From both Iran's hard-liners and Israel: No to nuclear deal
CAIRO (AP) Hard-liners in Iran and the Israeli government both condemned the framework deal on curbing Tehran's nuclear program on Friday, from opposite directions but for the same reason: The agreement, they said, gives away too much.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the understandings fail to outright shut down any of Iran's nuclear facilities, while legitimizing its uranium enrichment program and leaving it with an infrastructure that could eventually be capable of producing a bomb.
He warned the deal "threatens the very survival" of Israel, and put forward a new demand, that any final deal include Iran's recognition of Israel's right to exist.
Iran's powerful hard-liners, meanwhile, pointed to the heavy restrictions that would effectively lock those facilities and enrichment into a slow, low gear for at least a decade. They accused the government of moderate President Hassan Rouhani of surrendering a nuclear program that Iran has boasted for years demonstrates its technological prowess, self-sufficiency and defiance of the West.
"We gave up a race-ready horse and we got in return a broken bridle," Hossein Shariatmadari, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and editor of the hard-line Kayhan newspaper, told the semi-official Fars news agency.
The reactions underscore the pressures that will weigh on Western and Iranian negotiators as they now work to turn the broad understandings into a detailed accord by June 30 and raise questions about how far detractors on both sides will go to try to prevent a final agreement.
Or if they can. The framework won praise from Western governments and from many in Iran who want its provisions for the lifting of sanctions that have long crippled the economy.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who signed the agreement Thursday, received a hero's welcome upon his return to Tehran from the latest round of talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Crowds of cheering supporters surrounded Zarif's vehicle on Friday as he stood out of its sun-roof shaking hands with them. Some chanted sarcastic condolences to both Israel and Iranian hard-liners. Celebrations continued into the night, with hundreds of flag-waving supporters singing and dancing in Tehran's main squares.
In a speech to the nation, Rouhani vowed that Iranians will "remain loyal and stand by the promises" they made.
Much depends on Iran's supreme leader, Khamenei, who holds the final say on all political matters. There was no immediate comment from him Friday to judge how he was leaning on the framework understandings. From the start, Khamenei expressed skepticism the negotiations would succeed, but he allowed them to go on.
A key U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia, appeared to be withholding judgment. The Sunni kingdom, which is a major rival to Shiite-led Iran, has feared an agreement would leave Tehran within reach of one day building a nuclear bomb and would indirectly legitimize Tehran's power around the Middle East. Speaking to President Barack Obama by phone late Thursday, Saudi King Salman expressed his hope that "a binding final deal is reached that leads to the strengthening of the region's security and stability," according to the Saudi state news agency.
The core of the understandings are provisions that dramatically restrain Iran's nuclear facilities that have been rapidly advancing for years and that hard-liners have insisted should not be limited even as they say they are not intended to produce a bomb.
According to the framework deal, Tehran would be allowed to operate only just over 5,000 of the nearly 20,000 centrifuges it has installed at its main enrichment site. Much of its enriched stockpiles would be neutralized, and a planned reactor would be reconstructed so it can't produce weapons-grade plutonium.
Monitoring and inspections by the U.N. nuclear agency would be enhanced, and uranium enrichment would be halted at an underground, heavily fortified once-secret facility at Fordo, which would be made into a nuclear research facility. The restrictions would last for 10 or 15 years.
Western negotiators say that under those conditions Iran cannot produce a weapon and, if it breaks the accord, it would still be unable to do so for another year. Israel contends Iran cannot be trusted and that leaving certain facilities intact would allow the Iranians to eventually build a bomb.
Rather than blocking the path to a bomb, "such a deal paves Iran's path to the bomb," Netanyahu said.
In the last frantic weeks of negotiations between the U.S. and its allies and Iran, Netanyahu turned to the U.S. Congress, where many Republican lawmakers and some Democrats expressed opposition Friday to the framework understanding, in hopes that it will block an agreement. His government will likely continue to call for American lawmakers to do so.
Netanyahu said Friday that Israel "demands that any agreement with Iran will include a clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel's right to exist."
After meeting with his Cabinet, which he said was "strongly united" against the deal, Netanyahu said Israel "will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period." He called on the world powers to stand firm and increase pressure in Iran until what he termed a good deal is achieved.
Still, it is unlikely Israel will be able to prevent a final agreement, given broad international support for a deal. Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz, speaking on Israel Army Radio, said Israel would "fight in the coming three or four months to prevent a bad deal, or at least make sure that it will be less bad."
On the other side, Iran's hard-liners, who dominate most of the country's institutions and the military and security forces, have opposed negotiations with the West from the start. But their ability to stop the deal is hampered if Khamenei is willing to see it go through still an open question.
On Thursday, Ahmad Tavakkoli, a prominent conservative lawmaker, wrote a letter to Rouhani saying the agreement needs ratification by the country's conservative-dominated parliament. Supporters of the negotiations argue that the nuclear talks were conducted under the direct supervision of Khamenei, and therefore don't require parliamentary approval.
Zarif, the foreign minister, tried to reassure Iranians that the nuclear program will continue but said any negotiation requires give and take. "It is not supposed to be one party receiving all the concessions and the other party surrendering," he said. He also expressed his gratitude for Khamenei's support for his team.
A successful final agreement could provide a major boost to Rouhani and his fellow moderates, who advocate a greater opening up to the West and further easing of social restrictions, greater civil rights and economic reforms at home. Rouhani has pinned much of his administration's success on the boost to the ailing economy from the lifting of sanctions.
Public eagerness for an end to sanctions could leave Khamenei reluctant to stand in the way of an agreement though he also cannot ignore the objections of the hard-line establishment, including the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
Thursday's announcement of the framework was already raising hopes among some Iranians.
"I've always worried about the dispute between Iran and the West since I know it can bring more difficulties to the lives of me and my children," said Maryam Rezai, a 42-year-old mother of three, speaking at a Tehran restaurant. She said she has been suffering from rising prices.
Parviz Amini, the 35-year-old owner of the restaurant, said he is happy over a potential deal. "I will have more customers when ordinary people are happy."
Mahdi Abbasi, a factory owner, said he had to fire more than 20 of his workers in recent years because of financial sanctions on Iran.
"Now, I am thinking to call them back, if the sanctions are going," he said.
Associated Press correspondents Nasser Karimi in Tehran and Karin Laub in Jericho, West Bank, contributed to this report.