Iran, Major Powers Agree Historic Nuclear Deal

Major powers clinched a historic deal Tuesday aimed at ensuring Iran does not obtain the nuclear bomb, opening up Tehran's stricken economy and potentially ending decades of bad blood with the West.

Reached on day 18 of marathon talks in Vienna, the accord is aimed at resolving a 13-year standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions after repeated diplomatic failures and threats of military action.

It was hailed by Iran, the United States, the European Union and NATO but branded a "historic mistake" by Tehran's archfoe Israel.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the accord meant "every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off."

"This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it," he said in an address to the nation.

He vowed to veto any Congressional effort to block the deal, reached between Tehran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Underscoring the tectonic shift in relations, Iranian state television broadcast Obama's statement live, only the second such occasion since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in his own address that "God has accepted the nation's prayers" and that the accord would lift "inhumane and tyrannical sanctions."

"Iran will never seek a nuclear weapon, with or without the implementation" of the Vienna deal, he added.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the agreement as "a sign of hope", while Russian President Vladimir Putin said the world had "breathed a huge sigh of relief."

Syrian President Bashar Assad, a close ally of Iran, called the agreement a "great victory."

French President Francois Hollande said "the world is making headway", while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called it a "historic breakthrough" and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed it as "an important success" of international diplomacy.

Hundreds of Iranians poured onto the streets of Tehran to celebrate after the Ramadan fast ended at sundown.

"Maybe the economy is going to change, especially for the young people," said Giti, a 42-year-old woman.

- Stringent U.N. oversight -

The deal limits Iran's nuclear activities for at least a decade and calls for stringent U.N. oversight, with world powers hoping this will make any dash to make an atomic bomb virtually impossible.

In return Iran will get sanctions relief although the measures can "snap back" into place if there are any violations.

The international arms embargo against Iran will remain for five years with deliveries only possible during that time with permission from the U.N. Security Council, diplomats said.

Tehran has accepted allowing the U.N. nuclear watchdog tightly-controlled access to military bases, an Iranian official said.

Iran will slash by around two-thirds the number of centrifuges, which can make fuel for nuclear power but also the core of a nuclear bomb, from around 19,000 to 6,104.

Painful international sanctions that have cut the oil exports of OPEC's fifth-largest producer by a quarter and choked its economy will be lifted and billions of dollars in frozen assets unblocked.

World oil prices fell Tuesday following the breakthrough, with U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate for August delivery down $1.05 (0.95 euros) at $51.15 (46.46 euros).

The agreement is Obama's crowning foreign policy achievement in six years, and the fruit of Rouhani's bid since his election in 2013 to end Iran's isolation.

The agreement may lead to more cooperation between Tehran and Washington at a particularly explosive time in the Middle East with the emergence last year of the Islamic State group, which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq.

- Decades of enmity -

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the deal paves the way for a broader coalition to fight IS, a common enemy of the West and Iran in the Middle East.

But erasing decades of hostility will be tough, and the prospect of better U.S.-Iran relations alarms Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states, which accuse Shiite Iran of stoking unrest in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

Reflecting the concerns, a senior U.S. official said Obama would soon speak to Israeli and Saudi leaders.

In what was seen as a thinly veiled threat of strikes against Iranian nuclear sites, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned: "We did commit to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and this commitment still stands."

Obama's Republican opponents who control Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement, during which time Obama cannot waive Congressional sanctions.

The opponents, backed by legions of lobbyists, are set to launch a campaign to try to override a presidential veto and scupper the deal.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said Tuesday the agreement was "likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world."

Even if the agreement gets past Congress -- the Iranian parliament and the U.N. Security Council also have to approve it -- implementing the accord could be a rough ride.

France said it expected Security Council approval "within days," while a U.S. official said a resolution could be introduced next week.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog will have to verify that Iran does indeed scale down its facilities before the U.N., U.S. and EU lift their sanctions.

Source: Agence France Presse

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