Just in: World powers negotiating with Iran have reached a watershed deal lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program, Iranian and Western diplomats said Tuesday.
The statement from the official came as officials from the US and European Union confirmed a “final plenary” between top diplomats from six world powers and Iran would take place at 10:30 a.m. in Vienna ahead of a joint statement around noon.
“All the hard work has paid off and we sealed a deal. God bless our people,” an Iranian diplomat told Reuters. A second Iranian diplomat also confirmed a pact had been reached, the news agency reported. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Associated Press also cited a Western diplomat saying a deal had been reached.
The agreement caps off two weeks of intensive talks and over a decade of off and on negotiations to reign in Iran’s nuclear program, which many in the West and Israel believe is meant for military purposes.
The details of the pact have not been made public, but the 100-page agreement is expected to place limits on the amount of nuclear work Iran can do over the next 10 to 15 years in exchange for the lifting of punishing international sanctions that have choked Iran’s economy in recent years.
US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf and EU spokesperson Catherine Ray both wrote on Twitter that a final meeting was scheduled for 10:30, followed by a press conference.
A diplomat earlier speaking to The Associated Press said a deal likely was to be announced by Tuesday afternoon in Vienna. Iranian state television reported a joint statement marking the conclusion of nuclear talks with world powers will be read around noon.
The TV report Tuesday said the statement will be read by European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
It did not elaborate, though it called the talks Tuesday the “final steps in a 12-year marathon.”
After more than two weeks of intense political bargaining between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany in the Austrian capital have been engaged in intense political bargaining over the pact, missing several deadlines as the talks snagged on a number of issues.
Once the deal is official announced, it will still need to be reviewed in the seven capitals of the powers and Iran. Congressional leaders in Washington said Sunday the deal would have a difficult time getting through the US legislature.
Israel has lobbied intensively against the deal, and officials in Jerusalem indicated in past days they would continue to push to quash or change the agreement.
On Monday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon hinted that Israel was also keeping the option of military action against the nuclear program — which Jerusalem considers an existential threat — on the table.
The deal would permit Iran “to be in the nuclear threshold zone and even become a nuclear threshold state,” Ya’alon said.
After such a deal is reached, “of course we will need to continue to prepare to defend ourselves with our own forces,” he said.
Smoothing over one of the main outstanding issues, officials indicated Tuesday morning that Iran and the powers had agreed to a mechanism by which the UN could press for inspections of military sites, which could then be delayed or denied by Tehran.
The Iranians insist they have never worked on weapons and have turned down IAEA requests to visit sites where the agency suspects such work was going on, including Parchin, the military complex near Tehran where the agency believes explosives testing linked to setting off a nuclear charge was conducted.
Iran’s acceptance in principle of access to military sites will give the agency extra authority in its attempts to go to the site and its demands — previously rejected by Tehran — to interview scientists it suspects were involved in the alleged nuclear weapons work.
Any deal will go to the UN Security Council, which is expected to endorse by the end of the month, to start the mechanics of implementation — long-term, verifiable limits on Iranian nuclear programs that could be used to make weapons in exchange for an end to sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The deal also must address Iran’s call that an arms embargo on it be lifted or at least modified — and US opposition to the demand.
As a midnight Monday target for a deal approached in Vienna, diplomats said the nuts and bolts of the written nuclear accord had been settled days ago. And Iranian President Hassan Rouhani briefly raised expectations of an imminent breakthrough by proclaiming on Twitter: “Iran Deal is the victory of diplomacy & mutual respect over the outdated paradigm of exclusion & coercion. And this is a good beginning.”
Minutes later, Rouhani’s tweet was deleted. He then retransmitted it, adding the word “If” in front of “Iran Deal” to reflect that negotiators weren’t there yet. The proposed pact would impose long-term and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program and provide the Islamic Republic tens of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions.