#IranTalks: A deal has been reached here in Geneva, a historic breakthrough in the world's decade-long nuclear standoff with Iran, and in the 35 year diplomatic freeze between Iran and the US.
The deal, which is yet to be signed, was struck with astonishing speed given the history of failed negotiations, coming in just the third round of talks in less than two months, and less than 3 months after Iran's new President Rouhani promised, in an interview with NBC News, to dramatically alter Iran's relationship with the world.
Iran and 6 of the world's powers, the US, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia agreed on a "first step deal,' that is meant to limit advancements in Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing some of the economic sanctions that have deeply hurt Iran's economy.
All 6 world powers had sent in their Foreign Ministers hours before the deal was announced, and several purposely gave the impression it was their participation that was needed to carry the ball across the finish line. Once the ministers arrived, the negotiations set a marathon pace, not ending until about 3 am local time in Geneva.
While the "first step" deal is currently set to last for a period of just 6 months, it has set off a massive sense of relief on all sides in Geneva as it is expected to make Iran less capable of building a nuclear bomb for the time being, while at the same time easing the financial pain Iran's economy has been enduring under the sanctions.
Perhaps most significantly, it also makes a final comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the world suddenly more possible.
Details of the first step deal are at this writing still a closely guarded secret, and subject to speculation and at times, erroneous and conflicting reporting.
There seems no doubt however that the sticking points included Iran's insistence that it has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and as problematic, the tacked on proposal that Iran stop construction of a heavy water facility in Arak. Iran has said the facility is needed to create medical isotopes for cancer treatments, but it could also make Iran more quickly capable of building a bomb.
How exactly these sticking points were resolved will be greatly influence the expected political fallout in the US and Iran. Some members of Congress are threatening new sanctions and hard-liners in Iran are harshly accusing President Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of giving up too much in the negotiations. Indeed, a sense of national pride appears to driving a rising backlash from even moderates and liberals in Iran.
Adding to the hurdles, the deal is also designed to be not only temporary but reversible depending on whether the promises made by both sides are fully kept. One of the agreements for example is that Iran give inspectors broader access to nuclear sites, and allow spontaneous inspections.
Then there is the matter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's increasingly vociferous objections, and the negative impact the negotiations appear to have had on US-Israeli relations. It will likely also affect US relations with Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation, which is threatened by signs of improved US relations with Shia Iran.
Any final comprehensive agreement is expected to have vast implications on the political and financial landscape in the Middle East, given Iran's oil resources, and the billions of dollars an end of sanctions could unlock.
Remarkably, the first step deal announced today, was virtually inconceivable before President Rouhani's dramatic phone conversation with President Obama last September. The speed of the negotiations, which now continue toward a final agreement, are a measure of how much both leaders want to end the nuclear standoff before the window of opportunity closes.