Updated on January 16 at 7:27 p.m. ET
The United States and the European Union lifted a broad swath of economic sanctions against Iran on Saturday as the International Atomic Energy Agency certified it had dismantled most of its nuclear program, opening a new, cautious chapter in relations between Tehran and the West.
“Today marks the first day of a safer world, one we hope will remain safer for many years to come,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters at a press conference in Vienna.
Diplomats gathered Saturday in the Austrian capital for the implementation of last year’s historic nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers—the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. IAEA inspectors formally certified that Iran had taken concrete steps to scale back its nuclear infrastructure over the past three months—literally, in one case, when the country poured cement into the nuclear reactor core at Arak.
Iran also shipped 98 percent of its nuclear fuel to Russia and dismantled two-thirds of the centrifuges it used to enrich uranium. If the Iranian government renounced the deal and reactivated its program, Kerry estimated that it would take more than a year for the country to race towards a nuclear bomb.
After the certification, President Obama issued executive orders lifting international economic sanctions. Their end marks a major victory for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his allies, who swept into power in the 2013 elections on a platform of reinvigorating the country’s ailing economy and thawing its relations with the West. The timing is also politically fortuitous as Iranian voters go to the polls on February 26 for the country’s legislative elections.
We're getting to #ImplementationDay. Nothing serious. Diplomacy requires patience, but we all know that it sure beats the alternatives.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 16, 2016
In an effort to force Iran to abandon its nuclear program, the United States, the European Union, and other countries constructed the most complex regime of international economic sanctions in modern history, effectively severing Tehran from most of the world’s major financial institutions and isolating its markets from global commerce. Iran’s economy withered, with the Iranian rial losing over two-thirds of its value and the price of basic goods rising precipitously.