President Barack Obama heralded a breakthrough deal with America’s longstanding enemy Iran on Tuesday, saying it made the world safer.

“Today because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Obama said in an address from the White House shortly after 7 a.m.

The pact curbs Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, thwarting it from tipping its ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads for at least a decade but it also lifts crippling sanctions on the Islamic state and may transform the balance of power in the Middle East.

Israel, the only nation in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, reacted with fury, denounced the deal as an “historic surrender.”

Lifting sanctions gives “Iran a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has threatened unilateral military attacks on Iran’s scattered and sometimes buried nuclear facilities.

More likely, Israel and its allies in Washington will mount a last-ditch lobbying campaign to derail the deal in Congress.

Mr. Obama vowed to veto any such legislation and said the pact was good for Israel as well as the United States.

After decades of enmity, the pact signals a rapprochement between Iran and the United States that could emerge as Mr. Obama’s lasting legacy in an otherwise limited array of foreign policy achievements.

Mr. Obama said Iran currently has sufficient enriched fissile material to make 10 nuclear bombs. The terms of the deal will cut that stockpile “to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon,” he said, although that claim will be fiercely debated.

He also defended the inspection regime under the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying it will have “access where necessary, when necessary” to make sure Tehran abides by the agreement.

But critics of the deal claim otherwise, saying inspections require prior notification to Iranian authorities which undermines the effectiveness of inspections.

Mr. Obama insisted the deal was “not built on trust but on verification.” Critics in Congress and elsewhere will dispute that, arguing the U.S. gave up too much in pursuit of Mr. Obama’s longheld desire to improve relations with Tehran.

For Iran, the deal ends decades of isolation during which successive U.S. presidents treated it as a pariah state and led international efforts to limit its reach and strangle the economy of the oil-rich nation.

Yet in recent years, especially in the struggle against Islamic State, the extremist Sunni jihad to carve out a Caliphate from the wreckage of western Iraq and war-torn Syria, the United States and Shia-dominated Iran have shared strategic goals, while remaining officially at odds.

In the United States, Congress has 60 days to review the deal. While significant opposition is expected from hawks skeptical about the reliability of Tehran’s assurances, it seems likely Mr. Obama will muster sufficient support to sustain a veto even if Republicans initially reject the pact.

The pact, reached after weeks of intense talks in Vienna with deadlines repeatedly missed and extended and following years of on-again, off-again negotiations, was concluded in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

All five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – along with Germany are parties to the pact with Iran although it was widely seen as a deal between Washington and Tehran.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif led the talks that may end a bitter adversarial era dating back to 1979 when the U.S.-backed Shah’s regime was toppled by a popular revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The subsequent seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the 444-day hostage standoff that followed left relations between the two longstanding allies in tatters.

Ever since he was elected president in 2008, Mr. Obama has sought to renew relations with Tehran while always insisting that its ruling mullahs must make the hard decision seek a place in the international community.

“This deal offers an opportunity to move in a different direction and we should seize it,” Mr. Obama said, adding that arms limitations deals are made with adversaries, not friends. “We are dealing with a country, Iran, that has been a sworn enemy of the United States for 35 years.”

The deal allows for the re-imposition of sanctions if Iran violates the limits on enrichment or thwarts inspections. It also extends an existing arms embargo for five years and the embargo on ballistic missile technology for eight years.

But Tehran will gain almost immediate relief from tough economic sanctions.

The accord is intended to keep Iran from producing enough material for a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years and impose new provisions for inspections of Iranian facilities, including military sites.

Iran’s lead negotiator, Mr. Zarif, said the deal was “not perfect for anybody, but it is what we could accomplish, and it is an important achievement for all of us.”

WASHINGTON — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jul. 14, 2015 8:47AM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Jul. 14, 2015 8:50AM EDT