GENEVA - An interim agreement has been reached between six world powers and Iran that calls on Tehran to limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief, the French and Iranian foreign ministers said early Sunday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, "Yes, we have a deal," as he walked past reporters crowding the hotel lobby where marathon negotiations had taken place over the past five days.
Asked if there was a deal, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "Yes" and gave a thumbs-up sign.
The goal had been to hammer out an agreement to freeze Iran's nuclear program for six months, while offering the Iranians limited relief from crippling economic sanctions. If the interim deal holds, the parties will negotiate final-stage agreements to ensure Iran does not build nuclear weapons.
Obama lauds breakthrough
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the negotiating teams and hailed the agreement as a major breathrough in a brief televised speech.
Cautioning that much work still remained ahead before a final agreement was reached, Obama said that due to the interim deal struck Sunday morning, Iran will not be able to "use negotiations as a cover for it's nuclear program."
The U.S., Obama said, will refrain from imposing new sanctions during the next six months. And while certain sanctions will be loosened, the broader architecture of the sanctions will remain in place for the forseeable future.
Iran, said the president, has a right to atomic energy, like any other nation; but due to its history, the burden is on it "to prove to the word that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes."
"Israel and our gulf partners have good reason to be skeptical about Iran's intentions," Obama noted. "Ultimately, only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program," said Obama. "I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. However, I have a profound responsibility to try to resolve our differences peacefully, rather than rush towards conflict. Today, we have a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement, and I believe we must test it."
The deal came after the personal intervention by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers whose presence had raised hopes for a breakthrough.
Late night session ends in breakthrough
Speculation as to the session's success was rife early on Sunday morning as negotiators retired after hours of talks. But shortly after 3:00 A.M. local time, conflicting reports were cut short with the dramatic announcement.
"We have reached an agreement," Iran's Foreign Minister concisely tweeted, as the news broke.
This is only interim agreement, and the main deal lies six months away - and will probably be much more difficult to achieve.
'No recognition for uranium enrichment'
An agreement between Iran and major powers would make it harder for Iran to make a dash to build a nuclear weapon and would make Israel and other U.S. allies safer, Kerry said on Sunday.
Speaking after the agreement was struck between Iran and six major powers, Kerry also said that while Obama would not take off the table the possible use of force against Iran, he believed it was necessary first to exhaust diplomacy.
Addressing one of the most contentious issues in the 10-year nuclear standoff, Kerry said that the deal does not include any recognition of an Iranian "right" to enrich uranium.
But speaking on Iran's Press TV, Zarif said the deal had recognised Iran's nuclear program. He added that in a final "step" all sanctions would be lifted.
Zarif said the deal was an opportunity for the West to restore trust with the Iranian nation, adding Tehran would expand cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, to address what he called some concerns.
Shortly prior to Obama's remarks, the White House released a short 'fact sheet' explaining the agreement and the rationals that directed the U.S. in its negotiating efforts.