international affairs

Diplomats: Landmark Iran Nuclear Deal Has Been Reached

Iran Nuclear Talks in Vienna
US National Security Council Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf States Robert Malley, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, US Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman attend the Iran nuclear talks at a hotel in Vienna, Austria on June 30, 2015. Photo: POOL/Siamek Ebrahimi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images/2015 Anadolu Agency

After 20 months of negotiations, Iran and six major powers have reached a historic deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. “All the hard work has paid off and we sealed a deal. God bless our people,” one diplomat told Reuters.

The New York Times reports that foreign ministers from Iran and the six nations — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S.— are set to meet at a United Nations complex in Vienna before making the formal announcement on Tuesday. President Obama made a statement on the deal that may become the signature foreign-policy achievement of his presidency on Tuesday morning.

Today,” he said, “because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region. Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also gave a televised speech shortly after the deal was reached. “Iran has never ever sought a nuclear bomb,” he said. “The biggest achievement is that there is a new atmosphere in the region.” 

Negotiators have missed several deadlines, but Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javard Zarif both praised the final agreement. “What we could accomplish is an important achievement for all of us,” Zarif said. “Now we are starting a new chapter of hope.” Both are scheduled to speak later in Vienna today.

Western diplomats said on Tuesday that all major issues have been resolved, and the 159-page agreement details exactly how much nuclear fuel Iran can possess over the next 15 years, what kind of research it can conduct, and the redesign of two Iranian nuclear facilities. The country’s enrichment capacity will be reduced by two thirds, which means that it would take Iran a year to stockpile enough material to make a bomb during the first few years of the deal. Iran has agreed to keep a U.N. weapons embargo in place for five years and a ban on buying missile technology in place for eight years. The agreement also includes a plan to reinstate some sanctions after 65 days if Iran doesn’t abide by the terms, and U.N. inspectors will be allowed to press for access to Iranian military sites — though Tehran has the right to keep them out, unless a commission of other countries overrides the objection. Eight years after the deal becomes official, the European Union and the U.S. will consider lifting even more sanctions.

Limitations on Iran’s nuclear program will taper down after 10 years, and after 15 years Tehran can produce all the enriched uranium it wants (but building a weapon would be a violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty). The White House has been sending tweets out all morning explaining in colorful graphics why it is excited about the deal — and why the President thinks skeptics are wrong.

The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to look at the agreement in the next two weeks, and will weave the terms into a new resolution that will allow sanctions on Iran to be lifted after it fulfills the terms of the deal. Ninety days after the U.N. approves the deal, it can officially be adopted by all parties.  

Now Congress will have 60 days to review the deal under legislation passed in May once the legislative body receives all the details on the deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that the resolution is going to be a “very hard sell” in Congress, but even he acknowledged that they probably can’t stop its implementation. Lawmakers have the option to approve the deal, reject it, or do nothing — much of that 60-day period will take place during Congress’s summer recess. Obama can veto a rejection, and the House and Senate probably can’t muster the two-thirds majority required for an override. McConnell said of Democrats, “I know there’ll be a strong pull not to go against the president on something as important as this is to him.”

Responses to the agreement from politicians on Twitter were mostly predictable. Senator Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the few Republicans not to sign Senator Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran in February, said he was approaching the deal with “deep skepticism.”

Many of his colleagues were more foreceful in their distaste for the agreement, while others showed that they have many questions that are sure to be explored in detail in the upcoming months.

Republican presidential candidates’ statements on the announcement were littered with even more angry adjectives and forceful verbs expressing discontent. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who just announced his presidential campaign on Monday, said in a statement that “President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran will be remembered as one of America’s worst diplomatic failures.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Senator Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Jeb Bush have all made statements on the agreement. None are too impressed.

Many Democratic legislators and presidential candidates were cautiously or outright optimistic about the agreement. Hillary Clinton met with legislators on Capitol Hill this morning, and House Democrats said she endorsed the agreement. She later told reporters, “This is an important step in putting a lid on Iran’s nuclear program” but “we have to treat this as an ongoing enforcement effort.”

Like the majority of the GOP, there are many around the world who aren’t thrilled about the historic deal finally coming together. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the agreement is a “bad mistake of historic proportions” that will allow Iran “to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region.”

Several other countries in the Middle East have expressed worries about what the deal could lead to, and where the money that will result from the lifted sanctions will flow.

Obama, knowing that the deal will face some opposition, looked ahead in his speech to what might happen if the deal falls through.

Consider what happens in a world without this deal. Without this deal, there is no scenario where the world joins us in sanctioning Iran until it completely dismantles its nuclear program. Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure and the world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission. … Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East. Moreover, we give nothing up by testing whether or not this problem can be solved peacefully. If, in a worst-case scenario, Iran violates the deal, the same options that are available to me today will be available to any U.S. president in the future.

Others around the world have reacted to the news as well. The Vatican released a statement saying the deal is “viewed in a positive light by the Holy See.” A 93-year-old in Tehran told the New York Times“Have they really reached a deal? I can’t believe it. They will most probably hit some last minute snag.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a statement, “We are grateful to all those who invariably supported efforts to find reliable political and diplomatic solutions to the Iranian issue.” U.N.’s secretary general Ban Ki-moon called the deal a “testament to the value of dialogue.”

Expecting that sanctions could soon end, businesses have begun to explore how they might get involved in Iranian markets as soon as the agreement has been implemented. There are nearly 80 million people in Iran who, as The Wall Street Journal points out, “already have an affinity for Western brands, especially American ones.”

However, even if the deal managed to survive Congress and the United Nations Security Council, there’s no certainty that it would last in the long term. Not only does everyone need to hold up their side of the bargain — the deal also has to contend with whoever follows Obama in the White House. And, as the above responses show, there are plenty of people who would be happy to rescind the U.S.’s offer as soon as possible. And because the nuclear deal is a political agreement and not a binding treaty, the next president could easily reinstate sanctions or do a number of other things to make today’s deal void. 

This post has been updated throughout.

Landmark Iran Nuclear Deal Has Been Reached