White House reaches historic nuclear deal with Iran

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Negotiators in Vienna have reached a historic agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear development program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The deal is a significant victory for President Obama, who since his 2008 election has pushed for negotiations with Iran to end its nuclear program against stiff criticism from congressional Republicans, some Democrats and the government of Israel.

{mosads}“This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change,” Obama said in remarks just after 7 a.m. from the White House. “Change that makes our country and the world more safe and secure.”

“Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of weapons in this region,” Obama said, with Vice President Biden at his side. “Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republican of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted angrily, calling the agreement a “historic mistake for the world.”

He and other critics of the talks have said the deal would leave openings for Iran to continue to work to gain nuclear weapons.

Under legislation approved by Congress, lawmakers will have 60 days to review the deal. Congress could pass a resolution to approve or disapprove the agreement, which would be subject to a veto by Obama.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called it a “terrible” deal that would pave the path for Iran to get a nuclear weapon and predicted it would be sunk by Congress.

“The American people are going to repudiate this deal, and I believe Congress will kill the deal,” he said. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also called it a terrible deal and argued it would be a “death sentence” for Israel unless it pushes back. He also said the deal would be negatively received by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim countries, who would need to review their policies.

Graham challenged Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats who say they are supporters of Israel to oppose the agreement.
“Chuck Schumer is supposed to be the guardian of Israel. He goes around everywhere and says ‘My name is Schumer. It means guardian of Israel,” Graham said. “Well if you care about Israel, you will not put her in this box. If you care about the United States, you will not allow our chief antagonist to become a nuclear threshold nation guaranteed in nature with no restrictions for them to go beyond that.”
The deal prevents Iran from producing enough uranium and plutonium to make a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years. It also allows inspectors to have access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, including military sites “where necessary, when necessary” if nuclear activity is suspected there. 
“This deal is not built on trust, it is built on verification,” Obama said. 
But that falls short of the demand of some Senate Democrats for “anytime, anywhere” inspections of Iran’s military facilities. Some lawmakers also fear the International Atomic Energy Agency won’t be able to produce a full accounting of Iran’s past alleged efforts to build a nuclear weapon, an investigation Obama said will take place. 
Despite skepticism from Capitol Hill, administration officials expressed confidence in their sales pitch, saying public opinion polls show support for an agreement.

The agreement “exceeds what we thought we could get at the beginning of the process,” one official said.

“The president is confident in the case he can put forward to the American people,” the official added.

Senior White House officials quickly began laying out their argument against Congress rejecting the deal.

The United States was only able to win approval of certain economic sanctions against Iran, the officials said, on the promise that it would be used as leverage for diplomacy.

If Congress blocks the White House from lifting some sanctions and the Iran deal crumbles, the international community might not be willing to keep the broader sanctions regime in place, officials said.

“If, having gotten this deal, we then kill it, it’s hard to see why those countries would go back along with additional sanctions,” an official said.

An official specifically cited the work it took to convince other nations to slash imports of Iranian oil, which required them to take a financial hit. Without a nuclear deal, the countries might not be willing to keep the oil restrictions in place, the official said.

“A vote to kill this deal could be a vote to kill the sanctions regime because it will be far more difficult to bring those other countries along.”
The agreement would lift a United Nations arms embargo on Iran after five years and a ballistic missile ban after eight, as long as the country abides by the terms of the deal. That’s a provision staunchly opposed by many Senate Democrats and top military brass, who have expressed concern Iran could use legal weapons sales to bolster their allies in Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. 

Obama said he welcomed a robust debate with Congress and warned that he would veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of the deal.

“Precisely because the stakes are so high, this is not the time for politics or posturing,” he said. “Tough talk from Washington does not solve problems. Hard-nosed diplomacy, leadership that has united the world’s major powers, offers a more effective way to verify that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.”

Obama was informed by Secretary of State John Kerry that the deal was complete in a phone call late Monday night. The president then called leaders in the House and the Senate to inform them. A senior administration official said the president and his national security team will speak with members of Congress throughout the week.

“I expect him to be talking to members of Congress very actively,” the official said.

Obama is also expected to phone world leaders, including Netanyahu and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, two U.S. allies who are wary of the deal.

Negotiators from the European Union hailed the deal at a press conference from Vienna.

The deal ensures that Iran’s nuclear program will be “exclusively peaceful and mark a fundamental shift in their approach on this issue,” said Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the European Union.

She insisted the deal was a balanced one and said all of the annexes of the deal would be made public later on Tuesday.

“A new page has emerged,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said from Vienna, echoing President Obama’s remarks.

He added that he hoped the deal will allow mischaracterizations about Iran to fade.

White House officials said that negotiators also discussed the fate of Americans detained and missing in Iran and that they are doing “whatever we can” to help bring the Americans home. The officials added that Kerry spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif Tuesday about the prisoners.

“This is a moment where Iran has an important opportunity to make a humanitarian gesture to bring Americans home,” an official said.

Last updated at 10:08 a.m.

Jordan Fabian contributed to this story.

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Iran John Kerry Lindsey Graham Tom Cotton
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