WASHINGTON – Western leaders have hailed their nuclear agreement with Iran but were quickly confronted by the scale of the six-month struggle ahead to reach a final settlement.
For, while the United States and its allies welcomed an accord that they hope will put Iran's nuclear programme on hold as talks continue, it marks only the first stage in negotiations.
Even as US President Barack Obama on Sunday hailed a breakthrough, he had to move quickly to placate skeptical US friends: Israel and the Gulf monarchies.
The White House was at pains to insist it had only given ground on a tiny fraction of the economic sanctions previously imposed on Iran to halt what the West sees as its bid to build a nuclear bomb.
And officials stressed that such relief would only last while Iran keeps its side of the negotiation and the world powers seek a "lasting, peaceful and comprehensive solution."
But Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose own country is widely assumed to have an undeclared nuclear arsenal, branded the Geneva agreement a "historic mistake" that would convince Tehran it has a free hand to achieve breakout nuclear capability and tip the balance of power in the Middle East.
Obama called Netanyahu in a bid to reassure him that the accord was temporary and the sanctions relief limited.
The deal was reached in marathon talks in Geneva that ended before dawn after long tractions between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
But the six powers hailed it as a key first step that wards off the threat of military escalation – a geopolitical breakthrough that would have been unthinkable only months ago.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the deal "could turn out to be the beginnings of a historic agreement" for the Middle East.
Iran will neutralise its stockpile of uranium enriched to higher 20 per cent purity within six months, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Geneva after clinching the deal.
Iran will not add to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, nor install more centrifuges nor commission the Arak heavy-water reactor, which could produce plutonium fissile material.
UN atomic inspectors will also have additional, "unprecedented" access, Kerry said, including daily site inspections at the two enrichment facilities of Fordo and Natanz.
In exchange, the Islamic republic will receive some $7 billion (5.2 billion euros) in sanctions relief and the powers promised to impose no new embargo measures for six months if Tehran sticks to the accord. AFP