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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iran Sanctions Lifted as Nuclear Deal Reaches 'Implementation Day'

by Pamela Dockins January 16, 2016

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Saturday certified that Iran had met the provisions of the nuclear deal crafted by world powers, a move that cleared the way for Tehran to get relief from crippling international nuclear-related sanctions.

Yukiya Amano, the IAEA director-general, released a statement confirming that Iran had completed the necessary steps for implementation of the multinational agreement.

EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini announced to a large group of reporters in Vienna: 'Today we have achieved Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,' as the formal nuclear agreement is known.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. sanctions termination requirements of Iran's landmark nuclear agreement were now in effect. The White House simultaneously issued an executive order putting those measures in place.

Mogherini said the 'historic deal' was both 'fair and strong' and that its 'proper implementation' would be a 'key contribution to regional and international peace.'

US-Iran prisoner swap

Word of implementation came on the same day that Iran and the U.S. swapped prisoners. The five Americans freed included Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine.

Kerry has said that he had been raising the status of detained Americans in all of his nuclear-related talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Conclusion of lengthy process

The implementation of the agreement was the culmination of nearly two years of intense negotiations.

Iran and the major world powers – the United States, five other nations and the European Union – reached agreement last July on the deal, in which Tehran pledged to scale back its uranium-enriching activities and submit to inspections, in exchange for a rollback of sanctions. Implementation of the agreement has proceeded during the ensuing six months.

In one of the final steps, Iran said Thursday that it had removed the core of its Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor and pumped cement into that portion of the reactor, meaning it could not be returned to service to produce a nuclear weapon.

World powers have voiced their suspicions for years that Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons, although Tehran said its nuclear program was intended for peaceful purposes.

In addition to the sanctions that shut down much of the West's trade with Iran, financial penalties imposed on the Islamic Republic 'froze' or blocked at least $50 billion of the country's assets held abroad.

Tehran is also now free to expand trade with other countries.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had campaigned on a pledge to reform his country's economy. Freedom from crippling sanctions has been a key component of his pledge.

Impact in US

But the impact of Iran's sanctions relief will be limited in the United States, said Kelsey Davenport, the director of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

'A number of sanctions on human rights, on terrorism will remain in place that will make it very difficult for companies to navigate,' she said.

In a Friday briefing, an administration official said the biggest impact for U.S. businesses would be in three categories.

The official said one category involved food and other products, such as importing pistachios from Iran as well as Iranian carpets.

The second category would be more freedom for Iran to purchase civilian aviation equipment from the United States.

Third, the official said, foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies will have more freedom to engage with Iran, as long as they abide by other U.S. government requirements.

Countries that have engaged in extensive trade with Iran in the past are likely to see the most benefits from Iran's sanctions relief, said Atlantic Council Iran initiative director Barbara Slavin, who spoke via Skype.

These are 'Asian countries, where Iran already has a lot of assets in their banks, money that has been frozen, oil revenues that have been frozen,' said Slavin.

She also said some European countries and Russia could benefit.

'The Russians will try to sell Iran some more nuclear power plants,' Slavin added.

Flashpoints remain

Although implementation will open the door to some trade between the U.S. and Iran, it will not result in the U.S. overlooking other areas of concern about Tehran, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

'None of us have rose-colored glasses on,' said Toner. 'None of us believe that suddenly once we reach Implementation Day that a whole new world is going to open up and we are suddenly going to cooperate with Iran.'

Those areas of concern include Iran's recent ballistic missile tests and its firing of rockets near a U.S. military ship in December.

There are also U.S. concerns about Iran's treatment of 10 U.S. sailors who were briefly detained after they entered Iranian waters.

Iran's release of a video showing the detained sailors with their hands over their heads drew U.S. criticism from politicians, including Republican presidential candidates, many of whom cited the incident in a GOP presidential debate Thursday.

Deal still opposed

The deal was widely panned by Republicans and some Democrats, and the agreement has been brought up repeatedly on the campaign trail.

'It seems to be an indication of where we are going. That Iran deal is the dumbest deal I think I've ever seen,' Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said at a campaign event.

Some U.S. presidential candidates have vowed to undo U.S. participation in the agreement, if elected – a move that Davenport said could prove to be difficult, if the first year of compliance goes well.

'If there are no violations and the deal is seen to be working – to be preventing Iran from moving toward a nuclear weapon – then I think it will be much more difficult for a president to justify moving out of the deal,' she said.

There is also concern about the deal on Capitol Hill. The U.S. House of Representatives voted on a measure Wednesday that would have prevented President Barack Obama from lifting some Iran-related sanctions. However, lawmakers then revoked their vote and scheduled another vote on the provision in late January.

Any U.S. move to unilaterally undercut the agreement would be viewed poorly by the other world powers involved in the agreement, said Davenport.

'If the U.S. sabotaged the deal unilaterally, I think we would be out on a limb by ourselves,' she said.

Compliance monitoring

In a bid to address U.S. and international concerns about the agreement, Kerry noted the U.N. nuclear watchdog and world powers would continue to monitor Iran's compliance.

At a Washington forum earlier in the week, Kerry said, 'We will ensure that the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran is removed as a threat to Middle East security and global peace.'

Slavin said Tehran's compliance, in the long run, would depend on its 'threat perceptions.'

'It will depend on whether there is proliferation around them, whether the Saudis try to get nuclear weapons,' she said.

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