weapons work by Iran, and the U.S.
says Iranian cooperation is needed for all economic sanctions to be
lifted.
Accordingly, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Tuesday his agency and Iran
had signed a “roadmap” to resolve outstanding concerns, hopefully by
mid-December.