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Iran Nuclear Deal Work to Begin Jan. 20, Obama Says

Azadi Tower in Tehran
A man prays near the Azadi tower in Tehran, Iran, on Dec. 9, 2013. Photographer: Scott Peterson/Getty Images

Iran will curtail its nuclear program and permit more intrusive inspections beginning Jan. 20 under the terms of an agreement reached with world powers, President Barack Obama said today, pledging to veto any Congressional efforts to impose new sanctions during talks for a broader agreement.

The implementation plan marks the first time in a decade that Iran “has agreed to specific actions that halt progress on its nuclear program and roll back key parts of the program,” Obama said in a statement today that confirmed a report made by Iranian officials on Jan. 10.

Negotiations on a permanent agreement -- to be completed within six to 12 months -- will begin within a few weeks, Lebanese al-Mayadeen television reported, citing Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries -- China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S., plus Germany -- reached an initial accord on Nov. 24 in Geneva that hadn’t taken effect. Under the first-step agreement, Iran will get $6 billion to $7 billion in relief from economic sanctions over six months if it complies with measures to curtail its nuclear program, the Obama administration has said.

Enriched Uranium

As part of the November agreement, Iran said it would limit its uranium enrichment capabilities and undergo more frequent inspections of its nuclear sites. Iran has agreed to immediately begin taking actions to eliminate its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, which could be most quickly further enriched into bomb-grade fuel for nuclear weapons, within six months, according to one of three administration official who briefed reporters on the condition that they not be named.

“Taken together, these and other steps will advance our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said. The sanction relief will occur “so long as Iran fulfills its obligations and as we pursue a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear program.”

The P5+1 countries agreed to a series of steps to ease some sanctions while leaving in place the core energy and banking sanctions as well as those on Iran’s energy shipping and ports, according to a second administration official.

Oil Sales

They will suspend sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports and imports of goods and services for its auto sector. The U.S. will also put on hold efforts to further reduce Iran’s exports of oil to the six nations still purchasing its crude, the official said. Under sanctions law that took effect in July 2012, the U.S. would otherwise have demanded more “significant reductions” in imports from Iran.

Also, the nations will suspend sanctions on Iran’s imports and exports of gold and other precious metals, with some restrictions, and will expedite license applications for parts and services for its civil aviation industry. They will also take steps to facilitate financing of humanitarian trade through non-U.S. financial institutions, the official said.

Iran will get access to $4.2 billion in oil revenue held in foreign banks, to be released in monthly increments tied to its compliance with the commitment to eliminate the 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile, the official said.

Iran’s compliance will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the sanctions relief will be stopped and reversed if the country fails to meet its obligations, a third official said. At that point, he said, the administration would support moves by Congress to impose further sanctions.

IAEA Inspections

The implementation agreement substantially expands the IAEA’s powers. It will inspect Iran’s Fordo and Natanz enrichment facilities daily, rather than weekly, and for the first time get access to centrifuge production facilities. The accord limits Iran’s ability to expand or advance its centrifuge operations, though some research and development can continue, the first official said.

“As this agreement takes effect, we will be extraordinarily vigilant in our verification and monitoring of Iran’s actions,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at a press conference today in Paris.

The implementation accord starts a six-month timetable to reach a final agreement that assures Iran will not be able to produce nuclear weapons. That period could be extended a further six months by mutual consent. Iran has asserted its program is for peaceful purposes, though the U.S., Israel and other nations think the Islamic Republic is seeking a weapons capability.

Iran’s oil exports, the country’s largest foreign-currency earner, plunged last year as U.S. and European Union sanctions meant that banks and insurers couldn’t handle Iranian sales of the fuel.

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