Iran and the major powers achieved an interim deal to freeze some nuclear activity in exchange for some sanctions relief.
“We have reached an agreement,” Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister leading talks in Geneva, said on his Twitter feed early Sunday morning.
According to a White House statement sent to reporters later in the evening, Iran will stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, but will be able to continue enriching to 5 percent. Iran will neutralize its existing stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and will not install or build any new centrifuges, except to replace damaged machines.
Five percent is well below the enrichment level needed for weaponization. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium even at low levels brings it too close to a breakout capacity for nuclear weapons.
Under the interim agreement negotiated in Geneva, sanctions relief would amount to about $7 billion out of the $100-120 billion that annually impacts Iran’s economy, the White House statement said.
Although some sanctions relief would affect Iran’s energy sector, the statement said the principal sanctions targeting Iran’s banking and energy sectors would remain in place.
The negotiators now have six months to work out a final deal.
President Obama, in televised remarks delivered late Saturday night from the White House, said that he would dedicate this period of time to solving an issue “that has threatened our security and the security of our allies for decades.”
He appealed to Congress not to pass intensified sanctions, saying that to do so would endanger any deal and unravel the alliance that has kept pressure on Iran through sanctions until now.
Obama also said that the “resolve of the United States will remain firm” and so would “the commitment to our allies” that had reason to be skeptical of Iran, naming Israel among them.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal “a historic mistake.”
President Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States would consult closely with Israel as talks with Iran go forward.
“Consistent with our commitment to consult closely with our Israeli friends, the president told the prime minister that he wants the United States and Israel to begin consultations immediately regarding our efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution,” said a statement by the White House issued Saturday evening detailing a phone conversation between Obama and Netanyahu following the interim deal with Iran on its nuclear program.
“What was agreed last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting, several hours after the agreement was announced. “Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
President Obama reportedly was scheduled to call Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss the deal.
“Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction, and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is not obligated by this agreement. I want to make clear we will not allow Iran to obtain military nuclear capability. ”
According to a White House statement, Iran will stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, but will be able to continue enriching to 5 percent. Iran will neutralize its existing stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and will not install or build any new centrifuges, except to replace damaged machines.
Five percent is well below the enrichment level needed for weaponization. But Netanyahu has warned that allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium even at low levels brings it too close to a breakout capacity for nuclear weapons.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the agreement “a new reality in the whole Middle East,” and “the Iranians’ greatest victory,” during an interview Sunday morning with Israel Radio in the hours after the agreement was announced.
In terms of the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, he said: “As always, all options are on the table.”
He said that Israel would look to other allies when deciding how to deal with Iran. “Israel must look into new directions in addition to the U.S.,” he said. “We must take responsibility regardless of the stance of the Americans, or of others. We must make our own independent decisions.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Ynet: “This is a terrible deal that will threaten not only us, but the entire world.” She said Israel must work with the United States and other allies to make sure the final deal offers better terms.
“If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning,” Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home Party and a government minister, said in a statement posted on Facebook. He warned in the statement that “Israel will not be committed to a deal that endangers its very existence.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres said in a statement: ”The success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words. I would like to say to the Iranian people. You are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles. Israel like others in the international community prefers a diplomatic solution.”
Knesset lawmaker Isaac Herzog, the newly elected chairman of the opposition Labor Party, said that “the deal that was struck between the world powers and Iran is a fact and Israel must adjust itself to the new situation.”
“Netanyahu must do everything in order to fix the damage that was caused from the public clash with the U.S. and return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders,” he said.
Iranian officials reportedly welcomed the agreement, saying it confirmed the country’s right to enrich uranium and that “all plots hatched by the Zionist regime to stop the nuclear agreement have failed,” the state-owned Islamic Republic News
A number of Jewish organizations put out statements within an hour or so of the announcement of a deal.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, said the deal “has the potential to serve as a valuable stepping stone to a final agreement that can serve the long term security interests of the United States, Israel, the Middle East and the entire international community” and also called for maintaining economic pressure.
Notably, the JCPA statement did not call for intensifying sanctions, although a number of pro-Israel groups are backing moves in Congress that would enhance sanctions.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a leader in the effort to add new sanctions, said he would keep up the effort but appeared to make the sanctions conditional on Iran’s observance of the new agreement.
“I will continue working with my colleagues to craft bipartisan legislation that will impose tough new economic sanctions if Iran undermines this interim accord or if the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is not underway by the end of this six-month period,” he said in a statement.
The American Jewish Committee expressed concerns about the agreement, saying many questions were unanswered. “Does the agreement preserve, explicitly or implicitly, an Iranian ‘right’ to enrich uranium?” it asked.
Iran is seeking recognition of its right to enrich; the United States insists there is no such right.
Speaking on CNN Sunday morning, veteran U.S. negotiator Aaron David Miller, an advisor to several presidents on the Israeli-Arab peace process, said the deal would likely have little result but to buy the Obama administration more time.
“Six months from now there will either be more negotiating or, alternatively, another interim agreement,” said Millre, who said Iran was unliklely to abandon the billions it has spent on nuclear development and the national pride it endendred. But he said diplomacyt was better than a war to take out Iran’s nuclear capability. “The best we will be able to do is add more time to the clock. But that’s no small achievement if you can get it done.”