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Feb 8, 9:38 AM EST

Iran awards medals of honor to its nuclear team

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran awarded medals of honor on Monday to its nuclear negotiators, who helped clinch a landmark deal with world powers last year.

President Hassan Rouhani presented the "Medal of Merit" to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the "Medal of Courage" to Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan and Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also the country's nuclear chief.

The July 14 agreement brought about the lifting of international sanctions last month after the United Nations certified that Iran had met all its commitments to curbing its nuclear activities.

"We passed behind us difficult days, difficult hours and nights," Rouhani said at the ceremony. "But we did not lose the right path and God did not leave us alone."

The agreement was a major accomplishment for Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 on a platform promising constructive engagement with the world and an end to Iran's international isolation. His allies are hoping for a strong showing in Feb. 26 parliamentary elections.

Rouhani expressed gratitude for the support he received from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all major policies.

"Without the supreme leader, there was no national unity. Without the supreme leader, our (nuclear) accomplishment would have not been as great as it is today and maybe we would not have had such an achievement," he said.

Iran's nuclear negotiators attended Monday's historic ceremony with their families.

Zarif said after receiving the medal that the nuclear accord is "an agreement based on removing concerns of all parties. That's why it's in the interests of all to comply with the deal."

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