In Brief

Iran nuclear deal: a sign of hope or a dark day in history?

How the world reacted: Iran's enemies warn of 'stunning, historic mistake', as Assad celebrates

The historic nuclear agreement struck between Iran and six world powers has been described as a "stunning mistake" by Tehran's enemies, amid warnings that it will trigger an arms race in the Middle East.

Following marathon negotiations in Vienna, Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear activities in return for the gradual removal of sanctions that had crippled its economy.

Barack Obama announced that America had "stopped the spread of nuclear weapons" in the region, while EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it was a "sign of hope for the entire world".

But Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are concerned that Iran will still having the capability to develop nuclear weapons once the deal's time restrictions have passed – while also benefitting from a big cash injection for the economy.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced the deal as a "stunning, historic mistake" and "one of the darkest days in history". He said Iran will get "a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror".

The Times points out that Saudi Arabia has already vowed to match any nuclear capabilities Iran is able to retain, potentially triggering an arms race in the region.

"With Iran set to receive about $150bn in unfrozen foreign assets, its enemies fear a resurgence of funds to its proxies, notably Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria and Shia militias in Iraq and Yemen," says the newspaper.

Indeed, one of the loudest expressions of support for the deal came from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who described the deal as a "great victory".

The Daily Telegraph's defence editor Con Coughlin says that "far from holding the Iranians to account for their deception, we now have the bizarre situation where we have world leaders from Washington to Tehran – even including Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad – celebrating the conclusion of a deal which leaves us none the wiser about Iran's true nuclear intentions".

Moreover, he says, the deal allows Iran to retain "vital capabilities" that can be used for making nuclear weapons.

The New York Times says the deal would "obviously have provided more cause for celebration if Iran had agreed to completely dismantle all of its nuclear facilities". However, it says, the chances of that happening were "effectively zero". The newspaper concludes that the deal seems "sound" and "clearly in the interest of the United States, the other nations that drafted it and the state of Israel".

Iran nuclear programme: world powers agree deal

14 July

The US and five other world powers have reached an agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme following marathon negotiations in Vienna.

The so-called P5+1 – which includes the US, UK, France, China and Russia plus Germany – have agreed to the gradual removal of sanctions in return for Iran scaling back its sensitive nuclear activities. Iran will reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 300kg, a 96 per cent reduction, and cut its enrichment capacity by two-thirds.

It comes after a 12-year stand-off over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Tehran insists it wants only to generate energy, but many in the West believe it had been planning to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani said the deal lifts all "wrong, unfair and inhumane" sanctions and "opens a new chapter" in his country's international relations.

One of the key sticking points in negotiations was the extent to which Iran would allow UN inspectors to monitor its military sites.

One diplomat told AP it was agreed that Iran could challenge requests for access from inspectors. In the event that Iran refuses a request, an arbitration board comprising Iran and P5+1 representatives would have to decide whether a visit should go ahead.

This point may be seized upon by critics, says Sky News, as it "could give Tehran time to cover up any non-compliance by the time a visit takes place".

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already described the deal as "a historic mistake for the world". US Republicans have also weighed in, with the speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, claiming US President Barack Obama had "abandoned his own goals".

Obama said he welcomed Congressional scrutiny of the deal but plans to veto any legislation that prevents it going through.

The Financial Times says the accord will be "hailed by many as one of the most significant foreign policy successes of Mr Obama's presidency and decried by others, including some of Washington's closest Middle East allies, as one of its most egregious failure".

Iran nuclear programme: will negotiators reach a final deal?

30 June

International negotiators trying to reach an agreement on Iran's nuclear programme are expected to miss today's deadline – but they have suggested there is still cause for optimism.

Talks in Vienna are expected to last for several more days, with three critical issues still standing in the way of a landmark agreement.

Six countries – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – have been trying to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions.

However, the two sides are yet to agree on three key issues:

  • The extent to which inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be allowed to enter military sites in Iran
  • The speed at which sanctions would be lifted if a deal is struck
  • The scope of Tehran's nuclear research in the first years of a deal

One senior US official has voiced optimism about resolving the first point, reports the Daily Telegraph. Instead of unrestricted access to all sites, the US is reportedly looking to agree a "process" that would allow inspectors enough access to ensure Iran is complying with a final agreement.

"The entry point isn't we must be able to get into every military site, because the United States of America wouldn't allow anybody to get into every military site, so that's not appropriate," said the official.

Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flew back to Tehran at the weekend for crucial talks with president Hassan Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

According to The Times, Zarif appears to have accepted that sanctions will not be lifted in full immediately after a deal is struck. However, Khamenei weighed in last week with a televised speech, in which he said he would veto anything but an immediate lifting of sanctions.

"The comments appeared designed to appease regime hardliners in Tehran who are wary of a deal, and to step up the brinkmanship in Vienna," says the newspaper. "The wily cleric has always proved more willing to compromise than his public statements suggest, but one western official said that the speech, though not to be taken at face value, was 'spectacularly unhelpful'."

Iran nuclear programme: can negotiators reach a final deal?

28 May

The deadline for an international agreement over Iran's nuclear programme looks unlikely to be met, according to one senior Iranian diplomat. Following a decade-long standoff, both sides had hoped to seal the deal before 30 June. However, Iranian senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi has reportedly told Iran's state television that the deadline is likely to be extended. "We are not bound to a specific time. We want a good deal that covers our demands," he said. Gerard Araud, France's ambassador to the United States, has also said a firm agreement within a month is "very unlikely". So what's involved in the deal and what are the issues getting in the way?

The deal

Several nations, including Israel, have contended that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies. Leaders in Tehran insist their nuclear facilities are used only for the purposes of energy generation and medical research. Six countries – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – have been trying to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions. A tentative agreement made in April would require Iran to mothball most of its installed centrifuges, used to produce enriched uranium, for at least a decade.

The sticking points

Iran wants sanctions to be lifted as soon as a final deal is signed, while the US wants a gradual lifting of restrictions. US and European negotiators also want the power to automatically reinstate United Nations sanctions if Iran fails to hold up its end of the bargain. Western governments fear that if this "snapback" rule is not carved into the agreement, Russia and China could veto future attempts to reinstate sanctions. Another stumbling block is how Iran's nuclear work will be monitored. Both sides have agreed that UN inspectors will have "enhanced" access to nuclear sites but details of the arrangement are yet to be thrashed out. While the US appears to think the UN would have "regular access" to all Iran's nuclear activities and supply chains, Iran has ruled out any "extraordinary supervision measures" and said military sites could not be inspected.

The tricky issue of Iran's neighbours

The White House may view the prospect of a deal as a "potential game-changer in US-Iran relations", but it is regarded with "dismay" by Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states, says the Financial Times. Riyadh and its Sunni allies think a pact would give Iran and its Shi'ite proxies fighting in Iraq, Syria and Yemen a "big boost" in a region increasingly plagued by sectarian conflict. A vow made by Barack Obama, at a Camp David summit earlier this month, to back his Gulf allies against any "external attack" appears to have placated some of these fears. However, Saudi Arabia is still vowing to match whatever nuclear enrichment capability Iran is permitted to retain and is rumoured to be calling on Pakistan for help in supplying missiles.

The 'elephant in the room'

Another issue complicating the negotiations is a bill passed by the Republican-controlled US Congress, which gives them power to review and potentially reject a nuclear deal with Iran. It would essentially stop Obama from waiving sanctions on Iran for 30 days while Congress examines any final agreement. US and Western diplomats feared the new legislation could undermine Iran's faith in Obama's ability to implement an agreement, reports CNN, although they are apparently relieved the legislation is not any more severe.

Rifts in Iran

A leaked video circulating on the internet this week has also exposed the deep divides on key aspects of the deal within the Iranian elite. Hard-line lawmaker Mahdi Kouchakzadeh could be heard calling Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif a "traitor", while Zarif says Kouchakzadeh has no right to speak on behalf of the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The election of Hassan Rouhani – a relative moderate – as Iranian president in June 2013 raised hopes that a deal could be made. But Khamenei, who has a final say in all state matters, has personally opposed the idea of UN inspectors visiting military sites and said last month that there was no guarantee a final deal would be struck.

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