Agreement Reached To Limit Iran's Nuclear Program

After marathon talks, Iran and six world powers made a deal in Geneva to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief. Host Rachel Martin speaks with NPR's Peter Kenyon about the outcome.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. After five days of grueling talks, negotiators for Iran and six world powers signed the first agreement in nearly a decade to restrict Iran's nuclear program. The deal will effectively halt Iran's nuclear progress for half a year, setting the stage for even more difficult talks on a longer-range agreement.

Critics are already calling the plan insufficient and dangerous, but President Obama says it will, quote, "cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb." NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Geneva, covering the talks. He joins us now. Good morning, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: This was a long effort that wound up with a signing ceremony sometime after 3 o'clock in the morning, Geneva time. How did the players in these negotiations, how did they characterize this deal?

KENYON: Well, they were both very positive - on both sides. They were quite exhausted. The diplomatic smiles were more than a little weary. But Mohammad Javad Zarif, the U.S.-educated Iranian foreign minister, called the deal a first step toward resolving Iran's nuclear issue once and for all, of course mindful of his own hard-liners back in Tehran. Zarif insisted that Iran's right to enrich uranium - that's one of Tehran's red lines - remains untouched by this deal. Here's how he put it:

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: And we believe that the current agreement, in two distinct places, has a very clear reference to the fact that Iranian enrichment program will continue, and will be a part of any agreement, now and in the future.

KENYON: Now, that view is echoed in Tehran by President Hassan Rouhani, but U.S. officials disputed it. Secretary of State John Kerry says the accord does not recognize anybody's right to enrich anything, but it does compel Iran to stop producing 20 percent enriched uranium. That's the closest thing it has to weapons-grade fuel. Tehran will also have to dilute, or convert, the 20 percent uranium it already has. That's over 400 pounds, so it can't be further enriched. Here's what he said.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: So let me make clear what that means. That means that whereas Iran today has about 200 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium that could readily be enriched towards a nuclear weapon, in six months Iran will have zero - zero.

KENYON: Iran will also have to halt work on its heavy water reactor at Arak, and will not install and operate any new centrifuges; and allow more intrusive inspections by the U.N. to verify all this, all in return for some limited sanctions relief.

MARTIN: So Peter, this phase of the agreement is designed to buy time for more talks, yet on its own it was very hard to nail down. What does that suggest about the odds of trying to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear agreement down the road?

KENYON: It suggests it's going to be very, very hard indeed. Secretary Kerry was saying rhetorically, well, it's not really hard if you genuinely want to demonstrate your program as peaceful. But in the same remarks, he acknowledged it's going to be difficult. They're going to have to hammer out long-term restrictions, dismantling much of Iran's program and increasing the verification measures by U.N. inspectors so it can't secretly move off in a direction that it's not talking about.

It also means really painful sanctions. The one imposed by Congress - are going to have to be lifted. This current relief is maybe 6- to $7 billion over six months. But to lift the really painful sanctions on oil and banking, that will involve Congress; and that will be hard.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon - he's been covering the talks in Geneva. Thanks so much, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome, Rachel.

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