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.