Biden administration considers major turnaround in sanctions against Iran to revive nuclear deal

Biden administration considers major turnaround in sanctions against Iran to revive nuclear deal

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is considering a near-total cancellation of some of the most stringent Trump-era sanctions imposed on Iran in a bid to get the Islamic Republic to comply with a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, according to reports current and former US officials. and others familiar with the matter.

As indirect talks continue this week in Vienna to explore the possibility of reviving the nuclear deal, U.S. officials have become increasingly expansive about what they might be willing to offer Iran, which has led a hard line on sanctions relief, demanding that all U.S. sanctions be removed, according to these people.)

US officials declined to discuss the sanctions envisaged for the removal. But they have declared themselves open to the lifting of any sanction incompatible with the nuclear deal or denying Iran the relief to which it would be entitled if it reverted to respecting the agreement. Due to the complex nature of the sanctions architecture, this could include non-nuclear sanctions, such as those related to terrorism, missile development and human rights.

Biden administration officials say it is necessary because of what they describe as a deliberate attempt by the Trump administration to prevent any return to the deal. Under the 2015 agreement, the United States was required to lift sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program, but not non-nuclear sanctions.

Administration officials deny they will remove all non-nuclear sanctions, but have declined to identify those they believe Trump improperly imposed for terrorism and other reasons.

“Any return to the JCPOA would require sanctions relief, but we are considering removing only those sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “Even if we join the JCPOA – which remains hypothetical – we would retain and continue to implement sanctions against Iran for activities not covered by the JCPOA, including Iranian missile proliferation, support for terrorism and violations. human rights.”

When President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions after his withdrawal from the agreement in 2018, he not only reinstated nuclear sanctions, but also added layers of terrorism and other sanctions against many of the same entities. In addition, the Trump administration has imposed a series of new sanctions on previously unauthorized entities.

This has put the current administration in an awkward position: Iran calls for the removal of all sanctions. If the United States does not lift at least some of them, Iran says it will not agree to stop its nuclear activities prohibited by the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

But if the Biden administration makes concessions that go beyond specific nuclear sanctions, critics of the Republicans and others, including Israel and the Arab Gulf states, are likely to seize them as evidence that the administration is giving in to it. ‘Iran. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led the charge among Trump alumni to denounce any easing of sanctions.

Former Trump administration officials say all sanctions are legitimate. Gabriel Noronha, the State Department’s former senior adviser on Iran, said all Trump-era sanctions had been approved by career Department of Justice lawyers and would have been rejected if not legitimate.

But a senior State Department official involved in the negotiations said those responsible “must now go through all the sanctions to see if they have been legitimately or not legitimately imposed.”

The official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks, also said the United States would be prepared to lift sanctions that would otherwise deny Iran the benefits of the agreement. These sanctions could include restrictions on Iran’s ability to access the international financial system, including the negotiation of dollar transactions.

“There are sanctions which are incompatible with the JCPOA and as we said, if Iran regains its compliance with the nuclear deal … we would be prepared to lift those sanctions which are incompatible with the JCPOA”, Price said last week. He declined to elaborate on what might be “inconsistent” with the deal.

These comments suggest that the sanctions imposed on the Iranian Central Bank, its national oil and shipping companies, its manufacturing, construction and financial sectors are on the block. Critics of the deal briefed on aspects of the Vienna negotiations say they suspect this is indeed the case.

Indeed, banking, oil, maritime and other sanctions, all ostensibly imposed by the Trump administration for terrorism, ballistic missiles, and human rights, also affect nuclear sanctions relief.

Current officials say no decision has yet been made and nothing will be agreed in Vienna until everything to do with sanctions relief and Iran’s return to compliance with the nuclear deal is rule.

But critics of the nuclear deal fear the administration will go beyond even what has been suggested by the administration’s oblique comments. They suspect that sanctions against individuals, companies, government agencies or other entities identified for nuclear sanction relief in the 2015 agreement will be erased; even if they were subsequently sanctioned for other reasons.

“The administration seeks to allow tens of billions of dollars into the regime’s coffers, even if that means lifting sanctions against key entities blacklisted for terrorism and missile proliferation,” said Mark Dubowitz, a eminent critic of the agreements with Iran and CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“They are even seeking to give the regime indirect access to the US dollar through the US financial system so that international companies can clear transactions with Iran through the US dollar,” said Dubowitz, who is frequently criticized for his tough stance. on Iran, but was also solicited for its views on sanctions by the administration.

The Obama administration faced the same problem after the conclusion of the nuclear deal in 2015. It felt that certain sanctions previously imposed by it and the administration of former President George W. Bush for reasons of terrorism should in fact be classified as nuclear sanctions and therefore lifted under the agreement.

Yet many countries and international companies were reluctant to enter the Iranian market for fear that sanctions relief would not be clear and that a future US president might reimpose the sanctions. Now that this has happened, and even before an agreement was reached in Vienna, this concern has resurfaced.

Already Republicans in Congress and opponents of the Iranian government are stepping up efforts to codify Trump’s tough stance on Iran with new legislation. While a law banning the return to the nuclear deal is unlikely to pass, there is broad bipartisan support for resolutions urging the administration to take a tougher line on it. Iran.

Such a resolution was presented on Wednesday with more than 220 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. In it, they call on the administration to recognize “the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle to establish a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Republic of Iran while holding the ruling regime responsible for its destructive behavior”.