'Implementation Day' for Iran nuclear deal as prisoners freed
Simon Sturdee and Arthur MacMillan, AFP January 17, 2016, 5:44 pm TWN
VIENNA/TEHRAN - The historic nuclear accord between Iran and major powers entered into force Saturday as the UN confirmed that Tehran has shrunk its atomic programme and as painful sanctions were lifted on the Islamic republic.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said its "inspectors on the ground verified that Iran has carried out all measures" agreed under the July 14 agreement.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, representing the six powers, said that as a result "multilateral and national economic and financial sanctions related to Iran's nuclear programme are lifted".
"All sides remain firmly convinced that this historic deal is both strong and fair, and that it meets the requirements of all," Mogherini said in Vienna in a joint statement with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
"This achievement clearly demonstrates that with political will, perseverance, and through multilateral diplomacy, we can solve the most difficult issues and find practical solutions that are effectively implemented," they said.
The so-called "Implementation Day" for the accord also followed news of a prisoner swap between Iran and the United States in another sign of thawing relations between the two foes since the July 14 agreement.
The steps taken by Iran, combined with ultra-close IAEA inspections, extend to at least a year -- from a few months previously -- how long Iran would need to make one nuclear bomb's worth of fissile material.
They include slashing by two-thirds its uranium centrifuges, reducing its stockpile of uranium -- enough before the deal for several bombs -- and removing the core of the Arak reactor which could have given Iran weapons-grade plutonium.
Iran has always denied wanting nuclear weapons, saying its activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes such as power generation.
In what was hailed as a momentous diplomatic breakthrough, the Vienna agreement was nailed down after two years of rollercoaster negotiations following the June 2013 election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The highly complex deal drew a line under a standoff dating back to 2002 marked by failed diplomatic initiatives, ever-tighter sanctions, defiant nuclear expansion by Iran and threats of military action.
In addition it put Iran and the United States on the road to better relations some 35 years after the Islamic revolution that toppled the US-backed shah, and at a particularly explosive time in the Middle East.
The four Iranian-American detainees to be freed by Iran included Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Idaho, a senior US official said Saturday.
The others were Amir Hekmati and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, Washington said. A fifth American, identified as Matthew Trevitick, was also to be released as part of a different process.
In exchange Washington said it had granted clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom were dual US-Iranian citizens, and dropped charges against 14 more.
The agreement, heralded as US President Barack Obama's biggest major foreign policy triumph, has by no means been universally cheered, however.
Obama's Republican opponents charge that it fails to do enough to ensure Iran will never get the bomb, a complaint shared by Israel, Iran's arch foe widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself.
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