Ending more than three decades of isolation by the major world powers across all continents, Iran reached a historic deal with six world powers on July 14, 2015 that promises to curb Tehran’s controversial nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. The agreement, a focal point of U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, appears set to reshape relations between Iran and the West, with its effects likely to ripple across the volatile Middle East. “This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction,” President Barack Obama declared at the White House in remarks that were carried live on Iranian state television. “We should seize it.”
The agreement bars most research and development work until after year 10. But then the restrictions come off quickly and the breakout time diminishes to just a few months, which is about where it is today. The Nuclear deal will curb Iranian nuclear programs and ease fears of a nuclear-armed Iran threatening the volatile Middle East. In exchange, Iran will get billions of dollars in relief from crushing international sanctions. The accord, reached after long, fractious negotiations, marks a dramatic break from decades of animosity between the United States and Iran, countries that have labeled each other the “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and “the Great Satan.”
The accord was announced by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in a joint statement in the Austrian capital, Vienna. Zarif acknowledged that the final agreement wasn’t perfect, but described the announcement as a “historic moment.” He said, “Today could have been the end of hope, but now we are starting a new chapter of hope.”
The breakthrough came after 20 months of thorny negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement in Vienna , saying “this is the good deal that we have sought.” Kerry stated that while the deal is historic, the implementation is what matters. “I’m not going to stand here and tell you every is going to work without a bump,” he said. Kerry added that the deal contains ample mechanisms for ensuring the terms are met, however, and that the agreement makes evident the consequences of non-compliance.
In Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said “a new chapter” had begun in his nation’s relations with the world. He maintained that Iran had never sought to build a bomb, an assertion the U.S. and its partners have long disputed.
Beyond the hopeful proclamations from the U.S., Iran and other parties to the talks, there is deep skepticism of the deal among U.S. lawmakers and Iranian hardliners. Obama’s most pressing task will be holding off efforts by Congress to levy new sanctions on Iran or block his ability to suspend existing ones.
US House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, predicted the deal would embolden Iran and fuel a nuclear arms race around the world. It will be difficult for congressional Republicans to stop Obama, however, because of his power to veto legislation. Israel, which sees Iran as a threat to its existence, strongly opposes leaving the Islamic republic with its nuclear infrastructure in place. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has furiously lobbied against a deal, called the agreement a “stunning historic mistake.”
Iran, with the backing of Russia and China, its main weapons suppliers, managed to win agreement that the embargo would not be permanent. The deal called for the embargo to be lifted after a maximum of eight years for ballistic missiles and five years for conventional weapons. But the time frame could be shortened if the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. Iran got more up front relief than the United States wanted, with the most important sanctions — those on the energy and financial industries — possibly being lifted this year if Iran complies with the principal requirements in the accord. However, the accord contains provisions for “snapback” sanctions if a panel of nations should detect Iranian cheating.
“History shows that America must lead not just with our might but with our principles,” Obama rightly summed up the historic deal. “Today’s announcement marks one more chapter in our pursuit of a safer, more helpful and more hopeful world.”