• Ashton with Iranian foreign minister Javed Zarif (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

EU announces Iran nuclear deal

24.11.13 @ 12:24

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The world's most powerful countries and Iran have agreed a six-month deal on its nuclear programme, prompting outrage in Israel.

The breakthrough was announced by the EU foreign service on Twitter shortly after 3am on Sunday (24 November) in Geneva.

"#EU High Rep #Ashton: 'We have reached agreement between E3+3 and Iran'," it said, referring to EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton, who chaired the talks, and the six states - China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US - which took part.

According to the US, Iran has for the next six months agreed to stop enriching uranium above 5 percent.

It has also agreed to "dilute" its high-grade stockpile, to stop installing new centrifuges, to stop work on its Arak reactor and to give UN inspectors "daily access" to its Natanz and Fordow atomic facilities.

In return, it got $7 billion of oil income which had been frozen in foreign banks.

According to Iran, it also got the right to enrich nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes.

The deal came after four days of talks by foreign ministers.

It also comes after more than 10 years of UN sanctions and more than 30 years of an Iran-US cold war.

US President Barack Obama underlined the importance of the development in a special TV address.

He said: "Today … diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure, a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear programme is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon."

He added: "We can begin to chip away at the mistrust between our two nations. This would provide Iran with a dignified path to forge a new beginning with the wider world."

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the Irna news agency the accord is a "basis for further intelligent actions."

Its President, Hassan Rohani, tweeted: "These negotiations have created an atmosphere where the path towards building trust in #Iran by other countries can be properly directed."

France, which blocked a deal at Geneva talks two weeks ago, also welcomed the news.

"The interim agreement … represents an important step in the right direction," French President Francois Hollande said in a statement.

If things go well, the deal has the potential to stop a nightmare scenario: a nuclear conflict between Iran and Israel.

It can also help to stop the war in Syria by opening the door for Iran, the Syrian regime's main sponsor, to get involved in peace talks.

At the same time, it is a new recognition of Iran's status in the Middle East.

The US and its allies, Israel and Sunni Muslim gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have long portrayed Iran, a Shia Muslim state, as the head of an "axis of evil."

But the nuclear pact gives Iran and its allies, such as Shia Muslim groups in Iraq and Lebanon, a new aura of legitimacy.

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced outrage at a government meeting on Sunday.

He said "the agreement reached in Geneva is a historical mistake. The world has become more dangerous today."

He added that "Israel is not obligated" by the deal and reserved the right to launch military strikes.

Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told press: "Obviously, when you look at the smiles of the Iranians over there in Geneva, you realise that this is the Iranians’ greatest victory, maybe since the Khomeini revolution [the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979]."

Meanwhile, the accord is a personal coup for Ashton.

US secretary of state John Kerry gave her a big hug in front of TV cameras in Geneva on Sunday.

Her EU colleagues, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council head Herman Van Rompuy, also praised her.

"I would like to congratulate in particular Catherine Ashton … for this accomplishment which is a result of her tireless engagement and dedication to the issue over the last four years," Barroso said in a statement.

A US official told the AFP news agency a lot of legwork was done in behind-the-scenes Iran-US talks over the past five months, however.

An Iranian official told Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, that "we respect her greatly and she knows how to create a pleasant and practical atmosphere."

He added: "The problem is it’s quite clear that there is no genuine political power behind her. She has to go to consult with the representatives of the world powers on every minor detail. Nobody is under the illusion that she has any authority to decide on her own. She is no more than a liaison, and at that she is very effective."

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