Iran and World Powers Agree to Framework for Historic Deal Over Nuclear Program


After months of negotiations and more than a week of nonstop, top-level diplomatic discussions, the U.S. and five world powers have struck an interim agreement with Iran to end the Islamic Republic's pursuit of nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

"This deal is not based on trust, it's based on unprecedented verification," President Barack Obama said from the White House Rose Garden Thursday afternoon. "If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place."

The sanctions will not be lifted until inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirm that Tehran has lived up to its end of the bargain, according to the parameters of the deal agreed to by the U.S., Iran, the U.K., Russia, China, France and Germany.

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The next move: The formal language of the agreement must be agreed upon by the end of June, but the parameters signed off on now will require the Iranians to grant those international inspection teams unfettered access to "investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country."

Speaking in Lausanne, Switzerland, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have spent the last eight days, the European Union's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said that Iran would be forced to shutdown or convert for other uses all but one of its nuclear enrichment facilities. 

This latest round of talks continued on past the original U.S.-imposed March 31 deadline. But Kerry and Zarif kept at it for two more days, then tweeted news of their historic breakthrough on Thursday:

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose election and more moderate international disposition made the talks a possibility, also saluted the negotiators and looked ahead to the summer deadline.

Obama, whose remarks were broadcast live in Iran, also warned that there were more hurdles for the diplomats to clear.

"Our work is not yet done, the deal has not been signed," he said. "If Iran backslides, there will be no deal."

Obama also addressed the looming concerns of his political opponents at home and his most skeptical ally abroad.

"It's no secret that the Israeli prime minister and I disagree," Obama said, promising that he would be in close contact with Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to assure him that there will be "no daylight" in the two countries' positions on Israel's defense and other matters related to Iran's growing regional influence.

The president was more blunt in his message to Republicans. If the Senate GOP scuttles the agreement, he said, the world will blame the U.S. for blocking the best attempts to solve a generational crisis, and that "the path to conflict will widen." Republicans and some Democrats have discussed and drafted a new set of sanctions, which Obama has promised to veto, in an effort to stall or break the negotiations. On March 9, Sen. Tom Cotton, a freshman from Arkansas, wrote and published an open letter, signed off on by 46 of his GOP colleagues, to Iran's leaders, suggesting that his colleagues or a future U.S. President could "modify the terms" of any deal, at any time.

Small step: Thursday's framework agreement is far from the historic achievement proponents will sell it as in the coming days. Nor is it the irreversible calamity Republicans will likely declare it on cable news programs for the next few weeks.

It is, rather, a small step forward in the longer journey to settling a more than 35-year-long cold war with Iran's post-revolutionary Islamic leaders. Getting Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to sign off on a final deal by June 30 with be a more fraught task, but the simple fact that the talks will carry on for another three months is a victory in its own right.