BRUSSELS, July 20 (Reuters) - The European Union approved the Iran nuclear deal with world powers on Monday, a first step towards lifting Europe's economic sanctions against Tehran that the bloc hopes will send a signal that the U.S. Congress will follow.
In a message mainly aimed at skeptical voices in the U.S. Congress and strong resistance from Israel, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels stressed that there was no better option available.
"It is a balanced deal that means Iran won't get an atomic bomb," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. "It is a major political deal."
Ministers waited until the U.N. Security Council also voted to endorse the July 14 accord and then issued a nine-point text formally committing to a gradual lifting of sanctions along with the United States and the United Nations.
Ministers agreed that: "the lifting of economic and financial sanctions would come into effect once the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified that Iran has implemented its nuclear-related commitments."
They also urged the deal's full implementation and said the agreement could transform the Middle East.
"Iran is back in the international community," said Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's foreign minister whose country holds the rotating six-month EU presidency. Asselborn stressed the need for a dialog between Shi'ite Muslim Iran and its Sunni rival Saudi Arabia for the sake of stabilizing the Middle East.
Following the deal in Vienna, Iran has agreed to long-term curbs on a nuclear program that the West suspected was aimed at creating an atomic bomb, but which Tehran says is peaceful.
The EU will retain its ban on the supply of ballistic missile technology and sanctions related to human rights, EU diplomats said.
A senior Western official involved in the accord said a combination of limitations and verification was enough to ensure Iran would not obtain a nuclear bomb.
"Our ambition is to embed the Iranian civilian nuclear program into international cooperation," the official said.
The U.S. Congress received the Iran nuclear agreement on Sunday and will have 60 days from Monday to decide whether to approve or reject the deal.
Keen to consider Iran as an alternative supplier of energy at a time of tensions with Russia, the EU may reopen a delegation in Tehran and is seeking business opportunities in the country.
"The Iran deal has a geopolitical impact and also an economic impact on the European Union," said Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who plans to visit Iran in September.
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel flew to Iran at the weekend, becoming the first senior figure from a large Western government to visit the country since the deal. France's Fabius is also due to travel there soon.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and David Stamp)
Also on HufPost: