U.S. Lifts Some Sanctions on Iranians Before Nuclear Talks


A State Department spokesman said the move was not related to negotiations on the 2015 nuclear deal. The United States also imposed new sanctions on other Iranians.

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday lifted sanctions on three former Iranian government officials and two Iranian companies involved in the country’s oil industry, a sign of a reconciliation just days before a potentially decisive round of nuclear talks in Vienna.

The administration cautioned against reading too much into the move. State Department spokesman Ned Price said there was “absolutely no connection” between sanctions and discussions between several world powers and Tehran.

Those talks are aimed at bringing the United States and Iran back into compliance with a 2015 agreement that sought to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an end to the many international sanctions that have squeezed the country’s economy.

Announcing in the same statements that the United States had lifted some sanctions, the State and Treasury departments also said they would impose new sanctions on a dozen Iranian individuals, entities and ships for providing financial aid to Houthi rebels in Yemen. which were supported. Iran.

The sixth round of nuclear talks begins in Vienna later this week. Robert Einhorn, an arms control expert at the Brookings Institution, said the timing of the US announcements suggests a connection to the nuclear issue, and could be a sign of US resilience.

“What they are saying to Iran,” he said, “look, we are prepared to be fair here: when sanctions are no longer needed, we are ready to lift them; but when they are warranted, So we are ready to impose them.”

That message could also provide ammunition to Republicans in Congress, who argue that President Biden, in his determination to renew the nuclear deal, will take away the benefits sanctions on Iran provide.

At the daily briefing with reporters, Mr Price insisted there is “no ties, no ties” to nuclear talks. But he said the action was a reminder that US sanctions can always be reversed.

“Every time we impose restrictions, it is our hope that through a verified change in behavior, a verified change in status, we will one day be able to lift those restrictions,” Mr. Price said. “Because it means that one way or another, our policy objectives have been met.”

The United States has been negotiating with Iran since April, although only indirectly, through intermediaries in Vienna, due to Tehran’s refusal to speak directly with US officials.

Biden administration officials have said for weeks that they are ready to lift sanctions on Iran as part of a mutual return to compliance with the 2015 accord, and that the main obstacle to a deal is whether Iran’s hardline Leadership ready to respond by scaling back its nuclear activities

The 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration and several other world powers traded Western sanctions relief in exchange for Iran’s deal – and international monitoring of its nuclear program – to make sure it didn’t try to build weapons. . Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes only.

President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018 and attacked Iran with economic sanctions, which he called a campaign of “maximum pressure.” Iran then began to expand its nuclear program and is now enriching uranium in quantities and quantities far beyond what is permitted under the agreement.

Some European officials have been publicly optimistic about the prospects for success in the near term. But in an appearance at the German Marshall Fund on Wednesday, Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, was cautious.

“I think a lot of progress has been made, but from my own experience, until the last detail is fleshed out – and I mean the downside – we won’t know if we have an agreement,” Ms. Sherman said, according to a Reuters report.

An interim, unofficial deadline is June 18, the date of Iran’s presidential election. Mr Einhorn called the chances of a deal “very, very slim” ahead of that vote.

The election result is unlikely to have much impact on the nuclear talks; However, Iran’s leadership narrowed the field of candidates to all but a staunch ally of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ensuring victory. And US officials say Mr Khamenei will ultimately decide whether to return to compliance with the original agreement in any event.

But Mr Einhorn said Mr Khamenei could hope to check the timing for a post-election period and before a new president is sworn in, so that incumbent President Hassan Rouhani would be allowed to make politically painful nuclear concessions to Washington. as can be seen. . His successor – possibly the current judiciary chief, Ibrahim Raisi – will reap economic benefits after the end of US sanctions.

One of the issues that has hindered talks is the question of what Iran should do with advanced centrifuges – devices that can enrich uranium to bomb-grade purity – which it installed in violation of the nuclear deal. is. Republicans in Congress have said that centrifuges should be dismantled, but Iranians may be expected to keep them without operating.

The sanctions lifted on Thursday were imposed on former Iranian officials and companies that were “previously involved in the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport or marketing of Iranian petrochemical products,” the State Department said in a statement.

The State and Treasury departments did not justify lifting those restrictions. Mr. Price was not able to give more details, except that the action was taken in response to a “petition for removal”.

Sanctions were imposed on a group of individuals and entities led by an Iranian identified as Saeed Ahmed Muhammad al-Jamal. The State Department said they were involved in a “network of front companies and middlemen” who sell oil and other commodities in the Middle East and elsewhere, funneling much of the proceeds to support the Houthis.

Mr Biden has called for an end to the long-running conflict in Yemen. The State Department on Thursday reiterated its growing frustration with the Houthis, who have been at war with the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

“It is time for the Houthis to accept a ceasefire and for all parties to resume political negotiations,” the State Department statement said, adding that the United States would continue to pressure the Houthis, including targeted sanctions. Will continue those goals. “

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