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Nuclear Deal With Iran Brings Out Supporters, Detractors


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Huge challenges remain ahead - that's what President Obama said over the weekend about the historic deal the U.S. and its allies reached with Iran. Those huge challenges might be the only thing everyone in this situation agrees on.

Iran says it will suspend parts of its nuclear program for six months. At the same time, the U.S. will provide some relief from sanctions. It's a short-term deal that's supposed to provide space for negotiations on a more ambitious agreement. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The U.S. and its allies struck this deal with Iran a few hours before dawn Sunday morning in Geneva, and key players around the world all used the same phrase to characterize the agreement.

MOHAMMED JAVAD ZARIF: This is only a first step.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: You can't get everything in the first step.

SHAPIRO: That was Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, in Geneva; President Obama, at the White House; and Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview with CBS just after the deal was announced - all trying to lower expectations, while simultaneously celebrating what they called a historic breakthrough.

OBAMA: For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back.

SHAPIRO: For President Obama, this agreement validates his long-term approach to Iran. He has argued for years that combining diplomacy with sanctions is the best way to avoid war and prevent the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons. In the White House State Dining Room, he heralded the breakthrough while acknowledging it could be short-lived.

OBAMA: The broader architecture of sanctions will remain in place, and we will continue to enforce them vigorously. And if Iran does not fully meet its commitments during this six-month phase, we will turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure.

SHAPIRO: That sounds like a warning for Iran, and also a reassurance for those who are skeptical of this deal. Key figures at home and abroad believe that Obama is being played by the Iranians. Foremost among the doubters: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: What was concluded in Geneva last night is not a historic agreement. It's a historic mistake.

SHAPIRO: On Sunday, Obama called Netanyahu, to reassure him that the U.S. will consult with Israel on the next phase of negotiations. At home, the politics of this issue are complicated for many reasons. Some lawmakers in both parties believe harsher sanctions would force Iran to make more concessions. Iran's foreign minister says new sanctions would mean an end to negotiations, so the White House wants Congress to hold off.

Sen. Bob Corker, of Tennessee, is the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He told Fox News there's bipartisan skepticism of this deal.


SEN. BOB CORKER: I think there are going to be some people that want to impose additional sanctions. That's another effort that we may well take part in.

SHAPIRO: Still, Corker suggested he might be willing to work with the administration, and see how the next round of negotiations plays out.

CORKER: Let's face it: This is the deal that the president discussed with us this week at the White House. There are a few changes but this is, in essence, it; and the deal has been made.

SHAPIRO: Secretary of State John Kerry insists that American diplomats are not swooning for Iran's new, more moderate-sounding government. He says negotiators are entering the next six months of talks with a cold assessment of what needs to get done.

Kerry told CBS the U.S. did arms control deals with its great enemy, the Soviet Union.


KERRY: You don't trust. It's not based on trust. It's based on verification. It's based on your ability to know what is happening. So you don't have to trust the people you're dealing with. You have to have a mechanism put in place, whereby you know exactly what you're getting, and you know exactly what they're doing.

SHAPIRO: Even Obama's staunchest defenders say this breakthrough is far from mission accomplished. But for the White House, it's a much-needed ray of sunlight in a stretch of bleak news. Domestically, the president's legislative agenda is stalled, and his health care program is stumbling. Internationally, Obama has been unable to slow the civil war in Syria.

If this first step with Iran leads to a second, third and fourth step, it could prove to be a precious, high-profile success in Obama's second term.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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