The nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) emerged after a three-session diplomatic marathon. The third round of talks, containing intense, substantial and detailed negotiations between Iran's delegation (headed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif) and the P5+1 delegates, started on 20 November and lasted five days.
In the end, Iran accepted constraints on its nuclear program for the first time in a decade in exchange for partial relief from sanctions.
“After intense negotiations, we have reached agreement today on a joint plan of action which sets out an approach toward reaching a long-term, comprehensive solution,” Catherine Ashton, the P5+1 delegation's leader, announced in a joint statement immediately after the deal was signed.
“We agreed that the process leading to this comprehensive solution will include a first step of initial, reciprocal measures to be taken by both sides for a duration of six months.”
The six-month life of the Geneva deal is intended to be used to negotiate a comprehensive and permanent settlement that would allow Iran to pursue a peaceful program, almost certainly including enrichment, but under certain limits and intrusive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The deal was an achievement for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, a moderate figure who replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August and vowed to resolve Iran’s nuclear issue and remove sanctions immediately.
In mid-August, Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament approved most of Rouhani’s proposed cabinet ministers. Mohammad Javaz Zarif became foreign minister and the country's top nuclear negotiator. He is a US-educated veteran diplomat previously involved in secret Tehran-Washington talks, and described the agreement as “an important achievement, but it is a first step.” He said it includes “a clear reference that [uranium]enrichment will continue”.
When he returned home, Zarif was received as a hero. Hundreds of jubilant Iranians, mostly young people, went to the airport to welcome their nuclear negotiators.
The deal announcement made Iranians delighted, reflecting widespread hope that it would reduce the threat of war and ease sanctions. Hundreds of thousands of people stayed up through the night to follow the minute-by-minute coverage of negotiations on satellite television, Facebook and Twitter.
Many Iranians talk proudly of the role Zarif played during the negotiations. Talking to New Matilda, Hossein, a 34-year-old reformist journalist, said:
“The work done by Zarif and his colleagues is not comparable to that of the previous negotiating teams. Zarif had the ability to gather world powers’ foreign ministers at the negotiating table. He acted impressively during the negotiations.”
Ordinary people in Iran have also been satisfied with the deal. Iranians are suffering from the sanctions targeting their economy and look at the nuclear negotiations as a way out of this tough moment. A 52-year-old woman, who works as a cleaner in order to manage expenses of her family, dubbed the deal as a “peace deal”, thanking God it was signed.
“I want to thank Mr Zarif and Mr Rouhani for the peace deal. I pray for them. We are living a hard life. I hope they remove the sanctions. May God help us,” she told NM.
Crucial support came from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who welcomed the six-month “first-step” nuclear agreement. He said on 24 November that the deal reached in Geneva was “the basis” for further progress.
Nonetheless, hardliners still criticised the agreement. Ruhollah Hosseinian — a politician and former security advisor to Ahmadinejad — said the deal was so vague and conditional that it may finally lead to a shutting down of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Hamid Rasaei, another hardline legislator, also called it “a poisoned chalice”.
Hossein Shariatmadari, a representative of Khamenei and editor of hard-line newspaper Kayhan, said Iran has given too many concessions in return for too little.
“This slippery achievement is not consistent with the huge volume of propaganda that is being pumped into society over its significance,” he said in an article published on 27 November. “It leads to the assumption that government is not honest in its reports to the people.”
Mahdi, a 29-year-old university student, played down the hardliners’ opposition to the agreement. Considering the current regional challenges and the 10-year deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program, he thinks it was a “good deal”.
“I believe it was a win-win deal for both sides. It’s clear that those pressure groups inside and outside Iran will oppose the agreement because it’s a threat to their interests," he told NM.
Iran’s neighbours were tight-lipped during the negotiations and remain relatively so now the agreement has been signed. But Israel, which had rejected any negotiations between world powers and Iran, warned that the agreement had made the world “more dangerous”.
This final round of negotiations in Geneva began months ago in secrecy, shortly after Rouhani took office in August. According to the Washington-based news website, Al-Monitor, the historic agreement on Iran’s nuclear program was made possible by months of unprecedented secret meetings between US and Iranian officials. The meetings ran parallel to official negotiations involving five other world powers, and helped pave the way for the interim deal signed in Geneva.
The Associated Press also reported that at least five meetings were held between the two sides at undisclosed locations, including the Persian Gulf state of Oman.
According to a "fact sheet" issued by the White House, Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5 per cent and “neutralise” its stockpile of uranium enriched beyond this point within six months. Iran will also give greater access to inspectors including daily access at the Natanz and Fordo nuclear sites. There will be no further development of the Arak plant, which is believed to be able to produce plutonium.
In return, there will be no new nuclear-related sanctions for six months if Iran sticks by the accord. Iran will receive sanctions relief worth about US$7 billion. Restrictions on the country’s trade in gold, petrochemicals, car and plane parts will also be lifted.
After three decades of adversarial politics, the agreement is a major milestone in Iran-US relations. The moderate government of Hassan Rouhani has demonstrated its persistence in seeking a détente with the Western world. But as indicated in the Geneva deal text, it’s a “time-bound first-step” deal which aims to reach a “long-term comprehensive solution”.
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