Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has received a rapturous reception from crowds in Tehran, after negotiating a preliminary nuclear deal that paves for the way for an end to years of crippling sanctions.
In return Iran must curb, though not abandon, its nuclear activities.
Zarif, just back from marathon talks in Switzerland, stressed that point at a
news conference on arrival.
“The nuclear programme will continue,” he said.
Zarif stressed that under a final deal, due to be struck between Iran and six world powers by June 30, if any decision is made to reimpose sanctions, Tehran will be able to reciprocate by retreating from its commitments.
His car was swamped by jubilant well-wishers who had already spent Thursday night celebrating on news of the tentative agreement.
All sanctions on Iran remain in place until a final deal.
Under the outline accord, Iran would shut more than two-thirds of its installed centrifuges capable of producing uranium that could be used to build a bomb, dismantle a reactor that could produce plutonium, and accept intrusive verification.
The negotiations between Iran and six powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – blew past a self-imposed March 31 deadline with no certainty that they would not end in failure.
The framework includes limits on Iran’s enrichment of uranium for 10 years.
Iran agreed to significantly reduce the number of installed uranium enrichment centrifuges it has to 6,104 from 19,000 and will only operate 5,060 for 10 years under the future agreement with the six powers, according to a US fact sheet. Iran will only use first generation centrifuges during that time, it said.
One of the most sensitive issues during the negotiations, Iran’s research and development work, will also be limited.
France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, defended the deal.
“Under no circumstances will Iran seek or have nuclear weapons,” he told reporters in the Swiss resort of Lausanne after eight days of talks.
“And it is with this simple and strong sentence that all the discussions took place. And that is the entire point of this agreement: nuclear power for civilian purposes – no problem, 100 percent. Nuclear power for military purposes, the atomic bomb – no way.”
Under Thursday’s agreement, Iran will gradually receive relief from US and European Union nuclear sanctions if it complies with the terms of a final deal. Some UN Security Council sanctions would be gradually lifted, though others would remain in place, specifically those relating to proliferation.
Friday’s hero’s welcome for Iran’s top diplomat follows 12 years of brinkmanship, threats and confrontation amid fears that Iran’s aim has been to build an atomic bomb – something the Islamic Republic has always denied.
Many details must still be worked out to finalise what is still a fragile framework agreement. But President Obama has already hailed what he called an “historic understanding with Iran”.
The talks were the biggest opportunity for rapprochement between Washington and Tehran since they became enemies after Iran’s 1979 revolution, but any deal faces scepticism from conservatives in both countries.
US allies in the Middle East are also sceptical, including Saudi Arabia.
The staunchest opponent of the agreement is Israel, which views Iran as a mortal threat.