President Obama on Saturday night praised a nuclear deal between key world powers and Iran, calling it an "important first step” that includes “substantial limitations which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.”
“For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back,” said Obama in an address.
The president’s remarks came shortly after negotiators from the P5+1 group -- consisting of the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China -- reached a deal with Iran to freeze some elements of its nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
Obama said that the initial deal would lay the groundwork for six months of further negotiations, giving the international community time to “work to negotiate a comprehensive solution” that acknowledged Iran’s right to “access peaceful nuclear energy” while also including restrictions “that make it impossible to develop a nuclear weapon.”
The international community has feared Iran is building nuclear weapons, although Tehran insists its program is for peaceful energy purposes. Key powers have instituted a number of crippling economic sanctions that Iran sought to lift in the talks.
Obama’s diplomatic outreach faced staunch opposition in recent weeks from key allies, including France and Israel, as well as on Capitol Hill. Critics said Obama risked undermining the international sanctions regime against Iran for little in return. Many lawmakers had vowed to press for an additional round of sanctions to tighten pressure on Iran, despite the administration’s calls for more time for diplomacy to work.
The president defended his diplomatic efforts on Saturday, saying the deal had “opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure – a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.”
The president said Iran had agreed to halt certain levels of enrichment and would reduce part of its stockpile. Tehran also agreed not to use centrifuges intended to enrich uranium and to curb the start-up of new centrifuges.
The deal will also allow for inspections to “allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments,” Obama said.
Obama said these “substantial limitations” were enough to “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.”
In exchange, Obama said the U.S. and allies would “provide Iran modest relief, while continuing to apply our toughest sanctions.”
The president added that while the international community would not impose new sanctions, the “broader architecture of sanctions will remain in place and we will continue to enforce them vigorously.”
“If Iran does not fully meet its commitments during this six month phase, we will turn off the relief, and ratchet up the pressure,” Obama warned.
“In these negotiations, nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to. The burden is on Iran to prove to the world that its nuclear program will be for exclusively peaceful purposes,” said Obama.
The president also vowed to “work closely with Congress” and urged lawmakers not to pass additional sanctions which could undermine the deal.
“Now is not the time to move forward on new sanctions,” said Obama. “Doing so would derail this promising first step, alienate us from our allies, and risk unraveling the coalition that enabled our sanctions to be enforced in the first place.”
A group including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., though has vowed to “pass bipartisan Iran sanctions as soon as possible.”