July 14, 2015


[The Obama administration’s assertion that “breakout time” will be extended to a year during the first decade of the accord, a substantial increase from the current estimate of two to three months, has been one of the White House’s selling points for the agreement. But it is also likely to be one of the most contentious questions during debate of the accord in Congress.]
Obama Comments on Iranian Nuclear Deal
The president spoke on Tuesday following a nuclear deal between Iran and world
 powers, saying it was a “comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that prevents
 it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” By Associated Press on Publish Date July 14,
 2015. Photo by Pool photo by Andrew Harnik. Watch in Times Video »

VIENNA Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States said they had reached a historic accord on Tuesday to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.

The agreement culminates 20 months of negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran that President Obama had long sought as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency. Whether it portends a new relationship between the United States and Iran — after decades of coups, hostage-taking, terrorism and sanctions — remains a bigger question.
President Obama, in an early morning appearance at the White House that was broadcast live in Iran, began what promised to be an arduous effort to sell the deal to Congress and the American public, saying the agreement was “not built on trust, it is built on verification.”
But Mr. Obama made it abundantly clear that he would fight to preserve the deal in its entirety, saying, “I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.”
Not everyone was celebrating the accord. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called it a “historic mistake” that would ultimately create a “terrorist nuclear superpower.”
In 18 consecutive days of talks here, American officials said, the United States secured major restrictions on the amount of nuclear fuel that Iran can keep in its stockpile for the next 15 years. It will require Iran to reduce its current stockpile of low enriched uranium by 98 percent, most likely by shipping much of it to Russia.
That measure, combined with a two-thirds reduction in the number of centrifuges spinning at Iran’s primary enrichment center at Natanz, would extend to a year the amount of time it would take Iran to make enough material for a bomb should it abandon the accord and race for a weapon — what officials call “breakout time.”
American officials acknowledged that after the first decade, the breakout time would begin to shrink. It was unclear how rapidly, because Iran’s longer-term plans to expand its enrichment capability will be kept confidential.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the negotiations for the United States, sought in his remarks on Tuesday to blunt criticism on this point. “Iran will not produce or acquire highly enriched uranium or plutonium for at least 15 years,” he said. Verification measures, he added, would “stay in place permanently.”
He emphasized that Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency had “entered into an agreement to address all questions” about Iran’s past actions within three months, and that completing this task was “fundamental for sanctions relief.”
But it was left unclear whether the inspectors would be able to interview the scientists and engineers who were believed to have been at the center of an effort by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to design a weapon that Iran could manufacture in short order.
The Obama administration’s assertion that “breakout time” will be extended to a year during the first decade of the accord, a substantial increase from the current estimate of two to three months, has been one of the White House’s selling points for the agreement. But it is also likely to be one of the most contentious questions during debate of the accord in Congress.
In an interview with NPR in April, Mr. Obama said that in “year 13, 14, 15” of the agreement, the breakout time might shrink “almost down to zero,” as Iran is expected to develop and use advanced centrifuges then.
Pressed on that point, an American official who briefed reporters on Tuesday said that Iran’s long-term plans to expand its enrichment capability would be shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other parties to the accord.
While this information is expected to be shared with the United States Congress in classified briefings, it will not be made public.
The official asserted that the reduction in the breakout time would be gradual because Iran’s stockpile of less enriched uranium would be limited for 15 years. But after that period, Iran could have a substantial enrichment capability.
“It is going to be a gradual decline,” the official said. “At the end of, say, 15 years, we are not going to know what that is.”
Mr. Obama emphasized that the accord was preferable to the alternate of having no agreement and of an unbridled Iran touching off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
“Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East,” he said. He added that his successors in the White House “will be in a far stronger position” to restrain Iran for decades to come than they would be without the pact.
As news of a nuclear deal spread across Iran, people there reacted with a mix of jubilation, cautious optimism and disbelief that decades of a seemingly intractable conflict could be coming to an end.
“Have they really reached a deal?” asked Masoud Derakhshani, a 93-year-old widower who had come down to the lobby of his apartment building for his daily newspaper. Mr. Derakhshani remained cautious, even incredulous. “I can’t believe it. They will most probably hit some last minute snag.”
Across Tehran, many Iranians expressed hoped for better economic times after years in which crippling sanctions severely depressed the value of the national currency, the rial. That, in turn, caused inflation and shortages of goods, including vital medicines, and it forced Iranians to carry wads of bank notes to pay for every day items such as meat, rice and beans.
“I am desperate to feed my three sons,” said Ali, a 53-year-old cleaner. “This deal should bring investment for jobs so they can start working for a living.”National dignity, a central demand of Iran’s leadership, did not matter to him, he said. “I really do not care if this is a victory for us or not,” he added. “I want relations with the West, if we compromised so be it.”
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 on a platform of ridding the country of the sanctions, made a brief statement, saying that the Iranian people’s “prayers have come true.”
A senior Iranian official in Vienna, speaking to reporters on the condition on anonymity, following diplomatic protocol, called the agreement “a good deal that the Iranian people will support,” but added that he was uncertain how it would “translate in the economics of the country.”
One of the last, and most contentious, issues was the question of whether and how fast an arms embargo on conventional weapons and missiles, imposed starting in 2006, would be lifted.
After days of haggling, Mr. Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, agreed that the missile restrictions would remain for eight years and that a similar ban on the purchase and sale of conventional weapons would be removed in five years.
Those bans would be removed even sooner if the International Atomic Energy Agency is able to reach a definitive conclusion that the Iranian nuclear program is entirely peaceful, and that there was no evidence of cheating on the accord or any activity to obtain weapons covertly.
The provisions on the arms embargo are expected to dominate the coming debate in Congress on the accord.
Even before the deal was announced, critics expressed fears that Iran would use some of the billions of dollars it will receive in sanctions relief to build up its military power in the region. Iranian officials, however, have said that Iran should be treated like any other nation and not be subjected to an arms embargo if it meets the terms of a nuclear deal.
Mr. Kerry appeared to secure another commitment that was not part of a preliminary agreement, negotiated in Lausanne, Switzerland, in April. Iranian officials agreed here on a multiyear ban on designing warheads and conducting tests, including with detonators and nuclear triggers, that would contribute to the design and manufacture of a nuclear weapon. Accusations that Tehran conducted that kind of research in the past led to a standoff with international inspectors.
Diplomats also came up with unusual procedure to “snap back” the sanctions against Iran if an eight-member panel determines that Tehran is violating the nuclear provisions.
The members of the panel are Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, the European Union and Iran itself.
A majority vote is required, meaning that Russia, China and Iran could not collectively block action. The investigation and referral process calls for a time schedule of 65 days, tight compared to the years the atomic energy agency has taken to pursue suspicious activity.
With the announcement of the accord, Mr. Obama has now made major strides toward fundamentally changing the American diplomatic relationships with three nations: Cuba, Iran and Myanmar. Of the three, Iran is the most strategically important, the only one with a nuclear program, and it is still on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Although some provisions, including the arms embargo, are expected to be especially contentious in Congress, Mr. Obama’s chances of ultimately prevailing are considered high. Even if the accord is voted down by one or both houses, he could veto that action, and he is likely to have the votes he would need to prevail in an effort to override the veto. But he has told aides that for an accord as important as this one — which he hopes will usher in a virtual truce with a country that has been a major American adversary for 35 years — he wants a congressional endorsement.
Mr. Obama will also have to manage the breach with Mr.Netanyahu and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states who have warned against the deal, saying the relief of sanctions will ultimately empower the Iranians throughout the Middle East.

The announcement comes after years of sanctions and covert cyberattacks to disable Iran’s nuclear program, which Iranian leaders say is only for peaceful purposes.
Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state, began the effort to reach an agreement on the nuclear program by sending aides on secret missions starting in 2012 to meet Iranian diplomats and explore the opening of talks, enraging Israeli officials who had been left in the dark.
A preliminary accord struck in 2013 temporarily froze much of Iran’s program and rolled back the production of a kind of fuel that was closest to bomb grade. The ensuing negotiations have been repeatedly extended and became Mr. Kerry’s single biggest mission. Once-rare American encounters with Iranian diplomats became routine. Along the way, Mr. Kerry has spent more hours with Mr. Zarif than with any other foreign minister.
Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from Washington.

@ The New York Times