Geneva/Washington/Tehran, Nov 24 (IANS) After intense negotiations, the Western powers and Iran early Sunday reached a first-step agreement on Tehran's nuclear programme that most of the world welcomed but Israel slammed as a "historic mistake".
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represented the P5+1 group - the five UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the US plus Germany - during the talks with Iran - made the announcement Sunday at the Palace of Nations, the headquarters of the UN office in Geneva, Xinhua reported.
"...we reached agreement today on a joint plan of action which sets out an approach towards reaching a long-term comprehensive solution," read a joint statement, which was announced by Ashton.
"...the process leading to this comprehensive solution will include a first-step on initial reciprocal measures to be taken by both sides for a duration of six months," the statement said.
US President Barack Obama said the historic deal includes "substantial limitations that will help prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapon".
Key players will work over the next six months toward a "comprehensive solution" on Iran's nuclear programme, Obama said in a nationally televised address from the White House shortly after the deal was announced at 3 a.m. Sunday in Geneva.
The deal which capped days of marathon talks addresses Iran's ability to enrich uranium, what to do about its existing enriched uranium stockpiles, the number and potential of its centrifuges and Tehran's "ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium using the Arak reactor", according to a statement released by the White House.
Iran also agreed to provide "increased transparency and intrusive monitoring of its nuclear programme," it said.
The deal halts Tehran's nuclear programme, including the development at the Arak reactor and requiring all of the uranium enriched to 20 percent -- close to weapons-grade -- to be diluted so it cannot be converted for military purposes, the White House statement said.
In Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the Geneva agreement is the first step towards building confidence between Iran and the world powers.
By this agreement, the world powers recognised Iran's nuclear rights. Iran possesses the right to uranium enrichment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said the Iranian president.
"The nature of (Geneva) agreement was a success for Iran's negotiating team," Xinhua quoted Marzieh Afkham, Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman, as saying.
The US has also released $8 billion of Iran's frozen assets Sunday, former head of Iran's chamber of commerce Alinaqi Khamoushi announced.
However, in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the interim agreement between the P5+1 countries and Iran was a mistake.
Attending a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said: "This is not a historic agreement but a historic mistake."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon led the rest of the world in hailing the agreement.
Ban congratulated the negotiators in Geneva for progress made on "what could turn out to be the beginnings of a historic agreement for the peoples and nations of the Middle East region and beyond", ITAR-TASS reported.
Leaders of the European Union (EU) too hailed the agreement as a major breakthrough for global security and stability.
Welcoming the agreement, Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman of India's external affairs ministry, said: "...based on initial information available at this stage, I can say that India welcomes the prospect of resolving questions related to Iran's nuclear programme, through dialogue and diplomacy."
While strife-torn Syria said that the agreement would serve the interests of the Iranian people, Iraq said that it would help bring regional stability.