Obama, Iran hail nuclear deal; Israel hits 'historic surrender'

July 15, 2015 08:28
Iranians celebrate in the streets of Tehran on Tuesday after the announcement of the deal which they hope will end years of sanctions and isolation for their country. Photo: AFP

US President Barack Obama hailed a nuclear deal reached between Iran and six major world powers on Tuesday as a step towards a "more hopeful world".

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said it proved that "constructive engagement works", but Israel pledged to do what it could to halt what it called an "historic surrender", Reuters reported.

The agreement, which capped more than a decade of negotiations, will now be debated in the US Congress.

Obama said he would veto any measure to block it. "This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction," he said. "We should seize it."

Under the deal, sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations will be lifted in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on a nuclear program that the West has suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb.

Iran will mothball for at least a decade the majority of its centrifuges used to enrich uranium and sharply reduce its low-enriched uranium stockpile.

The agreement is a political triumph for both Obama, who has long promised to reach out to historic enemies, and Rouhani, a pragmatist elected two years ago on a vow to reduce the isolation of his nation of 80 million people.

Both face skepticism from powerful hardliners at home in nations that referred to each other as "the Great Satan" and a member of the "Axis of Evil".

"Today is the end to acts of tyranny against our nation and the start of cooperation with the world," Rouhani said in a televised address. "This is a reciprocal deal. If they stick to it, we will. The Iranian nation has always observed its promises and treaties."

Delighted Iranians danced in the streets of Tehran, whole motorists sounded car horns and flashed victory signs in celebration after the announcement a deal they hope will end years of sanctions and isolation.

For Obama, the diplomacy with Iran, begun in secret more than two years ago, ranks alongside his normalization of ties with Cuba as landmarks in a legacy of reconciliation with foes that tormented his predecessors for decades.

"History shows that America must lead not just with our might but with our principles," he said in a televised address. "Today's announcement marks one more chapter in our pursuit of a safer, more helpful and more hopeful world."

Republicans lined up to denounce the deal. Senator Marco Rubio suggested he would re-introduce sanctions if elected to the White House next year.

The Republican-controlled Congress has 60 days to review the accord, but if it votes to reject it Obama can use his veto, which can be overridden only by two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses.

That means dozens of Obama's fellow Democrats would have to rebel against one of their president's signature achievements to kill it, an unlikely prospect.

The Senate was not expected to vote on the deal before September.

While the main negotiations were between the US and Iran, the four other UN Security Council permanent members — Britain, China, France and Russia — are also parties to the deal, as is Germany.

Washington's friends in the Middle East were furious, especially Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has cultivated a close relationship with Obama's Republican opponents in Congress.

"Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world," he said. "Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons."

His deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, denounced an "historic surrender" and said Israel would "act with all means to try and stop the agreement being ratified", a clear threat to use its influence to try and block it in Congress.

In phone call with Netanyahu, Obama underscored US commitment to Israel's security, the White House said.

While Saudi Arabia did not denounce the deal publicly as Israel did, its officials expressed doubt in private.

"We have learned as Iran's neighbors in the last 40 years that goodwill only led us to harvest sour grapes," a Saudi official who asked to remain anonymous told Reuters.

It will probably be months before Iran receives the benefits from the lifting of sanctions because of the need to verify the deal's fulfillment.

Once implementation is confirmed, Tehran will immediately gain access to around US$100 billion in frozen assets, and can step up oil exports that have been slashed by almost two-thirds, the report said.

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