Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed as “historic” the international community’s deal with Iran, which he said would stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon and “help make our world a safer place”.
After a decade-long attempt to broker a deal, Tehran agreed to allow UN inspectors access to sites so checks can be made on its nuclear programme.
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In return, some international sanctions will be lifted, a move that is expected to free up billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets around the world.
Mr Cameron, who discussed the developments with US president Barack Obama in a telephone call, paid tribute to those involved in protracted talks in Vienna between Iran and the so-called E3+3 – or P5+1 – group of the UK, US, Russia, China, France and Germany.
The Prime Minister said: “After persistent diplomacy and tough sanctions, the international community has delivered a historic deal with Iran, a deal which secures our fundamental aim to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and that will help to make our world a safer place.”
He added: “I want to pay tribute to all of those who have worked tirelessly over the last few months to deliver this deal. It has required leadership, courage and determination on both sides.
“Now we must ensure that this deal is fully implemented.
“There is a real opportunity for Iran to benefit from this agreement in terms of its economy, but this will only happen if Iran delivers on all the agreed actions required to fully address international concerns about its programme.
“Of course, this agreement will not solve all the difficulties, especially between Iran and its neighbours. We will continue to work with our partners in the region to ensure stability and security and I hope that Iran will also follow this path.”
The deal reached in Vienna comes at the end of a tortuous negotiation process which began in 2006 and underwent many setbacks and delays along the way.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who represented the UK at the talks in the Austrian capital, said it would grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to key sites in Iran to give the international community confidence that the country’s nuclear programme is “exclusively peaceful”, as Tehran has always maintained.
In return, Iran can expect “significant economic and financial benefits” from the easing of sanctions, he said.
The agreement was welcomed by Mr Obama , who said it ensured that “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off” for Iran.
His Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, said it opened a “new chapter” in Iran’s relations with the world.
But the deal was greeted with horror in Israel, where prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu branded it a mistake of “historic proportions” and vowed to maintain efforts to block the Islamic republic from obtaining an atomic bomb.
“We knew very well that the desire to sign an agreement was stronger than anything, and therefore we did not commit to preventing an agreement,” said Mr Netanyahu. “We did commit to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and this commitment still stands.”
Mr Hammond said he recognised the concerns of Iran’s neighbouring states, but insisted Britain stood firm against any “Iranian interference in their internal affairs”.
The agreement will impose “strict limits and inspections on Iran’s nuclear programme”, said the Foreign Secretary.
He added: “Having reached this important agreement, our focus will now be on its swift and full implementation to make sure that a nuclear weapon remains beyond Iran’s reach.
“We recognise the concern in the region about Iran’s historic pattern of regional activity. We will maintain our clear position in support of the Gulf states and against Iranian interference in their internal affairs. We hope, and expect, that this agreement will herald a step-change in Iran’s relations with its neighbours and with the international community.
“The removal, over time, of economic and financial sanctions represents a huge opportunity for Iranians to make positive decisions about their country’s future and its role in the region.
“We will continue to work closely with our international partners to encourage Iran to play a transparent and constructive role in regional affairs, particularly in the struggle against violent Islamist extremism.”
Former chancellor Lord Lamont, chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, said the deal was “courageous and right”.
“The only alternative to a negotiated deal would be direct military intervention, which would be disastrous for the region and the world,” he said.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mr Cameron had discussed the “historic” deal with Mr Obama this afternoon.
“Both leaders thanked each other for the leadership and work of their teams which had been critical to a successful outcome,” the spokeswoman said. “They agreed that this deal would ensure that Iran is unable to develop a nuclear weapon, making the world a safer place.
“They noted that differences would remain with the regime in Tehran over its role in the region and both the UK and US would continue to work with partners in the region to bring about stability.”