President Barack Obama on Saturday hailed a deal reached by Western powers with Iran over its nuclear program, calling it "the most significant and tangible progress that we've made with Iran since I took office."
"While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal,” Obama said.
The president spoke less than two hours after Secretary of State John Kerry and leaders from five other world powers reached an agreement in Geneva with Iran.
The deal between the Islamic state and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was nailed down after more than four days of negotiations. Kerry and foreign ministers of the five other world powers joined the talks with Iran early on Saturday.
The goal of the talks was to reach an agreement to limit advancements in Iran's nuclear program, while offering Tehran limited relief from painful economic sanctions.
Pete Souza / The White House
President Barack Obama meets in the Oval Office with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Deputy National Security Advisors Tony Blinken and Ben Rhodes, to discuss ongoing negotiations with Iran, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013.
While the "first step" deal is currently set to last for just six months, it also makes a final comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers suddenly more feasible.
According to the White House, the deal stipulates that Iran will commit to halt uranium enrichment above 5 percent and also to neutralize its stockpile of near-20 percent uranium. The Islamic Republic has also committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity. Iran will also halt work at its plutonium reactor and provide access to nuclear inspectors.
These steps, Obama said, will "cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.”
In exchange, the United States and its allies have agreed to offer Iran "modest relief" from economic sanctions and access to a portion of the revenue that the country has been denied through these sanctions. No new sanctions will be imposed, Obama said.
"If Iran does not fully meet its commitment, we will turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure," Obama said, adding that Iran must prove to the world that its nuclear program will be exclusively for peaceful purposes.
The president said that negotiations toward a comprehensive solution will continue over the next six months, and he warned that "huge challenges" remained.
"As we go forward, the resolve of the United States will remain firm, as will our commitment to our friends and allies - particularly Israel and our Gulf partners, who have good reason to be skeptical about Iran's intentions," he said.
First published November 23 2013, 8:21 PM