By Chris Hannas, VOA
One year ago, exhausted diplomats from Iran and a group of six world powers emerged from a meeting at a luxury hotel in Vienna, Austria with what they had been seeking for nearly two years: a comprehensive agreement limiting Iran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting harsh economic sanctions.
Today the pact is in effect with clear results on its major components, but there are lingering suspicions on both sides that the other may take advantage and not live up to their responsibilities.
"We need to continue to work and we will continue to work and we have a specially designated ambassador whose day-to-day effort is leading a team to make sure that this deal continues to be lived up to, that we continue to be able to resolve any problems," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.
The negotiations sprang out of Western fears dating back to 2002 that Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons, which the Iranian government repeatedly denied. There were United Nations sanctions and others imposed by the United States and European Union to pressure Iran into abandoning any nuclear arms ambitions. Iran kept up its nuclear activity, largely focused on enriching uranium, while the sanctions badly hurt its economy.
The talks hit a breakthrough point in late 2013 when Iran and the group that included the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany reached an interim agreement with some limits on Iran's nuclear activity and the easing of some sanctions.
They gave themselves until the middle of 2014 to come to a comprehensive deal, but like with much of the negotiation process, the talks hit roadblocks and blew past multiple deadlines. An intense final set of meetings over the course of three weeks in Vienna finally clinched the deal.
President Barack Obama called it the world's best "means of ensuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon," while the diplomats involved pointed to the negotiations as an example of how countries can peacefully resolve their differences.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini praised the agreement as a path to "a new chapter in international relations" that uses diplomacy to overcome decades of tensions. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that while the pact was not perfect, it was an important achievement and represented a foundation for a new diplomatic beginning.
After getting legislative approval, the agreement went into effect in January. Iran removed thousands of centrifuges that had been used to enrich uranium and shipped out the vast majority of its existing stockpile. World powers lifted their sanctions, unlocking billions of dollars for Iran and paving the way for new business opportunities there. Last month, U.S. aerospace giant Boeing announced a tentative deal to sell 100 jets to Iran's state-owned airline.
But throughout the past 12 months, officials on both sides, particularly from Iran and the U.S., have spoken about the deal with comments that range from suspicion to outright rejection.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that if the world powers fail to meet their responsibilities, then Iran stands ready to restore its nuclear program. Meanwhile, some members of the U.S. Congress want to ban the United States from purchasing nuclear-related material from Iran, accuse the Obama administration of giving up too much too soon in the negotiations, and are wary about how Iran is spending its newly unlocked money.
Iran has complained that despite the lifting of sanctions that once barred financial institutions from doing business with the country, foreign banks remain reluctant to be involved in transactions.
The agreement spells out a 10-year limit on Iran's centrifuges, a 15-year limit on how much it can enrich uranium and a 25-year period for U.N. inspectors to have access to its nuclear facilities, all pushing its major effects beyond certain changes in leadership among the nations involved in the negotiations.
But the United States and nuclear experts point to the main result, extending the timeline under which Iran could rush to build a nuclear bomb without being interrupted from a few months to at least a year.
"Fundamentally I think the world can take pride in the fact that this multilateral complicated negotiation has produced a result that makes the region less volatile and makes the world itself safer in terms of nuclear proliferation," Kerry said.
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