US, Russia Close on Iran ‘Snap-Back’ Sanctions

US, Russia Close on Iran ‘Snap-Back’ SanctionsUS, Russia Close on Iran ‘Snap-Back’ Sanctions

Moscow and Washington are close to agreement on a formula that bridges differences over US demands to quickly re-impose UN sanctions on Iran if Tehran violates its commitments under a nuclear deal, officials told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Such an understanding would resolve a US-Russian dispute that threatened to scuttle an agreement meant to place constraints on Iran's nuclear program for a specified period of time in exchange for sanctions relief.

UN nuclear agency's reports issued after Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) reached an interim agreement in Geneva in late 2013 have confirmed that Tehran has met all its commitments under the accord.  

Washington sees a "snap-back" mechanism that allows previously lifted sanctions to be quickly reinstated as a cornerstone of any deal. Ben Rhodes, US President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters last week that such a concept remained "the basic premise of our approach to sanctions."

But Russia opposes any automatic triggers. A permanent member of the UN Security Council, it has vetoed attempts by the US and other western council members to introduce such measures on other issues in the past. Opposed to such a precedent, it also rejects such a mechanism as part of the Iran nuclear deal now being worked on.

The two officials demanded anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the confidential negotiations. They declined to go into details.

But comments by France's ambassador to Washington Tuesday hinted at the possible compromise being worked on.

  Majority Vote

Gerard Araud said no structure was yet in place for snapping back sanctions but the basic premise would entail a majority vote of the five permanent UN Security Council members — the US, Russia, China, Britain and France.

That would be at variance with the usual rule of consensus. Still, it could ease Russian and Chinese opposition to the "snap-back" principle.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov last month insisted that re-imposing sanctions "should not in any way be automatic" but would need to be voted on by the Security Council. Under the scenario mentioned by Araud, Moscow and its ally Beijing might be out-voted on re-imposing sanctions on Iran, but the issue would still go to a vote — Russia's central demand.   At the same time, such a vote could be held quickly, satisfying US demands of a "snap-back" — a near immediate reinstatement of UN sanctions in case of Iranian violations.

UN sanctions imposed on Iran over non-nuclear issues will stay in place under any deal. But travel bans and asset freezes for Iranian individuals and entities and other penalties imposed between 2006 and 2010 over Iran's atomic program are slated to be lifted under any agreement. In drawing up the outlines of the deal now being worked on, the sides agreed on what a US fact sheet calls "a dispute resolution process." One of the officials who spoke to the AP said that would consist of a panel of representatives from Iran and the six powers.

He said that board is supposed to work by consensus. The AP believes the method could be fraught with problems considering the different interpretations Iran would have with the US and its allies on what constitutes a violation of the nuclear deal.

But Araud told reporters that if the panel is deadlocked, an alleged infraction will be discussed at the "political level" — an apparent allusion to the Security Council.