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The 'Freeze' That Wasn't: U.S. Says There's No Right to Enrich, Iran Says There Is

WASHINGTON — In the early morning hours in Geneva, the P5+1 powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program announced an agreement giving Iran a wait-and-see buffer to fulfill some conditions over the next six months, while the U.S. will give the green light now to some $7 billion in sanctions relief.

The administration also claimed it wasn’t recognizing Iran’s right to enrichment uranium, while Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Araqchi, specifically told Iranian media that the agreement recognizes the country’s “enrichment program” and they wouldn’t have accepted a deal that didn’t recognize the right to enrich.

“Since I took office, I’ve made clear my determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. As I’ve said many times, my strong preference is to resolve this issue peacefully, and we’ve extended the hand of diplomacy,” President Obama said in a statement at about 10:45 p.m. Eastern time, calling his diplomacy a venture that has “opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure.”

Obama claimed the deal included “substantial limitations which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.”

“Simply put, they cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb. Meanwhile, this first step will create time and space over the next six months for more negotiations to fully address our comprehensive concerns about the Iranian program,” he said. “And because of this agreement, Iran cannot use negotiations as cover to advance its program.”

Obama said Iran “should be able to access peaceful nuclear energy” but “because of its record of violating its obligations, Iran must accept strict limitations on its nuclear program that make it impossible to develop a nuclear weapon.”

“In these negotiations, nothing will be agreed to unless everything is agreed to. The burden is on Iran to prove to the world that its nuclear program will be exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

Analysts and lawmakers quickly jumped on the deal, noting that any pact that does not halt the construction of centrifuges is basically worthless.

“Unless the agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven’t gained anything,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Sen. Mark Kirk, who has led tough sanctions legislation in the upper chamber along with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said “this deal appears to provide the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure.”

“Furthermore, the deal ignores Iran’s continued sponsorship of terrorism, its testing of long-range ballistic missiles and its abuse of human rights,” Kirk added.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said there is no “freeze” on Iran’s nuclear program and noted it doesn’t even require the Islamic Republic to abide by UN Security Council resolutions.

“This agreement shows other rogue states that wish to go nuclear that you can obfuscate, cheat, and lie for a decade, and eventually the United States will tire and drop key demands,” Rubio said. “Iran will likely use this agreement – and any that follows that does not require any real concessions – to obtain a nuclear weapons capability.”

A senior administration official told reporters on a call just before midnight that Security Council resolutions will be “addressed” over the next six months of negotiations as the U.S. tries to find “certainty that Iran cannot use that program to achieve a nuclear weapon.”

The official said the deal was a “more durable way of solving the problem” with Iran’s nuclear program, favoring diplomacy because it’s “verifiable” and doesn’t carry the “costs and consequences of military action.”

“We believe that this agreement addresses a number of concerns Israel’s had over the years,” the official said, noting that the Jewish state had been “briefed” on negotiations. “We frankly believe that you weren’t going to get to an end state from a standing start.”

According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the deal requires Iran to halt all enrichment above 5 percent and “dilute below 5% or convert to a form not suitable for further enrichment its entire stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium before the end of the initial phase.” Iran could “not install additional centrifuges of any type” and must “limit its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six months to stockpile centrifuges.” Iran also must “not increase its stockpile of 3.5% low enriched uranium, so that the amount is not greater at the end of the six months than it is at the beginning, and any newly enriched 3.5% enriched uranium is converted into oxide.”

The deal also includes not fueling or putting into commission the Arak reactor and allowing daily access by IAEA inspectors at Natanz and Fordow.

“This daily access will permit inspectors to review surveillance camera footage to ensure comprehensive monitoring. This access will provide even greater transparency into enrichment at these sites and shorten detection time for any non-compliance,” the White House said. The IAEA would also get access to centrifuge assembly facilities and uranium mines, and design plans from the Arak reactor.

Notably, the agreement didn’t stipulate that the inspections would or could be unannounced.

“The P5+1 and Iran have committed to establishing a Joint Commission to work with the IAEA to monitor implementation and address issues that may arise,” the fact sheet continues. “The Joint Commission will also work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present concerns with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, including the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s activities at Parchin.”

In return, the deal vows to “not impose new nuclear-related sanctions for six months, if Iran abides by its commitments under this deal, to the extent permissible within their political systems.” The White House said it doesn’t affect UN Security Council sanctions, but the text of the agreement says the UN can’t pass new sanctions.

It will “suspend certain sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran’s auto sector, and Iran’s petrochemical exports, potentially providing Iran approximately $1.5 billion in revenue” and allow  $4.2 billion from oil sales to be transferred in installments.

It also will “allow $400 million in governmental tuition assistance to be transferred from restricted Iranian funds directly to recognized educational institutions in third countries to defray the tuition costs of Iranian students.”

“I have serious concerns that this agreement does not meet the standards necessary to protect the United States and our allies,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.). “Instead of rolling back Iran’s program, Tehran would be able to keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability.”

“Yet we are the ones doing the dismantling – relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years,” he added. “This sanctions relief is more lifeline than ‘modest.’ Secretary Kerry should soon come before the Foreign Affairs Committee to address the many concerns with this agreement.”

In one of the most stark disconnects of the evening, administration officials claimed “we do not recognize a right for Iran to enrich uranium” while Iranian officials said that is part of the agreement — and a cornerstone of the deal without which they would not have agreed.

A senior White House official said the administration would “explore … whether there can be an agreed upon comprehensive solution that assures us Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.”

And, they said, Obama would probably follow up with a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu soon. Netanyahu was expected to sound off about the deal at a Sunday morning cabinet meeting.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio that the Jewish state now “would need to make different decisions.”

“This brings us to a new reality in the whole Middle East, including the Saudis. This isn’t just our worry,” Lieberman said. “We’ve found ourselves in a completely new situation.”

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz refuted Obama’s claim that they’d set back Iran’s bomb aims, stating “the current deal can actually bring Iran closer to the bomb.”

“Israel cannot take part in the international celebrations based on Iranian deception and self-delusion,” he said, according to the Times of Israel.

John Kerry said in Geneva that the deal “will make our partners in the region safer. It will make our ally, Israel, safer.”

“We want to see the process put in place by which all of that is proven not through words but with actions. And we are prepared to work in good faith with mutual respect, to work in a way as we did in the last days, cordially, with an atmosphere that was respectful, even as it was tough, as we move toward the process of making certain that this threat will be eliminated,” Kerry said. “In that singular objective, we are absolutely resolute, and in that mission we are absolutely committed, and in that endeavor we will do everything in our power to be able to succeed.”

The announcement came just in time to steer the conversation of the Sunday talk shows. Royce and  Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), both critics of the administration’s intention to peel back sanctions on Iran, were already scheduled to appear on CNN. Two of the senators working for tougher sanctions, Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), will be on Fox News Sunday.

The Associated Press reported that the administration has been engaged in secret, high-level talks with Iran over the past year.

“Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) tweeted.

Obama tried this past week to dissuade senators from passing new sanctions on Iran, claiming it would derail a possible deal such as the one struck tonight.

Senators didn’t heed his calls and formed a Group of 14 to arrive at bipartisan legislation ready for a vote when the upper chamber returns in December. Tonight, Obama told Congress to not pass new sanctions because they might upset Iran during the six-month trial period.

“Going forward, we will continue to work closely with Congress,” Obama said. “However, now is not the time to move forward on new sanctions -– because 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.”

Rubio said “there is now an even more urgent need for Congress to increase sanctions until Iran completely abandons its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.”

Obama faces a potential veto-proof majority. A senior administration official admitted tonight that they can lift sanctions only “to the extent possible within our political system.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said “Iran hasn’t given the world reason to be anything but deeply skeptical of any agreement that leaves their capacity to build nuclear weapons intact.”

“The president sees wisdom in placing trust, however limited, in a regime that has repeatedly violated international norms and put America’s security at risk,” McKeon said. “Apparently, America has not learned its lesson from 1994 when North Korea fooled the world. I am skeptical that this agreement will end differently.”