Iran nuclear talks: Sceptics sound note of caution amid jubilation over deal

The six major powers which wrangled over the deal now face the dual tasks of selling its contents to sceptical audiences and making sure it doesn't unravel

After the breakthrough in talks with Iran on paring back its nuclear capabilities, a more sober reality has set in as both sides recognise that the road from Thursday’s framework understanding to nailing down a final agreement by the end of June is certain to be a contentious and perilous one.

The six major powers which wrangled over the deal during eight days of negotiations in Switzerland now face the dual tasks of selling its contents to sceptical audiences, notably Israel as well as members of the US Congress, and making sure it does not unravel when they return to the table to turn the outline into a concrete pact.

It is an endeavour freighted with enormous stakes. For President Barack Obama, it is the opportunity he has sought since coming to office to reforge American foreign policy so that the projection of military power is replaced by the power of diplomacy. His officials are already urgently working the phones to calm doubters.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, reiterated his opposition yesterday saying that after a meeting of his cabinet its members are “united in strongly opposing” the deal with Iran.

 

“Israel demands that any final agreement with Iran will include a clear Iranian commitment of Israel’s right to exist,” Mr Netanyahu said in a statement yesterday. “Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons.”

In Iran, meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani said Iranians will “stand by the promises” they made and that they “do not seek to deceive” the international community. But hardliners were not effusive in their praise. Hossein Shariatmadari, an adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and editor of the hardline Kayhan daily – which has always opposed the talks – told the semi-official Fars news agency that Iran exchanged its “ready-to-race horse with a broken bridle”. But the Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who signed the agreement, received a hero’s welcome on his return to Tehran. Crowds of cheering supporters surrounded his vehicle and chanted slogans of support.

Meanwhile, in the US Republicans and some Democrats on Capitol Hill continued to voice their distrust of what the world powers are offering Iran. Some other parties to the talks sounded a note of caution. “We are not completely at the end of the road,” the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius noted. “Nothing is signed until everything is signed, but things are going in the right direction.”

According to a document released by the US describing the parameters for a final deal it said had been agreed upon, Iran would accept an array of measures to cut into its ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Many of those limits would be in place for a decade, while others would last 15 or 20 years. Sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programmes would be suspended by the US and the European Union and eased by the UN in phases after the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed its compliance.

Iran would see 75 per cent of the centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment site removed while much of its existing stockpile of enriched material would be neutralised. A planned reactor would be reconstructed so it would no longer be capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. The goal of these arrangements is to extend to at least one year the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb with the technology it has, from the estimated three to four months it would need today.

The release by the US of the detailed document appeared to have irked the Iranians, however. “There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on,” tweeted Mr Zarif.

The plan has put Mr Obama on a collision course with Congress where Republican leaders vowed to seek a vote on a bill that would give politicians the final word on any deal with Iran. Mr Obama could in theory veto such a law. However if enough Democrats abandon him and side with the Republicans his veto might be overridden.

Critically, meanwhile, there were signs in Tehran that what has emerged has the backing of Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the weekly sermon at Tehran University, Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, a hardline cleric, said Ayatollah Khamenei backed the negotiating team.

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