LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Iran has agreed to shut down two-thirds of its nuclear-enrichment program and accept international inspections that experts say are likely to cripple any attempt to make a nuclear weapon, in return for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies, according to a framework agreement announced Thursday.
The agreement, which still must be ratified by the negotiating nations by June 30, would impose its toughest restrictions for 15 years, with the most severe lasting 10, and then eased during the final five. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out that contrary to recent news accounts, the deal has no expiration date.
“Robust inspections of Iran’s uranium supply chain will last for 25 years,” according to a fact-sheet summary of the agreement distributed by the State Department.
Key elements of the framework
Here are the major elements of the agreement reached between Iran and world powers on its nuclear program, with details to be worked out in a final accord by June 30:
Natanz: No enrichment facilities will be permitted except at Iran’s Natanz site.
Fordo: The underground Fordo nuclear site will be converted into a nuclear physics and technology center with no fissile material permitted there.
Arak: The heavy-water reactor at Arak will be redesigned so it won’t produce weapons-grade plutonium. The stockpile at Arak will be exported.
Verification: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be given access to all sites and the ability to confirm past and present activities.
Sanctions: The U.S. and European Union will suspend sanctions once the IAEA verifies that Iran has taken the key required steps.
The U.S. State Department said the sanctions wouldn’t be repealed and could “snap back into place” if Iran violates its commitments.
How long: The U.S. said Iran would restrict uranium enrichment for 15 years and agree not to build new enrichment facilities for that period.
Iran would remain a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits the development of a nuclear weapon.
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At the White House, President Obama hailed the agreement, saying it would “shut down Iran’s path to a bomb” made from either uranium or plutonium. “This deal is not based in trust,” he said. “It is based on unprecedented verification.”
He also challenged Congress to give the agreement serious consideration and approach it without partisan politics. “These are matters of war and peace,” he said, noting that the agreement was not a bilateral deal between the United States and Iran but a deal between Iran and six world powers and the European Union. “If Congress kills this deal, the international community will blame the United States,” Obama said.
Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a nuclear scientist who played a crucial role in the last stages of the negotiations, said the pact satisfied their primary goal of ensuring that Iran, if it decided to, could not race for a nuclear weapon in less than a year, although those constraints against “breakout” would be in effect only for the first decade of the accord.
Under the accord, Iran agreed to cut the number of operating centrifuges it has by two-thirds, to 5,060, all of them first-generation, and to cut its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium from about 10,000 kilograms to 300 for 15 years. A U.S. description of the deal also referred to inspections “anywhere in the country” that could “investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility.”
In a move not seen since before the Iranian revolution in 1979, and to the surprise of many in both countries, Iranian government broadcasters aired Obama’s comments live. In parts of Tehran, people cheered and honked car horns as they began to contemplate a life without the sanctions on oil and financial transactions, though the issue of when the sanctions are to be removed looms as one of the potential obstacles to a final agreement June 30.
If that hurdle and the problem of ridding Iran of its huge stockpile of nuclear fuel can be fully resolved in the next three months, the preliminary accord will still need to be sold to Iran’s neighbors. The prospect of a deal has inflamed Israel and the Gulf states, alarmed by Iranian muscle-flexing in the Middle East, most recently in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Now, attention will shift to Obama and Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president who was elected on a platform of ending sanctions. They share a common task: selling the agreement at home to constituencies suspicious of both the deal and the prospect of signing any accord with an avowed enemy. The Obama administration has promised a lobbying campaign by the president unlike any seen since he pushed through health-care legislation.
Iranian officials may have an even harder political argument to win. They will have to overcome objections in the military and scientific establishments.
Experts reviewing the deal said they were surprised by its limits on Iran, which include limiting its enrichment activities to a single site at Natanz, ending those activities at a second site at Fordo, and re-engineering a third site at Arak so that its reactor no longer would produce bomb-grade plutonium.
“It’s positive,” said Shahram Chubin, a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy Program.
In a telephone call from Air Force One on Thursday afternoon, Obama told Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that while the deal was not final, it “represents significant progress toward a lasting, comprehensive solution that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb and verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward,” according to an account of the conversation from the White House.
Netanyahu was not mollified, and released a statement saying: “A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel.”
In exchange for agreeing to what the negotiating world powers called a historic level of oversight, Iran would see most of the economic sanctions lifted, though some imposed by the United States would remain. The suspensions of the sanctions would take place “after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps.”
Experts this week estimated that the lifting of sanctions could mean an infusion of $60 billion a year into what is now a struggling Iranian economy. German news outlets have reported that Germany alone would expect to do as much as $10 billion of trade a year with Iran if the sanctions were lifted.
Getting the sanctions lifted was the primary goal of the Iranians coming into the negotiations. Even so, they agreed to a “snapback” provision that would reimpose the sanctions “if at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments,” according to the fact sheet.
According to a joint statement that was read first in English by the European Union’s representative to the talks, Federica Mogherini, and then in Persian by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Iran would be permitted to enrich uranium only at its facility at Natanz.
The facility at Fordo “will be converted from an enrichment site into a nuclear, physics and technology center,” the statement said.
As for Iran’s reactor at Arak, “an international joint venture will assist Iran in redesigning and rebuilding a modernized heavy-water research reactor … that will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. There will be no reprocessing and the spent fuel will be exported.”
Maintaining some facilities at Fordo and Arak was an important point for the Iranians, and Zarif made a point that Iran had not given up its nuclear program.
The deal came after eight days of intense talks. A deal had appeared on the brink of collapse at several times during negotiations, especially after a self-imposed deadline of March 31 had passed without a full agreement.
The negotiators dealing with Iran were referred to as the P5 plus 1: the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S., plus Germany — and the European Union.