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Iran's foreign minister: New US sanctions would spell 'end of the deal' on nukes

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By Ann Curry, NBC News National and International Correspondent

GENEVA — Iran will not honor the nuclear agreement it just signed with the United States and other world powers if Congress imposes new sanctions, Iran's foreign minister told NBC News after the deal was announced.

"If there are new sanctions, then there is no deal. It's very clear. End of the deal. Because of the inability of one party to maintain their side of the bargain," Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said during an exclusive interview with NBC News.

After four days of marathon bargaining, on Sunday the United States and its allies agreed to offer Iran "modest relief" from harsh economic sanctions and access to a portion of the revenue that the country has been denied through these sanctions.  In exchange, Iran will give inspectors broader access to nuclear sites and allow spontaneous inspections.  

Iran and six of the world's powers – the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia – agreed on a "first step deal" that is meant to limit advancements in Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the easing sanctions.

While cautious, Zarif struck an upbeat note and said all sides had to seize this opportunity to resolve the nuclear impasse.

President Obama says the historic nuclear deal with Iran is a first step.  He added, the U.S. will continue to implement tough sanctions, but won't impose new ones if Iran meets its commitments during the next six months.

"It was important for everybody to use the opportunity, we all knew that this was a small window that had to used, otherwise it would be shut," Zarif added. "What I hope is important is that we will all work to a final resolution of this issue.   Now we are just taking a first step, the difficult work is ahead of us."

The deal was struck with great speed given the history of failed negotiations, coming in just the third round of talks over less than two months. The breakthrough also comes less than three months after Rouhani promised, in an interview with NBC News, to dramatically alter Iran's relationship with the world.

According to the White House, the deal stipulates that Iran will commit to halt uranium enrichment above 5 percent and also to neutralize its stockpile of near-20 percent enriched uranium. The Islamic Republic has also committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity. Iran will also halt work at its plutonium reactor and provide access to nuclear inspectors.

Zarif seemed satisfied, however, that the deal allowed his country to continue with its nuclear energy program.

"It says that Iran has a an enrichment program and a right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. For me the right to nuclear for peaceful  purposes incorporates the right to enrichment," said Zarif. 

"I believe it was a victory for everybody, that they are moving from confrontation to the recognition of the realities on the ground," he added.

While the administration has urged Congress to hold off on any new sanctions and give the accord a chance to prove its worth, several members of Congress criticized the deal when it was announced.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that the deal does not meet the standards necessary to protect the United States and its allies.

"Instead of rolling back Iran's program, Tehran would be able to keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability.  Yet we are the ones doing the dismantling – relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years," Royce said in a statement.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., warned that the deal sets a bad precedent.

"This agreement shows other rogue states that wish to go nuclear that you can obfuscate, cheat, and lie for a decade, and eventually the United States will tire and drop key demands," Rubio said in a statement.

However, Iran's Zarif said that it was up to the United States to build confidence going into further negotiations.

"I think the West,  particularly the U.S., needs to do a lot to at least partially restore confidence — the confidence of the Iranian people," he said. "And statements of what we are trying to achieve together."

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