EU leaders across Europe hailed the deal reached on Sunday (24 November) with Iran on curbing its nuclear programme and praised Catherine Ashton, EU foreign affairs chief, for her role in negotiating the agreement. Iran and six world powers – Germany, France, Britain, United States, China and Russia – agreed to curb the Iranian nuclear programme in ex-change for initial sanctions relief. This development is widely welcomed as it may signal the start of a rapprochement that could reduce tension in the wider Middle East.
Aimed at easing a long-running standoff, the interim pact between Teheran and its six nu-clear interlocutors won the critical endorsement of Iran’s clerical supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Last year, Western powers asked Tehran to abandon the enrichment of ura-nium to 20%, a crucial technological step on route to producing an atom bomb. Tehran’s refusal has lead Israel, widely considered to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East, to threaten to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations. Major powers have stepped up pressure over the last year by imposing a number of sanctions against Teheran’s banks, industry and ship-ping.
“I would like to congratulate in particular Catherine Ashton, the high representative/vice-president of the European Commission, for this accomplishment, which is a result of her tire-less engagement and dedication to the issue over the last four years,” said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. However, while hailing the temporary deal, UK Prime Minister David Cameron also cautioned that this is only the “important first step”. Iran was now “further away from getting a nuclear weapon”, he said, while insisting sanctions would be enforced “robustly” until a final deal. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a steady critic of the talks, condemned the agreement because it left intact Iran’s nuclear fuel-producing infrastructure: “What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it was a historic mistake.”