By Jeremy Herb - 01/12/14 02:55 PM EST
Iran and six world powers have reached an agreement to implement the interim nuclear deal starting on Jan. 20.
The agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — will give Iran roughly $7 billion in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
The White House hailed the agreement, saying it would mark “the first time in a decade that the Islamic Republic of Iran has agreed to specific actions that halt progress on its nuclear program and roll back key parts of the program.”
As part of the interim deal, Iran has agreed to stop enriching 20 percent uranium, the level below weapons grade, but Tehran will still be able to enrich 5 percent uranium.
The interim deal was struck as a step forward to allow Tehran and the P5+1 group to be able to reach a permanent deal.
“With today's agreement, we have made concrete progress,” President Obama said in a statement.
“I welcome this important step forward, and we will now focus on the critical work of pursuing a comprehensive resolution that addresses our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said. “I have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve this objective, but for the sake of our national security and the peace and security of the world, now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”
Secretary of State John Kerry called the agreement “a critical, significant step forward toward reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
As it implements the deal, the White House is also pressing to blunt a congressional push to pass tougher Iran sanctions legislation.
Senators from both parties are pressing for a vote on a bill from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to enact new sanctions against Iran that would take effect, if Tehran walks away from the nuclear deal.
Kirk slammed the agreement Sunday and called on the Senate to pass his legislation. He said the Obama administration was giving "the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism billions of dollars while allowing the mullahs to keep their illicit nuclear infrastructure in place."
"I am worried the administration's policies will either lead to Iranian nuclear weapons or Israeli air strikes," he said.
Senior administration officials said on a conference call with reporters that the new sanctions bill would derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran and divide the international sanctions regime that brought Iran to the negotiating table.
“I think the stakes will further sink in, and we hope that it will prevail upon Congress to avoid taking action, if it jeopardizes these negotiations,” one administration official said.
Many lawmakers, however, are unhappy with the terms of the interim deal that still allows Iranian uranium enrichment, and they have warned the sanctions relief would alleviate the pressure needed to convince Iran to give up enrichment.
The Menendez-Kirk legislation has 59 co-sponsors, nearing a filibuster-proof majority. Sixty-seven votes would be needed to override a presidential veto.
It’s unclear whether the Senate would take up the legislation, however, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not indicated he would do so.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who has pushed sanctions in the House, said the implementation announced Sunday “only furthers a deeply flawed agreement that legitimizes Iran's flagrant violations of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for the full suspension of its nuclear program.”
“The underlying agreement does nothing to reverse Iran's nuclear program, allows it to continue industrial-scale enrichment of uranium and fails to address critical aspects of Iran's weaponization research,” Cantor said in a statement.
In his statement, however, Cantor did not mention any potential House action on Iran sanctions legislation.
The White House has insisted the sanctions relief is reversible, if Iran does not meet the terms of the agreement.
“Imposing additional sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully, and I will veto any legislation enacting new sanctions during the negotiation,” Obama said in his statement. "We will continue to vigorously enforce the broader sanctions regime, and if Iran fails to meet its commitments we will move to increase our sanctions."
Administration officials say the sanctions relief will be gradually given to Iran over the six-month period, as Tehran dilutes its 20-percent uranium stockpile.
The administration has acknowledged there are still many tricky issues to be resolved with Iran before a final agreement can be reached.
Obama said in an interview last month there was a 50-50 chance that a longstanding deal could be brokered.
— This report was first published at 12:14 p.m. and last updated at 2:55 p.m.