Iran & major powers reach historic nuclear deal

The deal grants Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L), European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Picture: AFP.

VIENNA - Iran and six major powers have reached a historic nuclear deal, which will grant Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, an Iranian diplomat said on Tuesday.

"All the hard work has paid off and we sealed a deal. God bless our people," the diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Another Iranian official confirmed the agreement.

Before the deal was confirmed, a diplomatic source told Reuters early this morning that UN inspectors would have access to all suspect Iranian sites, including military ones.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the UN access would be based on consultations between the six powers and Iran which would impose limits on the Iranian nuclear program in return for economic sanctions relief.

The foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States met for about an hour just after midnight as they struggled to complete the agreement, which has been under negotiation for more than 20 months.

The agreement marks a watershed in Tehran's relations with Western nations, which suspect that Iran has used its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

Iran denies this.

Among the biggest sticking points in the past week has been Iran's insistence that a United Nations Security Council arms embargo and ban on its ballistic missile programme dating from 2006 be lifted immediately if an agreement is reached.

Russia, which sells weapons to Iran, has publicly supported Tehran on the issue.

Western nations are loathe to allow Iran to buy and sell arms freely, fearing this would permit it to increase its military support to Shi'ite militias in Iraq, Houthi militants in Yemen and embattled President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Another key stumbling block has been the so-called "snapback" plan to restore the sanctions if Iran violates the deal.

It was not clear how these issues are finessed in the final agreement.

Other problematic issues include access for inspectors to military sites in Iran, explanations from Tehran of past activity that might have been aimed at developing a nuclear weapon and the overall speed of sanctions relief.