Iran, six world powers clinch breakthrough nuclear deal

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. (AFP/Getty Images)

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. (AFP/Getty Images)

Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough deal on Sunday to curb Tehran's nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in what could be the first sign of an emerging rapprochement between the Islamic state and the West.

Aimed at ending a dangerous standoff, the agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was nailed down after more than four days of negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva.

The accord was designed as a package of confidence-building steps to ease decades of tensions and confrontation and banish the spectre of a Middle East war over Tehran's nuclear aspirations.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been coordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the major powers, said it created time and space for talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution to the dispute.

"This is only a first step," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a news conference. "We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction in which we have managed to move against in the past."

In Washington, President Barack Obama said the deal was an important first step towards a comprehensive solution to Iran's nuclear programme.

The West fears that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The Islamic Republic denies that, saying its nuclear programme is a peaceful energy project.

A senior US official said the agreement halted progress on Iran's nuclear programme, including construction of the Arak research reactor, which is of special concern for the West as it can yield potential bomb material.

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