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US Position on Anti-Iran Sanctions Clarified

The administration of US President Joe Biden said it will not lift every single economic sanction that former president, Donald Trump, imposed on Iran, despite pressure from Iran to do so as the two countries try to resurrect the 2015 nuclear agreement.
A senior US State Department official clarified Washington’s position on sanctions at the end of a week, in which Tehran and world powers held talks in Vienna, Austria, about returning to full compliance with the accord by the US and Iran, Politico reported. 
The US official’s comments followed a tweet from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said all Trump-era sanctions needed to be lifted before Iran would return to compliance with the deal.
The back-and-forth indicated both sides are trying to pressure the other into concessions, even as both say they want to revive the agreement. 
“The question still remains about whether the seriousness of purpose and the intent of coming back into compliance that the US showed will be reciprocated by Iran,” the unnamed State Department official told reporters. “We saw some signs of it, but certainly not enough.”
The talks in Vienna were paused on Friday as teams from both sides returned to their capitals for consultations. The discussions are slated to resume on Wednesday, with key issues of what each country must do, and in what order, remaining unresolved.
The 2015 deal was negotiated under former US president, Barack Obama’s administration, and it involved several countries as well as assistance from the European Union and the United Nations. It lifted an array of US and international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
In 2018, Trump walked away from it, reimposed the sanctions lifted under the agreement and tacked on new ones. Over time, Iran, in retaliation, began resuming some of its nuclear activities, including enriching uranium to 20% purity.

 

 

Looking for Options 

 

The team dispatched by Biden to Vienna, led by special envoy Rob Malley, has been looking at various options for returning to the agreement, which is formally referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Malley’s team has been sifting through the numerous sanctions imposed and reimposed on Iran during the Trump years. While many of the sanctions are clearly aimed at Iran’s nuclear program, Trump aides intentionally categorized others as falling under other headings, such as its alleged support for terrorism or its ballistic missile program. 
The Biden team has to decide which sanctions it believes were legitimately categorized, and should be kept, and which ones were a veiled attempt to sanction Iran over its nuclear program, and should be lifted if the US returns to the deal.
The US State Department official pointed out that the original nuclear deal allowed the United States to sanction Iran on grounds that were not nuclear-related. If the Biden team decides that a Trump-era sanction was legitimately imposed on those other grounds, it is not bound to lift the sanction.
On Friday, Zarif tweeted, “All Trump sanctions were anti-JCPOA & must be removed—w/o distinction between arbitrary designations.” 
The senior US official claims the tweet was unhelpful and suggested that the Iranians were not serious about reviving the deal.
Zarif also tweeted that the United States must take the first step by removing sanctions, because it caused the crisis when Trump left the deal. He added that Iran will make its moves after “rapid verification”, an apparent reference to Iran checking to see if the sanctions removal has taken effect.

 

 

Complicated Process 

 

Thanks to the existence of organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are ways to verify that Iran has stopped its nuclear activities. But the US official said Iranian officials have not laid out what would suffice for them when it comes to verifying the sanctions lifting.
“We don’t know exactly what they mean” on sanctions verification, the senior State Department official said. “We’d welcome more details on precisely what they have in mind.”
Ali Vaez, an analyst with the International Crisis Group who has contacts on both the US and Iranian sides, said the sanctions verification could get very complicated.
“Who takes which steps first also is a tricky issue, but not impossible to figure out,” Vaez said. 
It could come down to how the moves are described. It may have to be “designed creatively so that it’s a step-by-step process so that it looks like one step”, Vaez said. “It sounds like they’ll try to define it like one step with different sections.”
 

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