Obama: Historic deal reached on Iran nuclear program

US President Barack Obama called the preliminary agreement reached in Switzerland a “historic understanding” that would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, while getting relief from international sanctions.

“If this framework leads to the final deal, it would make our country, allies and the world safer,” Obama said, speaking at the White House.

According to the announcements by EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and the Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif, the deal envisions Iran operating only one uranium enrichment facility: The Natanz facility will be scaled down to 5,000 centrifuges.

The fortified facility at Fordow will be converted to a nuclear physics and technology research center, while the reactor at Arak is to be redesigned as a heavy-water research reactor, and will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. All spent fuel from the reactor will be exported.

According to Mogherini, all financial sanctions will be lifted immediately, while the US and the EU both pledged to lift other sanctions they had imposed as soon as the IAEA verified Iran was in compliance with the agreement. Previously Washington said the sanctions would be lifted after “years” of Iranian compliance.

“It is a good deal. A deal that meets our core objectives,” the president said, adding the agreement would “cut off every pathway” Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon, and introduce the “most robust, intrusive inspections regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.”

Reaching out to his critics in Congress and Israel, Obama explained the agreement would not be based on trust, but on “unprecedented verification.”

“Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world,” the president said. “If Iran cheats, the world will know it.”

Obama explained there were only three options to address Iran’s nuclear program. A “robust and verifiable deal” was the best. Bombing Iran and starting “another war in the Middle East” would have set back the Iranians by a couple of years, but also ensured Tehran would race ahead and build a bomb. The third option was to sit back and wait for the sanctions to work, but “every time we have done so, Iran has not capitulated,” the president explained.

“Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so. That’s not how the world works,” Obama said. The “toughest sanctions in history,” did have a “profound effect on Iran’s economy” and helped bring Tehran to the negotiating table, he said.

The interim agreement struck in 2013 resulted in Iran rolling back its nuclear development. “At the time skeptics argued that Iran would cheat, and the interim agreement would fail,” Obama said. “It has succeeded exactly as intended. Iran has fulfilled all its obligations.”

In return for accepting limitations on its nuclear program and “robust” inspections, Iran willobtain “relief from certain sanctions” imposed by the US, EU and the UN Security Council, Obama said. The relief would be phased, as Iran took steps to adhere to the agreement. Other sanctions, imposed over Iran’s alleged support of international terrorism, development of long-range missiles, and human rights issues, will remain in force, the president added.

Obama credited Congress for helping develop the sanctions regime, and said he wanted Congress to play a “constructive oversight role” in the next steps of the negotiating process.

“The issues at stake here are bigger than politics,” Obama said. If Congress kills the deal, without offering a reasonable alternative, the US will be blamed by the world for failure of diplomacy. “International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen,” the president said.

“Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon,” Obama emphasized, adding the work is not yet done, and the final deal has not been signed yet. Details will be worked on through June.