Middle East

Iran sanctions 'could be lifted in December' - Fabius

Media captionAn adoring crowd gathers to meet the Iranian negotiators as Emily Buchanan reports

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says some EU sanctions on Iran could be lifted as early as next month, as part of a nuclear deal with world powers.

He was speaking after crowds in Tehran cheered negotiators who had agreed to curb some of Iran's nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

The six-month interim deal agreed in Geneva prompted a fall in oil prices on markets on Monday.

But Israel's prime minister has warned the agreement is a "historic mistake".

On Monday Benjamin Netanyahu announced that an Israeli team led by national security adviser Yossi Cohen would travel to Washington for talks on the deal.

"This accord must bring about one outcome: the dismantling of Iran's military nuclear capability," he said.

Media captionJohn Kerry on ABC's 'This Week': "Israel will be safer, the region will be safer"

On Sunday, US President Barack Obama told Mr Netanyahu in a phone call that the US understood Israel "has good reason to be sceptical about Iran's intentions" and promised to consult its ally closely, the White House said.

Mr Netanyahu has warned that Israel "will not allow a regime that calls for the destruction of Israel to obtain the means to achieve this goal."

Saudi Arabia - Iran's regional rival - cautiously welcomed the deal on Monday.

"This agreement could be a first step towards a comprehensive solution for Iran's nuclear programme, if there are good intentions," a statement said.

However, a London-based Saudi official earlier told the BBC his country had been lied to.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the Geneva accord, but said it was only a "first step".

"We are right to test to the full Iran's readiness to act in good faith," he told the House of Commons.

'Nothing is settled'

Mr Fabius told French radio that "Iran is committed to giving up the prospect of nuclear weapons. It's perfectly clear".

Media captionHow Iranians reacted to the news of a deal on social media

However, he insisted the temporary deal could be reversed if its terms were not adhered to.

Asked when sanctions could start to be lifted, he said it could begin "in December."

France, the UK, Germany, the US, Russia and China took part in the talks with Iran, hosted by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Baroness Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann said the timing would be co-ordinated with Iran.

"It could be in December, it could be in January, it depends how long the legislative process takes," he told reporters.

Under the deal which will last six months, Iran would receive some $7bn (£4.3bn) in "limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible [sanctions] relief" while a permanent agreement is sought.

In return, Tehran has agreed to a series of measures.

Key points of the deal include:

  • Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5% and "neutralise" its stockpile of uranium enriched beyond this point
  • Iran will give greater access to inspectors including daily access at Natanz and Fordo - two of Iran's key nuclear sites
  • There will be no further development of the Arak plant which it is believed could produce plutonium
  • In return, there will be no new nuclear-related sanctions for six months if Iran sticks by the accord
  • Some sanctions will be suspended on trading in gold and precious metals, on Iran's car-making sector and its petrochemical exports.
  • Frozen oil sale assets will be transferred in instalments, bringing in some $4.2bn (£2.6bn) of extra revenue

Arriving at Tehran's Mehrabad airport, Iran's negotiators were welcomed by hundreds of cheering supporters carrying flowers and flags.

Image caption A crowd welcomed the negotiators on their return to Tehran - in this photo from Iran's Isna agency
Image caption Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was welcomed on his return to Tehran
Image caption Most Iranian newspapers backed the Geneva deal that agreed a limited easing of sanctions

Addressing state TV, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said Iran was prepared to take the necessary steps to keep the deal on track.

World powers have suspected Iran of secretly trying to develop a nuclear bomb - a charge Iran strongly denies.

Media captionBenjamin Netanyahu: "It's a historic mistake... this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place"

A raft of sanctions has been imposed on Iran by the UN, US and the European Union.

President Obama welcomed the deal, saying it would "help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon".

It has also been revealed that the US and Iran held a series of face-to-face talks in recent months that paved the way for the agreement but were kept secret even from their allies.

The interim agreement with Iran - the world's fourth-largest oil producer - prompted a fall in oil prices in early Asian trading with Brent crude falling by more than 2%.

Although Iran will not be allowed to increase its oil sales for six months, analysts say the deal is perceived by the markets as reducing risk in the Middle East.

Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC's This Week programme that he hoped Congress would not pass new sanctions on Iran.

Some senators have expressed concerns about the deal and say more sanctions are possible.

In a nationwide broadcast on Sunday, President Rouhani repeated that his country would never seek nuclear weapons.

"No matter what interpretations are given, Iran's right to enrichment has been recognised," he said.

The deal comes just over three months since Mr Rouhani - regarded as a relative moderate - took office replacing the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It has also been backed by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in nuclear matters.