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Iran nuclear deal reached in Geneva

(from left) EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (second left) is embraced by US Secretary of State John Kerry next to British Foreign Secretary William Hague (far left) and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (far R) after a statement on earl
(from left) EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (second left) is embraced by US Secretary of State John Kerry next to British Foreign Secretary William Hague (far left) and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (far R) after a statement on early Nov 24, 2013 in Geneva. -- PHOTO: AFP
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (second right) hugs French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius after a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva on Nov 24, 2013. Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to c
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (second right) hugs French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius after a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva on Nov 24, 2013. Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to curb Teheran's atomic ambitions in exchange for limited sanctions relief. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) reacts next to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (centre) as United States Secretary of State John Kerry (second right) embraces French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Geneva
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) reacts next to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (centre) as United States Secretary of State John Kerry (second right) embraces French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Geneva on Nov 24, 2013. Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to curb Teheran's atomic ambitions in exchange for limited sanctions relief. -- PHOTO: AFP
(From left) Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Mini
(From left) Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius shakes hands in Geneva, Switzerland, on Nov 24, 2013. Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to curb Teheran's atomic ambitions in exchange for limited sanctions relief. -- PHOTO: AFP
(From left) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, United States Secretary of State John Kerry, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minis
(From left) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, United States Secretary of State John Kerry, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, gather at the United Nations Palais in Geneva, Switzerland, on Nov 24, 2013. Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to curb Teheran's atomic ambitions in exchange for limited sanctions relief. -- PHOTO: AP
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (third left) poses next to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Iranian delegation in Geneva on Nov 24, 2013. Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Su
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (third left) poses next to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Iranian delegation in Geneva on Nov 24, 2013. Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to curb Teheran's atomic ambitions in exchange for limited sanctions relief. -- PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (REUTERS) - Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to curb Teheran's atomic ambitions in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in a first step towards resolving a dangerous decade-old standoff.

The deal between the Islamic state and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was nailed down after more than four days of negotiations.

"We have reached an agreement," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced on his Twitter feed. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also confirmed the deal.

No details of the agreement were immediately available.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of the five other world powers joined the talks with Iran early on Saturday as the two sides appeared to be edging closer to a long-sought preliminary agreement.

The talks were aimed at finding a package of confidence-building steps to ease decades of tensions and banish the spectre of a Middle East war over Teheran's nuclear aspirations.

The Western powers' goal had been to cap Iran's nuclear energy programme, which has a history of evading UN inspections and investigations, to remove any risk of Tehran covertly refining uranium to a level suitable for bombs.

Teheran denies it would ever "weaponise" enrichment.

The draft deal that had been under discussion in Geneva would see Iran suspend its higher-grade uranium enrichment in exchange for the release of billions of dollars in Iranian funds frozen in foreign bank accounts, and renewed trade in precious metals, petrochemicals and aircraft parts.

Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants - Iran's stated goal - but also provide the fissile core of an atomic bomb if refined much further.

Diplomacy was stepped up after the landslide election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as Iranian president in June, replacing bellicose nationalist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rouhani aims to mend fences with big powers and get sanctions lifted. He obtained crucial public backing from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, keeping powerful hardline critics at bay.

The OPEC producer rejects suspicions it is trying covertly to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is stockpiling nuclear material for future atomic power plants.

Israel says the deal being offered would give Iran more time to master nuclear technology and amass potential bomb fuel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told local media in Moscow that Iran was essentially given an "unbelievable Christmas present - the capacity to maintain this (nuclear) breakout capability for practically no concessions at all".