US gives examples of possible sanctions relief to Iran

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The U.S. has given Iran examples of sanctions it could lift as part of efforts to return to compliance with the 2015 Obama-era nuclear agreement that former President Trump withdrew from in 2018, a senior State Department official said Wednesday in a briefing with reporters.

The step by the U.S. is part of indirect discussions between Washington and Tehran taking place in Vienna. In the talks, the two sides are discussing incremental steps each could take to bring them both into compliance with the international agreement, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iran has called for the Biden administration to lift all sanctions imposed by the Trump administration when it withdrew from the international agreement.

But the U.S. team, led by President Biden’s special envoy for Iran Rob Malley, have said that they are likely only considering sanctions inconsistent with the JCPOA, and are not likely to lift a vast array of other punitive measures the previous administration imposed targeting Iranian sectors that are deemed to be supporting terrorism. 

“We have provided Iran with a number of examples of the kinds of sanctions that, we believe, we would need to lift in order to come back into compliance, and the sanctions that we believe we would not need to lift, and we would not lift as part of a return to compliance with the JCPOA,” a senior State Department official said.

The official was speaking at the conclusion of the second round of talks in Vienna that took place over five days, stressing that progress is slow and incremental and that the pathway to rejoining the deal from both sides remains a far way off.

Talks are expected to resume next week. 

The JCPOA signatories — the United Kingdom, European Union, France, Germany, China and Russia — are serving as intermediaries between the U.S. and Iran, who has refused direct discussions, to achieve consensus on a pathway of mutual compliance to return to the constraints of the deal. 

But both the U.S. and Iran have a better understanding of what steps each side needs to take to rejoin, the official said.

Iran, which maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful, began breaching the terms of the agreement in 2019 in opposition to Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and imposition of sanctions.

The U.S. has called for Iran to reverse the steps it has taken that are outside the scope of the agreement and allow for verification, limiting its enrichment of uranium, capping its production of centrifuges and allowing international nuclear inspectors, among other things. 

“I think the United States has a better idea of what it will need to do to come back into full compliance with the JCPOA. And Iran is a better idea of what it will need to do to come back into compliance with the JCPOA,” the official said. 

“Clarification doesn’t necessarily mean consensus,” the official said, adding “the distance that remains to be traveled is greater than the distance that we’ve traveled so far.”

Part of the challenge for Biden officials is unraveling a complicated web of the nearly 1,500 sanctions imposed by the former Trump administration that included putting in place sanctions that were originally lifted as part of the JCPOA, but then doubling penalties under the labels of support for terrorism and other descriptions.

“The Trump administration deliberately … imposed sanctions by invoking labels, terrorism labels and other labels, even though it was done purely for the purpose of preventing or hindering a return to the compliance of the JCPOA,” the official said.

“So that has made it more difficult. We have to go through every sanction, to look at whether they were legitimately or not legitimately imposed. So I’m not going to get into precisely the examples that we gave, but we gave Iran examples.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that sanctions the U.S. is considering lifting include terror sanctions against Iran’s central bank, its national oil and tanker companies, and economic industries like steel, aluminum and others, citing two people familiar with the matter.

The Journal further reported that a senior European official said Washington signaled potential sanctions relief on the textiles, autos, shipping and insurance industries, all industries that were protected under the 2015 agreement. 

The senior State Department official declined to name the examples of specific sanctions relief provided to Iran.

Tags China Donald Trump France Germany Iran Iran nuclear deal Joe Biden Russia United Kingdom

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