European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced an historic agreement has been reached in the Geneva talks between leading world powers and Iran over that country's disputed nuclear program.
"After intense negotiations, we have reached agreement today on a joint plan of action which sets out an approach toward reaching a long-term, comprehensive solution," Ashton said, reading a joint statement. "We agreed that the process leading to this comprehensive solution will include a first step of initial, reciprical measures to be taken by both sides for a duration of six months."
Ashton added in her statement on November 24 that the initial "joint plan of action" will "create the environment for a comprehensive solution."
Speaking from the White House in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama said the agreement provides Iran with a "dignified path" to rejoin the international community."
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"Today we have a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement and I believe we must test it," Obama said. "The first step that we have taken today marks the most significant and tangible progress that we have made with Iran since I took office. And now we must use the months ahead to pursue a lasting and comprehensive settlement that would resolve an issue that has threatened the our security and the security of our allies for decades."
Obama added that the United States is committed to Israel's security.
"As we go forward, the resolve of the United States will remain firm, as will our commitments to our friend and allies -- particularly, Israel and our Gulf partners who have good reason to be skeptical about Iran's intentions," the president said. "Ultimately, only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran's nuclear program."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described the November 24 agreement as "a turning point."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the agreement as "an important achievement, but it is a first step." He said it includes "a clear reference that [uranium] enrichment will continue."
According to a U.S. government press release, Iran has agreed to halt all uranium enrichment above 5 percent and to neutralize its existing stockpile of near-20 percent enriched uranium below 5 percent within six months.
Iran has also agreed not install any new centrifuges for enrichment and not to commission the disputed Arak heavy-water reactor. Tehran has also agreed to "unprecedented transparency and intrusive monitoring" of its nuclear program.
In return, the P5+1 countries have agreed to suspend most sanctoin on gold and precious metals and on Iran's petrochemical exports. They will also allow safety-related repairs of Iranian civilian airliners.
In all, the package includes an estimated $7.2 billion in relief from sanctions for Iran.
The talks in Geneva, which entered their fifth day on November 24, were stalled over Iran's insistence that any agreement acknowledge its "right" to enrich uranium.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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