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A Decisive Step': Iran, World Powers Announce Tentative Nuclear Agreement

"We have reached solutions..."

Representatives of world powers meet to pin down a nuclear deal with Iran, on Monday March 30, 2015, in Lausanne, Switzerland. (AP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

The U.S., Iran and other major powers announced in Switzerland Thursday that enough progress has been made in the nuclear negotiations with Iran to push ahead for a final agreement by June, but were reportedly not prepared to release an official text of the deal.

The absence an any interim text could prove problematic, as it will likely breed more suspicion in the U.S. Congress that the talks aren't nearly as far along as the U.S. says.

The U.S., Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia were originally hoping for a framework agreement by March 31 that would form the basis of a final deal by June that would see Iran's nuclear capabilities significantly pared back, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against Iran. But after a two-day extension of that deadline, negotiators were only able to announce what was reported as an "outline of an understanding," and said it's not clear how much of that outline could be made public.

Nonetheless, both Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted out that this phase of the talks have ended successfully.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden shortly after the announcement, President Barack Obama declared that the parameters of the potential June 30 agreement are "a good deal," and encouraged Congress to support it.

"If we get this done … we will be able to resolve one of the world's greatest threats and do so peacefully," Obama said.

Obama acknowledged critics who are suspicious of Iran sticking to the agreement, but said the agreement tightly prevents the country from proceeding covertly in building a nuclear bomb.

"If Iran cheats, the world will know it," Obama said. "With this deal, Iran will face the more inspections than any other country in the world."

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced the broad outline of the agreement in a joint statement.

"Today we have taken a decisive step. We have reached solutions on key parameters of a joint comprehensive plan of action," Mogherini said. "This is a crucial decision, laying the agreed basis for the final text of the joint comprehensive plan of action."

She said Iran's uranium enrichment activities would be "limited," and said Iran's underground enrichment center in Fordo would temporarily be turned into a "nuclear physics and technology center." She also said sanctions would be lifted as Iran implements the deal.

"The European Union will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, and the United States will cease the application of all nuclear-related, secondary economic and financial sanctions, simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of its key nuclear commitments."

But other elements of the deal that have been reported could spell trouble for negotiators. For example, the deal is expected to force Iran to suspend more than two thirds of its enrichment capacity, but would still let it continue to operate several thousand centrifuges.

In a separate statement, Zarif told reporters that Iran would still be allowed to have some centrifuges operating in Fordo, and other reports said Iran would not have to eliminate all of its nuclear stockpile.

In addition, while negotiators had been talking about a deal lasting up to 15 years, the final agreement as it relates to centrifuges will only last 10. The duration of the deal has been a key issue for critics who say only holding Iran to a decade of restrictions that still give it some wiggle room to advance its nuclear program is missing the main point of the exercise, which is to permanently cut of Iran's access to a nuclear weapon.

Other elements will last longer. According to a fact sheet that describes the agreement, Iran would agree not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for "at least 15 years," and would reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium for 15 years.

Iran would also not build any new enrichment facilities for 15 years, and could not enrich uranium at Fordo for 15 years — language that indicates the deal will not permanently convert Fordo. In addition, some of the inspection requirements would last as long as 25 years.

But other problems remain. For example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in his own tweet that an agreement must include a commitment from Iran to stop backing terrorist activities. It's not clear if Iran made any such commitment.

Despite these uncertainties, it's not yet clear that Congress will actively try to undermine the agreement by pushing ahead on new sanctions against Iran, a move that could scuttle the agreement that is based on the easing of sanctions.

A more likely immediate first step is passage of legislation that would require Congress to approve the deal. If that bill were to become law, it could open up the interim agreement to a more thorough examination that may lead to other complaints.

Regardless of whether the deal holds or not, Thursday's announcement is a dramatic turnaround from just a day ago, when several foreign ministers decided to leave the talks because no apparent progress was being made, and Secretary of State John Kerry decided to say another day. As far as negotiators are concerned, they will work to finalize the precise terms of an agreement by June 30.

One last thing…
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