Iran agrees major nuclear cuts in diplomatic breakthrough

Iran has agreed to significantly curtail its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions, following international negotiations

Iranian negotiators, meeting in Switzerland with top diplomats from China, Russia, France, the UK, the US and Germany, have mapped out a preliminary deal to reduce Iran’s uranium stockpile by 98%, take out of use more than two thirds of the country’s centrifuges, and convert key nuclear facilities to peaceful uses.

Under the framework, which negotiators hope to finalise in June, Tehran will also pledge to enrich uranium only to levels appropriate for civilian uses, and to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to nuclear facilities across the country. Those steps would increase Iran’s “breakout timeline” – the period of time needed to assemble enough fissile materials to build a nuclear weapon –from a few months to more than a year.

The deal marks a “critical milestone” in efforts to bring an end to the 12-year-long Iranian nuclear crisis, said US secretary of state John Kerry.

The deal met with impassioned opposition from Israel and from US conservatives, who say that Western negotiators failed to drive a hard enough bargain. But world leaders said the talks marked the most significant step in decades towards defusing tensions with Iran.

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“This is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon,” US president Barack Obama told the New York Times.

News of the agreement sparked jubilant scenes in Iran, where sanctions have crippled the economy.

“Whatever the final result of the negotiations, we are winners,” 30-year-old Tehran resident Behrang Alavi told reporters, while people around him sounded car horns and waved handkerchiefs in celebration. “Now we will be able to live normally like the rest of the world.”