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Cheers and Sneers Greet Obama’s Iranian Nuke Deal

A framework accord outlining the elements of a proposed deal on Iran's nuclear program was greeted with equal parts celebration and derision in both the Islamic republic and the United States.
April 3, 2015, 6:10pm
Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Getty Images

A framework brokered by the United States and Iran on a nuclear agreement that aims to block the Middle Eastern nation's path to a nuclear bomb was hailed by President Barack Obama as "historic" and a "good deal" — but the reaction from congressional Republicans and Iranian hardliners has been less than enthusiastic.

The tentative agreement, which was struck in Switzerland on Thursday after marathon negotiations went beyond a March 30 deadline and into overtime, is a milestone step toward the passage of a comprehensive accord by the end of June. Shortly after the announcement, Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the bones of the pact, which he said would reward "Iran's future cooperation" with "relief in phases from the sanctions that have impacted Iran's economy."

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.— Department of State (@StateDept)April 2, 2015

Related: A Solution Has Been Reached on Parameters for Iran's Nuclear Program

On Thursday night, however, Kerry's Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, issued a series of tweets pushing back against what he described as "spin" about the terms of the framework. A fact sheet circulated by the State Department states that "Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments."

But the framework's various elements evidently remain open to interpretation. Zarif suggested that they could be taken to mean an immediate lifting of sanctions, and blasted the US fact sheet as misleading.

The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using 'fact sheets' so early on.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif)April 2, 2015

Iran/5+1 Statement: 'US will cease the application of ALL nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions.' Is this gradual?

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif)April 2, 2015

Iran/P5+1 Statement: 'The EU will TERMINATE the implementation of ALL nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions'. How about this?

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif)April 2, 2015

Related: A Public Relations Machine Is Trying to Sink a Deal to End Iran's Nuclear Program

Though the agreement on a framework is promising, many challenges lie ahead for Iran and the P5+1 negotiation partners — the US, France, Britain, China, Russia, and Germany. There's still a lot of ironing out to do before June.

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Meanwhile, Iranians greeted Zarif's return to Tehran with exultant celebration in the streets, where crowds cheered and waved flags while motorists honked their horns through the night. Citizens heralded the rapprochement as a sign of impending reprieve from difficult living conditions and hardship under sanctions, the lifting of which could inject an estimated $150 billion back to the Iranian economy.

"This will bring hope to our life," Ali, a 34-year-old Tehrani citizen, told AFP. "It was as if someone had blocked my airways but I can now breathe. Everyone is happy, we've been waiting for this for too long."

Northern Tehran after — Sobhan Hassanvand (@Hassanvand)April 2, 2015

Reaction within Iran's leadership was more divided. Hossein Shariatmadari, an adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose authority eclipses that of the country's moderate President Hassan Rouhani, remarked to the country's Fars news agency on Friday that Iran had swapped its "ready-to-race horse with a broken bridle."

Iran's agreement to shut down underground uranium enrichment operations at its Fordo nuclear facility and convert it into a nuclear research center was bitterly criticized by conservative Iranian analyst Mahdi Mohammad as "a disaster" in remarks he gave to Fars.

Related: Netanyahu Warns US Deal with Iran Would Turn Middle East into 'Nuclear Tinderbox'

Hours after Obama announced the terms of the deal from the lawns of the White House Rose Garden, the president was on the phone to Israel's recently re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who once against expressed his hostility to any sort of deal with Iran, which he warned in an address to Congress last month would turn the Middle East into a "nuclear tinderbox." The framework deal and ongoing negotiations "would threaten the survival of Israel," Netanyahu said in a statement released after his phone call with Obama.

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Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz had earlier given a statement saying, "The smiles in Lausanne are detached from wretched reality in which Iran refuses to make any concessions on the nuclear issue and continues to threaten Israel and all other countries in the Middle East."

Netanyahu revisited this theme on Friday when he said that Israel would "not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons," and demanded that any final agreement include Iran's "recognition of Israel's right to exist."

Related: 'I'm Embarrassed for Them': Obama Hits Back at Republican Senators' Letter to Iran Over Nuclear Deal

Check out Twitter feed from— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton)April 2, 2015

Some congressional Republicans who back Israel's stance on the deal and have attempted to circumvent Obama's foreign policy strategy as negotiations were underway also hit back at the emerging compromise on Friday, underscoring the intense mistrust between US and Iranian officials that has plagued the talks.

"It would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

Other Republicans, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), promised to push ahead with legislation that would require congressional approval on any final nuclear deal, while Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who last month led the charge in writing a scathing letter to Iran's leadership in an attempt to throw cold water on negotiations, offered his own criticism of the framework.

"Iran remains the world's worst state sponsor of terrorism," Cotton said. "I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to protect America from this very dangerous proposal, and to stop a nuclear arms race in the world's most volatile region."

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields