x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE welcomes Iran nuclear pact, hopes for comprehensive accord

UAE and Bahrain welcome agreement, while Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states weigh their official responses. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

An Iranian girl reads a copy of the Iran newspaper with a headline translating 'Third Geneva was historical' outside a kiosk in Tehran. Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA
An Iranian girl reads a copy of the Iran newspaper with a headline translating 'Third Geneva was historical' outside a kiosk in Tehran. Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA

ABU DHABI // The UAE yesterday welcomed Iran’s preliminary deal with six world powers to curb its nuclear programme, saying it hoped it would lead to a comprehensive accord.

The government’s cabinet, meeting in regular session, said it hoped the pact reached in Geneva represented “a step towards a permanent agreement that preserves the stability of the region and shield it from tension and the danger of nuclear proliferation,” Wam reported.

The deal, struck in the early morning hours after four days of talks between Iran and negotiators from the United States, France, Great Britain, Germany, China and Russia, requires Iran to restrict its enrichment of uranium to 5 per cent purity, well below the grade needed to produce a nuclear weapon, and obliges it to open its facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In exchange, the US and other Western countries will provide Iran with up to US$7 billion (Dh25.7bn) in relief from economic sanctions, including about $4.2bn in oil revenue currently frozen in foreign banks. Also, they agreed not to introduce any new sanctions against Tehran for six months, while a broader accord is negotiated.

Bahrain, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council along with the UAE, also approved of the deal.

“The agreement removes fears from us, whether from Iran or any other state,” said the country’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa.

Saudi Arabia and other GCC members were still weighing their official responses. However, Abdullah Al Askar, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s appointed Shoura Council said the deal worried him.

“I am afraid Iran will give up something on [its nuclear programme] to get something else from the big powers in terms of regional politics. And I’m worrying about giving Iran more space or a freer hand in the region,” he said.

“The government of Iran, month after month, has proven that it has an ugly agenda in the region.”

He stressed that he had no knowledge of his government’s official response.

In Tehran, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the deal and said it was “worth appreciation” and could “be the basis for future smart moves”, an indication that Tehran was prepared to comply with the landmark agreement.

His reaction came in a letter, reported by the Fars news agency, to the country’s president. Hassan Rouhani also welcomed the deal as having “recognised Iran’s nuclear rights” to enrich uranium. He later said on his Twitter feed that the agreement was “in the interest of all countries in the region, global peace and progress”.

In recent weeks, policymakers from the GCC have raised concerns that reducing Western sanctions could embolden both Tehran’s drive for a nuclear weapon and its regional foreign policy.

Gulf states are concerned about Iran’s role in the region, where it has backed the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hizbollah, and has been accused of stoking unrest in Bahrain. On Saturday, the emirs of Kuwait and Qatar visited Saudi’s King Abdullah in Riyadh to discuss regional issues, including Iran and Syria.

The Syrian foreign ministry lauded the agreement as being “a historic accord which guarantees the interests of the brotherly Iranian people and acknowledges their right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy”, local media reported.

Russia and China, both allies of the Syrian government, also welcomed the deal. “Nobody lost, everyone ends up winning,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said. “We are convinced that Iran will cooperate with the [International Atomic Energy] agency in good faith.”

In Western capitals, there was also praise for the deal, which came after months of secret negotiations between the United States and Iran, which took place mostly in Oman, followed by six-party talks in Geneva.

The US president, Barack Obama, called it “an important first step toward a comprehensive solution that addresses our concerns with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear programme”.

But the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, described the deal as a “historic mistake”. He said it was a “bad agreement” that “gives Iran exactly what it wants: both substantial easing of sanctions and preservation of the most substantial parts of its nuclear program”.

The agreement also faces some scepticism in Washington, where several members of Congress have objected to the lifting of sanctions. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said in Geneva that Mr Obama would be prepared to use his veto to prevent Congress from implementing new sanctions on Iran over the next six months.

Implementation of the agreement, the first between the West and Iran since that country’s 1979 revolution, is expected to begin immediately, Mr Rouhani said.

* With additional reporting from Reuters and the Associated Press