Iran to reduce nuclear enrichment in exchange for sanctions reduction

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Monday, November 25, 2013

The negotiations in Geneva on Sunday.
Image: US Department of State.

Yesterday in Geneva, Iran and the P5+1 nations — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council; United States, United Kingdom, China, France, and Russia; plus Germany — reached a six-month deal over Iran's nuclear enrichment programme. Iran is to reduce its nuclear activities in return for a lifting of some economic sanctions.

Iran has agreed to not build any new enrichment facilities, to halt enrichment of uranium past a purity of 5%, to "neutralise" a stockpile of nearly 200kg of enriched uranium of a purity of nearly 20%, to not install new centrifuges, and to disable a number of existing centrifuges. They also have to allow access for inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to a number of sites including Natanz and Fordo, as well as information on the reactor at Arak.

In return, the P5+1 is to provide "limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible" relief from economic sanctions including removal of specific trade sanctions on precious metals, including gold; the automotive sector; and oil. The sanctions relief is worth around US$7 billion (about 5 billion).

In Tehran, Iran's negotiators were welcomed home at the airport by a gathering of supporters holding placards. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians reportedly watched coverage of the negotiations through the Iranian night.

Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, told reporters, "[i]n this agreement, the right of [the] Iranian nation to enrich uranium was accepted by world powers". The United States contests this.

US president Barack Obama welcomed the deal: "For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back." He said the provisions of the deal "cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb".

British prime minister David Cameron said the deal was an "important first step" and Iran was "further away from getting a nuclear weapon".

John Kerry, the United States Secretary of State, appeared with British foreign minister William Hague at a press conference in London. Kerry told reporters: "Now the really hard part begins, and that is the effort to get the comprehensive agreement, which will require enormous steps in terms of verification, transparency and accountability".

Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, said the deal was a "historic mistake" and said the Iranians had agreed only to "cosmetic concessions" that "can be undone by the Iranians within weeks". "Israel", he said, "is not bound to this agreement while Iran is committed to the destruction of Israel. Israel has the right to protect itself in the face of any threat. I wish to reiterate that as the prime minister of Israel — Israel will not allow Iran to develop nuclear military capabilities." He also said: "Iran is receiving billions of dollars in relief in the sanctions without paying any sort of price. Iran is receiving written approval to violate UN Security Council resolutions".

Naftali Bennett, the Israeli economic minister, warned of the prospects of a nuclear Iran: "If in another five or six years a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the agreement that was signed this morning".

A spokesman for President Obama stated: "the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran's intentions". Obama phoned Netanyahu on Sunday to try and reassure him.