In the early hours of this morning, the United States and five other world powers made history by sealing a landmark deal with Iran to curb its nuclear programme in hopes of preventing Tehran from building a nuclear bomb.
The 4.30am agreement in Geneva, made possible by the election of moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in June, crowned months of intense negotiations between the so-called P5+1 – the permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Germany – and Iran. But it emerged today that it was also the fruit of secret diplomacy between Iranian officials and a senior Obama administration official, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.
The first nuclear deal with Iran in almost a decade has already jolted strategic alliances around the Middle East region, where unlikely bedfellows Israel and Saudi Arabia have joined forces to voice their opposition. It could also lay the groundwork for future co-operation between the US and Iran which have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the Iranian hostage crisis.
The agreement runs for six months while negotiations continue on a comprehensive final deal. But both sides were able to declare victory, while US and Iranian officials stressed that today’s agreement was only a “first step”.
President Barack Obama hailed the “substantial limitations” to Iran’s nuclear programme which would “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb”. Yet the Iranians were also able to claim that it left intact their “red line” guaranteeing their right to enrich uranium for peaceful uses, and that no new sanctions will be imposed in the next six months. Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had spoken out about the need to preserve Iran’s “red lines”, wrote to President Rouhani saying that the accord “can be the basis for further intelligent actions”.
Foreign ministers from the five of the world’s most powerful nations – most nuclear powers themselves – had flown to Geneva on Friday amid hopes that a long-awaited deal was close. But it took almost two more days to finally nail the accord.