Obama: Nuclear deal blocks Iran's path to bomb

GENEVA (AP) — Iran struck a historic deal

Sunday with the United States and five other world powers, agreeing to a

temporary

freeze of its nuclear program in the most significant agreement

between Washington and Tehran after more than three decades

of estrangement.

The deal commits Iran to curb its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for limited and gradual sanctions relief.

The six-month period will give diplomats time to negotiate a more sweeping agreement.

It builds on the momentum of the public dialogue opened during September's annual U.N. gathering, which included a 15-minute

phone conversation between President Barack Obama and Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani.

Obama hailed the pact's provisions, which include curbs on Iran's enrichment and other projects that could be used to make

nuclear arms, as key to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear threat.

"Simply put, they cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb," he told reporters.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who led his country's delegation, called on both sides to see the agreement

as an "opportunity to end an unnecessary crisis and open new horizons."

But initial reaction in Israel was strongly negative. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is responsible for monitoring

Iran's nuclear program, said the deal was based on "Iranian deception and self-delusion."

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has loudly criticized the agreement, saying the international community is giving

up too much to Iran, which it believes will retain the ability to produce a nuclear weapon and threaten Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who joined the final negotiations along with the foreign ministers of Russia, China, France,

Britain and Germany, said the pact will make U.S. allies in the Middle East, including Israel, safer.

"Agreement in Geneva," he tweeted. "First step makes world safer. More work now."

The deal marks a milestone between the two

countries, which broke diplomatic ties 34 years ago when Iran's Islamic

revolution

climaxed in the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Since

then, relations between the two countries have been frigid to

hostile — until the recent outreach between the two presidents.

Although the deal lowered tensions between

the two countries, friction points remain — most notably Iran's support

of the

Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. The United States also has said

Iran supports terrorism throughout the region and commits widespread

human rights violations.

The Geneva negotiations followed secret face-to-face talks between the U.S. and Iran over the past year, The Associated Press

has learned. The discussions, held in the Persian Gulf nation of Oman and elsewhere, were kept hidden even from America's

closest allies, including its negotiating partners and Israel, until two months ago.

A White House statement said the deal limits Iran's existing stockpiles of enriched uranium, which can be turned into the

fissile core of nuclear arms.

The statement also said the accord curbs the number and capabilities of the centrifuges used to enrich and limits Iran ability

to "produce weapons-grade plutonium" from a reactor in the advanced stages of construction.

The statement also said Iran's nuclear program will be subject to "increased transparency and intrusive monitoring."

"Taken together, these first step measures

will help prevent Iran from using the cover of negotiations to continue

advancing

its nuclear program as we seek to negotiate a long-term,

comprehensive solution that addresses all of the international

community's

concerns," said the statement.

Since it was revealed in 2003, Iran's

enrichment program has grown from a few dozen enriching centrifuges to

more than 18,000

installed and more than 10,000 operating. The machines have

produced tons of low-enriched uranium, which can be turned into

weapons grade material.

Iran also has stockpiled almost 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of higher-enriched uranium in a form that can be converted more

quickly to fissile warhead material than the low-enriched uranium. Its supply is nearly enough for one bomb.

In return for Iran's nuclear curbs, the

White House statement promised "limited, temporary, targeted, and

reversible (sanctions)

relief" to Iran, noting that "the key oil, banking, and financial

sanctions architecture, remains in place." And it said any

limited sanctions relief will be revoked and new penalties enacted

if Iran fails to meet its commitments.

Those conditions have been highlighted by

the U.S. administration in its efforts to persuade Congress to hold off

on any new

sanctions and give the accord a chance to prove its worth. But one

influential member of Congress was quick to criticize the

deal.

Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed "serious concerns," saying the United

States was "relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years," while allowing Tehran to "keep the key elements

of its nuclear weapons-making capacity."

Obama hailed the deal as putting "substantial limitations" on a nuclear program that the United States and its allies fear

could be turned to nuclear weapons use.

"While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal," Obama said. "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."