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Iran And West Agree To End 12-Year Nuke Standoff
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Iran and Western powers have agreed on the framework of a potentially historic deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear drive after marathon talks in Switzerland.
It marks a major breakthrough in a 12-year standoff between Iran and the West, which has long feared Tehran wants to build a nuclear bomb.
Iran has agreed to curtail its nuclear program in return for the lifting of punishing sanctions, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said after eight days of talks.
"Found solutions. Ready to start drafting immediately," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet.
The main outlines agreed on Thursday now have to be finalised in a highly complex agreement by June 30.
US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed a "big day" while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the drafting of a full agreement would begin immediately with the aim of completing it by the June 30 deadline.
Kerry tweeted that the global powers and Iran "now have parameters to resolve major issues on nuclear program. Back to work soon on a final deal".
Iranian media said the deal will include Iran slashing by two-thirds, to 6,000 from 19,000, the number of centrifuges, which can make fuel for nuclear power but also the core of a nuclear bomb.
Mogherini, in a joint press statement with Zarif, also said that the design of a new reactor will be changed so that no weapons-grade plutonium can be produced.
Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 per cent LEU for 15 years.
"An international joint venture will assist Iran in redesigning and rebuilding a modernized heavy water research reactor that will not produce weapons grade plutonium. The spent fuel will be exported," said Mogherini.
The Fordo facility, built deep into a mountain, will remain open but will not be used for enrichment but for research and development.
In return, Mogherini said, nuclear-related US and EU sanctions will be lifted once the UN atomic watchdog has verified that Iran has implemented its promises.
The powers hope that the deal will make it virtually impossible for Iran to make nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian programme and end a crisis raging for 12 years.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said however that there was still work to be done.
A successful implementation could put Iran and the US on the road to better relations after 35 years of animosity.
In addition, the powers and Iran hope it will finally silence all talk of military action by the United States and Israel against Iran.
With the world's fourth biggest oil and second biggest gas reserves, the energy industry is the cornerstone of Iran's economy, but it was hit hard by the American and European embargo imposed in 2012.
The West will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, Zarif said.
'Deal Meets Core Objectives'
Russia hailed the deal as a recognition of Tehran's "unconditional right" to pursue a civilian nuclear programme.
"This deal contains the principal put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is Iran's unconditional right to a peaceful nuclear programme," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
US President Barack Obama described the understanding with Iran as "historic".
Speaking from the White House, Obama said the agreement "is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives."
He said verification mechanisms built into the framework agreed to in Switzerland hours earlier would ensure that "if Iran cheats, the world with know it."
Obama has invested significant political capital in the nuclear negotiations. The talks have strained the US relationship with Israel, which sees Tehran as an existential threat, and deepened tensions with Congress.
US Republicans and Israelis expressed skepticism, with House Speaker John Boehner demanding Congress be allowed to review the accord before crippling economic sanctions are lifted.
Boehner slammed it as an "alarming departure" from the White House's initial goals, suggesting the Obama administration caved to Iranian negotiators and allowed certain concessions.
"My immediate concern is the administration signalling it will provide near-term sanctions relief," Boehner said in a statement.
"Congress must be allowed to fully review the details of any agreement before any sanctions are lifted."
Israel, which is believed to possess an undisclosed number of nuclear weapons, said the agreement put the Jewish state into mortal danger.
"A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a statement after speaking to Obama by telephone.
India welcomed the understanding announced in Lausanne.
"A significant step seems to have been taken with agreement on the parameters of a comprehensive settlement to be negotiated by June 30," the External Affairs Ministry said in statement.
"India has always maintained that the Iranian nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully by respecting Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy as also the international community's strong interest in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme," the ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the agreement will pave the way to bolstering peace and stability in the Middle East.
"A comprehensive, negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue will contribute to peace and stability in the region and enable all countries to cooperate urgently to deal with the many serious security challenges they face," Ban said in a statement.
Brent oil fell nearly 4 per cent on Thursday after the pact even as analysts questioned when the Opec member will be allowed to export more crude.
Traders had been fixated on the talks held for over a week.
"If nothing is going to be signed until June, something could go wrong between now and then," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
Bob McNally, an adviser to former US president George Bush who heads energy research firm Rapidan Group, noted Iran will need much patience as the "sanctions are not likely to be lifted until late 2015 or early 2016, though we could see slippage beforehand."
North Sea Brent crude futures, the more widely-used global benchmark for oil, settled down $2.15, or 3.8 percent, at $54.95 a barrel, almost $1 above the session low.
US crude futures settled down 95 cents, or 2 per cent, at $49.14 a barrel, after falling nearly $2 earlier.
"I think the market over reacted and is now sitting back a little to think there is a lot more work to be done," said Dominick Chirichella, senior partner at the Energy Management Institute in New York.