Iran and the United States and its negotiating partners finally reached agreement Tuesday on a deal that would curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief — setting up a looming showdown between President Obama and Congress, where lawmakers could take issue with several provisions, including one giving Iran leverage over inspections.
Speaking from the White House, Obama claimed the deal meets “every single one of the bottom lines” from a tentative agreement struck earlier this year.
“Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off,” Obama said, claiming it provides for extensive inspections. “This deal is not built on trust. It is built on verification.”
Yet that very issue could be the primary sticking point going forward.
While some members of Congress had urged comprehensive inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites, the deal in hand gives Iran much leverage over that process. The agreement requires international inspectors to ask Iran’s permission first, after which Iran has 14 days to decide whether to grant it. If not, the same group of nations that struck the deal would have another 10 days to make their decision about what to do next. While the international group may have final say, the set-up essentially gives Iran 24 days to drag out the process, though officials say this is not enough time to hide all evidence of illicit conduct.
Already, some on Capitol Hill were warning about the implications of the deal; lawmakers will have 60 days to review and vote on the agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the deal “appears to further the flawed elements of April’s interim agreement.”
But Obama said it would be “irresponsible” to walk away and vowed to veto any attempt to crush the agreement.
“No deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East,” Obama said.
Diplomats struck the deal after the latest 18-day round of intense and often fractious negotiations in Vienna, Austria blew through several self-imposed deadlines. A final meeting between the foreign ministers of Iran, the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia was held Tuesday morning.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif described the accord as “a historic moment” as he attended the final session.
“We are reaching an agreement that is not perfect for anybody, but it is what we could accomplish,” Zarif continued, “and it is an important achievement for all of us. Today could have been the end of hope on this issue. But now we are starting a new chapter of hope.”
Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, called it “a sign of hope for the entire world.”
The accord is meant to keep Iran from producing enough material for a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years and will impose new provisions for inspections of Iranian facilities, including military sites.
Diplomats said Iran agreed to the continuation of a United Nations arms embargo on the country for up to five more years, though it could end earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) definitively clears Iran of any current work on nuclear weapons. A similar condition was put on U.N. restrictions on the transfer of ballistic missile technology to Tehran, which could last for up to eight more years.
According to officials, Iran also had agreed to a so-called “snapback” provision, under which sanctions could be reinstated if it violates the agreement.
Washington had sought to maintain the ban on Iran importing and exporting weapons, concerned that an Islamic theocracy flush with cash from the nuclear deal would expand its military assistance for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and other forces opposing America’s Mideast allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Iranian leaders insisted the embargo had to end as their forces combat regional scourges such as ISIS. And they got some support from China and particularly Russia, which wants to expand military cooperation and arms sales to Tehran, including the long-delayed transfer of S-300 advanced air defense systems — a move long opposed by the United States.
Read more: Fox News