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Negotiators Reach Deal On Iran's Nuclear Program

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After many months of negotiations, there is an agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program. It would cut Iran's nuclear activity to a fraction of what it was a few years ago. It would open up that program to extensive monitoring by U.N. inspectors. Critics say inspections aren't enough to ensure that Iran will keep its commitments or reign in its aggressive policies in the Middle East. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Vienna where the deal was reached in the early hours of the morning.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Secretary of State John Kerry came on stage with his negotiating partners and Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad-Zarif, to pose for a ceremonial photo marking what many would've considered a most improbable outcome - an agreement to curtail Iran's nuclear program - hammered out at a negotiating table instead of on a battlefield. Kerry invested heavily in this process, as did Zarif and his boss, Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. Kerry praised the courage of both men, but he also sang the praises of this deal's toughest elements, something Iranian leaders aren't talking about, except for hard-liners who were dismayed.

Kerry says not only will Iran have no chance to race to a nuclear bomb for a decade or more, but it won't have much chance of secretly operating a covert nuclear site either. That's because for the first time, inspectors from the IAEA - the International Atomic Energy Agency - will be looking, measuring and monitoring the entire nuclear fuel supply chain from the Uranium mine to the centrifuge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KERRY: So what this means is, in fact, that to be able to have a covert path, Iran would actually need far more than one covert facility. It would need an entire covert supply chain.

KENYON: In return for this and many more concessions, Iran will get what its president, Rouhani, was elected to deliver - relief from the economic sanctions depressing Iran's economy. Under the artful wording of the agreement, Iranian negotiators can say that all United Nations Security Council sanctions, for instance, will be terminated on the first day the deal takes effect. But that day is not today. It's called implementation day, and it's likely several months away. Analyst Ali Vaez with the International Crisis Group says between now and then, Iran must cut back on its machinery for enriching nuclear fuel, among other things.

ALI VAEZ: Iran will have to uninstall two-thirds of its centrifuges. It will have to diminish the size of the stockpile of enriched uranium by 97 percent.

KENYON: Iran must also remove the core from its heavy-water reactor at Arak and answer long-standing questions about its past nuclear research. At that point, large amounts of money - possibly $100 billion or more just in frozen assets - will begin flowing to Iran, and it will finally be able to rejoin the international banking system. That worries critics who fear some of the money will go to Iran's proxy fighters in the region, further destabilizing places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, especially after five years when a U.N. arms embargo against Iran would expire under this deal. Missile restrictions would end three years later. That may not matter, argue some supporters of the deal because this could be the start of a new era where cooperation may begin to replace proxy warfare. But one deal supporter, Ali Ansari, professor of Iranian history at St. Andrews University in Scotland, says that massive a change in U.S.-Iran relations will take time.

ALI ANSARI: What happens in the medium- to the long-term is different, and certainly, an agreement would open the potential for some sort of wider engagement in the future. But I certainly wouldn't hold your breath. And if these negotiations are anything to go by, I really wouldn't hold your breath.

KENYON: But today was a day for negotiators to celebrate the much-maligned art of the political deal, and John Kerry was probably a bit relieved as well as happy to do so.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KERRY: In the past 18 months have been yet another example of diplomacy's consummate power to forge a peaceful way forward, no matter how impossible it may seem.

KENYON: The road may no longer look impossible, but there are plenty of pitfalls ahead. Peter Kenyon, NPR News. Vienna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.