Six questions: what you need to know about Iran's nuclear deal

Nov 25, 2013

Geneva deal brings Iran in from the cold, but critics argue its weapons capacity is undiminished

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CHEERING crowds welcomed Iran's negotiators as they returned home from Geneva after securing a deal with six Western powers over its nuclear activities. The deal, which will see Iran curb its nuclear programme in return for £4.3bn in sanctions relief, was hailed by President Obama, who said it would "help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon". But the US leader was forced to reassure Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the agreement an "historic mistake". Here are six key questions about the six-month deal that has brought Iran in from the cold.

What has Iran agreed to do?

The interim deal agreed between Iran and the West runs for six months while work continues on a "comprehensive" final agreement. The crucial component is Iran's agreement to "freeze or roll back its uranium enrichment programme to levels which would provide assurances that Tehran could not enrich to weapons grade," The Independent says. In specific terms, Iran has agreed to limit uranium enrichment to five per cent, which will allow it to produce fuel for its reactors for six months. The country's stockpile of uranium which is enriched beyond five per cent will be "neutralised".

Another key part of the deal is Iran's pledge to halt construction of its heavy-water plutonium reactor at Arak. It was due to be completed next year and there are fears the facility "could provide a second pathway towards a nuclear bomb", the Independent says. Finally, Iran will open up its nuclear sites to inspectors including daily access to the Natanz and Fordo nuclear sites. 

What does Iran get in return?

The agreement hatched in Geneva will give Iran access to "$1.5 billion in revenue from trade in gold and precious metals and suspend some sanctions on its automotive sector", Reuters says. It will also see the revival of its petrochemical exports. In the longer term, The Guardian reports, the deal seeks to "normalise" relations between Iran and the US for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. 

Who are the biggest winners from the deal?

The Guardian says the Geneva deal is "arguably the most significant foreign policy achievement of Barack Obama's presidency", although it has alarmed some members of Congress. Critics point out that the deal freezes Iran's uranium enrichment programme but does not reduce its capacity. The BBC's Mark Mardell says: "Congress is very sceptical about the deal. Many are suggesting that they should push for fresh sanctions even though the White House has claimed this could shatter the agreement."

The deal has triggered an ecstatic reaction in Iran. Hundreds of cheering people gathered at Tehran airport to greet Iran's foreign minister and chief negotiator, Mohammed Javad Zarif, acclaiming him as an "ambassador of peace". The jubilant response was "a reflection of the relief felt by many Iranians exhausted by sanctions and isolation," says Reuters.

And the losers?

Iran's arch enemy Israel has been "isolated" as a result of the deal brokered in Geneva and its PM has not tried to disguise his anger. "Today the world has become a much more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world," said Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel's hostile reaction came as the Jewish state saw "months of diplomatic efforts to persuade world powers not to provide sanctions relief to Tehran being swept aside", reports Netanyahu has described Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and repeatedly warned world powers against striking a "bad and dangerous" deal with the Islamic republic, saying it could result in war.

President Obama did his best to reassure Netanyahu in a phone call last night. He said the US would "remain firm in its commitment to Israel" and would begin consultations with Israel immediately on reaching a comprehensive solution to Iran's nuclear problem.

What happens now?

Both sides have made it clear that the six-month agreement can be ended at any time. There will be threats to the entente from both sides: Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, for example, see any opening to the West as dangerous and there are already vociferous opponents in the US Congress who refuse to rule out new sanctions. US Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that Sunday's deal was only a start. "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," Kerry said. 

Why has the price of crude oil dropped?

The easing of tensions in the Middle East had an immediate effect on the price of oil. Brent crude fell more than two per cent in early Asian trade this morning, falling by $2.42 to $108.63 per barrel. US light sweet crude fell 84 cents to $93.64 per barrel. The price drop is a reflection of the fact that Iran has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves but its exports have been hurt by the tough sanctions. Jonathan Barratt, chief economist at Barratt's Bulletin told the BBC: "There are a lot of sanctions that have been eased, which will allow Iran to slowly re-enter the global economy. And as for oil - it's a just a six-month waiting period. If they tick all the boxes during that time they will be back in that sector as well."

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...Israel is entirely predictable in its petulance! Left to Netanyahu the West would have been at war with Iran a long time ago, with precious little effort devoted to diplomacy and real politik.

Israel, as a state, must accept that the world does not revolve around it; Obama is to be roundly thanked and congratulated, thus far at least, for resisting the calls from all sides (not least his own generals and some in Congress) to go to war with Iran and, latterly, Syria.

The wind of change in American foreign policy is starting to stir in the Middle East.

The cynics might say that America is now fishing in the same pond as Russia, by trying to befriend Shia states at the risk of alienating historic Sunni allies such as Saudi Arabia - no doubt Saudi Arabia will have been informed at every step of the way regarding these negotiations with Iran - as, I am sure, will have Israel. Netanyahu doth protest too much, methinks.

Israel must be kept from all negotiating tables until it admits to holding a nuclear arsenal. Remember NEVER trust a Zionist.

...Gordon Bennett! For once we agree - although you omitted to harangue our Monarchy this time.