News / Middle East

West Considers Early Sanctions Moves in Troubled Iran Nuclear Talks

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) at talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program in Vienna, Austria, July 13, 2014.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) at talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program in Vienna, Austria, July 13, 2014.
Reuters

With talks between world powers and Iran over a broad nuclear accord at an impasse, Western governments are considering offering a significant easing of sanctions early on in the process to try to wring concessions from Tehran, diplomats say.

To be effective, such a plan would have to involve clear guidance to companies made wary by U.S. fines for sanctions-busting, be reversible and not go too far, or skeptical U.S. lawmakers would simply reimpose restrictions.

The OPEC oil producer has seen its economy devastated by years of sanctions imposed over its contested nuclear program, which Western states say appears to be aimed at producing a nuclear bomb and Tehran says is purely peaceful.

The prospects for an immediate accord scaling back that program in return for sanctions relief appeared tenuous on Thursday. Diplomats said the six world powers negotiating with Iran - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - were working out terms for an extension of talks, beyond their self-imposed July 20 deadline, instead of seeking to close a deal now.

If there is an agreement in the coming weeks or months, Western diplomats have told Reuters, Iran might still have to wait years, or as long as two decades, to see the complex web of sanctions permanently removed.

Instead, they said, Western states may opt for a patchwork of steps suspending sanctions in various industries that can be easily reinstated if Tehran reneges on its nuclear commitments. The extent of these steps would match Iranian concessions.

“When Iran does something, then we can respond with sanctions relief,” one said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The whole process will take years.”

The timing of any easing of oil sanctions - closely watched by the markets -  which now prohibit U.S. and European importers from buying Iranian crude and impose severe restrictions on third country purchases, will depend on what Iran offers to do from its side and when.

But some diplomats said restrictions on banking with Iran might have to be eased in step with other industries, such as shipping for example, to make sure companies can finance any newly re-established trade.

“We can be flexible,” a senior western diplomat said.

Without access to finance, relief might not materialize, raising questions about the world powers' credibility and endangering the implementation of the accord, they said.

Western companies are eager to enter Iran, a market of nearly 80 million people and vast oil reserves.

But banks have been reluctant to process cash when it became admissible to a certain extent under an interim accord struck between Iran and the world powers last November, which provided modest sanctions relief for some nuclear concessions.

Some experts have said overcoming this reluctance may mean, for example, that the West would have to name several banks that would process transactions allowed under newly allowed relief.

“Overcoming the reticence of international banks to do business with Iran will require the [six powers] to issue clear regulatory guidance about which multilateral sanctions are lifted,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg from the Center for a New American Security in a research note.

French bank BNP Paribas agreed earlier this month to pay $9 billion for contravening U.S. sanctions, also against Iran, in a move likely to increase western banks' reluctance to open up for business with Tehran.

The right timing

How sanctions relief for Iran is introduced might be a crucial factor in ensuring the integrity of any deal, which will likely be implemented over many years.

The West wants Iran to scale back its atom work so much that it would take it a long time, maybe years, to assemble materials for a bomb. To achieve that it wants Iran to limit its capacity to enrich uranium to bomb-grade and subject any remaining work to strict United Nations oversight.

For now, diplomats said, the sides have struggled to match Iranian and western concessions sufficiently to craft a deal, despite holding six rounds of talks since the start of this year coordinated by the EU's top diplomat Catherine Ashton.

Some diplomats have said that as a goodwill gesture towards Iran, the West would be willing to “front-load” some sanctions relief, in return for quick stepping back from atom work.

“It's all meant to be reciprocal,” one diplomat from the six powers said.

But experts warn that Congress, where Republicans and some Democrats have called for talks to be abandoned and a return to tough sanctions to deter Tehran from building an atom bomb, may move ahead with new sanctions if they view a deal as too lax.

“If they try to front-load relief too significantly or lift key elements [of the western sanctions architecture] too precipitously, they will inspire a congressional backlash,” said Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a U.S. think-tank which advocates tougher sanctions.

Political complications

Any sanctions relief would have to be closely coordinated between the United States and Europe, some diplomats also said, to ensure Washington's power to punish third countries for contravening its restrictions does not complicate implementation.

It would be difficult, for example, for the Belgium-based SWIFT, which provides banks with a system for moving funds around the world to unblock Iranian banks from using its network to transfer money without some easing of U.S. restrictions.

The Belgian company cut off Iranian banks in 2012 as part of a wider international push to ratchet up sanctions that also included a European Union embargo on purchases of Iranian oil.

The once unthinkable move - considering the extent of dependence of some European countries on Iranian crude -  pulled between 450,000 and 600,000 barrels per day off world markets and made it very difficult for global buyers of Iranian crude to insure shipments.

One western diplomat said Iran's immediate goal was to roll back sanctions to what they were prior to EU moves in 2012.

If that happens, EU rules would only allow for the oil embargo to be initially suspended before permanent removal.

A suspension could be easily reversed, while to reimpose such a ban, which took months of painstaking negotiations in 2011 to agree, might be impossible again because it would require a unanimous decision by all 28 EU governments.

In Washington, Obama can theoretically use waivers to allow for some previously sanctioned trade. But a permanent removal of sanctions in many industries would require congressional support, which might be impossible to secure before Iran has completed its side of the deal.

Several diplomats said much of the extensive western sanctions architecture could remain in place even after an accord is concluded.

Many U.S. measures pre-date the nuclear conflict and are related to tensions between Washington and Tehran over a hostage crisis following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The domestic U.S. oil embargo would be one example, even if Washington gradually removes pressure on third states not to buy Iranian oil.    

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More