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U.S., E.U. lift sanctions against Iran amid landmark nuke deal

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signs a series of documents in Vienna, Austria today. U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry confirms Iran in compliance with nuclear deal and lifts U.S. nuclear-related sanctions. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Vienna, Austria today, on what is expected to be “implementation day,” the day the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies that Iran has met all conditions under the nuclear deal.

VIENNA » The U.N. nuclear agency certified today that Iran has met all of its commitments under last summer’s landmark nuclear deal, crowning years of U.S.-led efforts to crimp Iran’s ability to make atomic weapons. For Iran, the move lifts Western economic sanctions that have been in place for years, unlocking access to $100 billion in frozen assets and unleashing new opportunities for its battered economy.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the top diplomats of Iran and the European Union hailed the accord, reached after years of setbacks and a full decade after the start of international diplomacy aimed at reducing the possibility that Tehran could turn its nuclear programs to weapons making.

“Today marks the first day of a safer world,” Kerry declared in Vienna. “This evening, we are really reminded once again of diplomacy’s power to tackle significant challenges.”

Additionally, Kerry linked the trust built between Iran and the United States over the past two years of talks to the release by Iran Saturday of four Americans who also hold Iranian nationality.

“Thanks to years of hard work and committed dialogue,” he said, “we have made vital breakthroughs related to both the nuclear negotiations and a separate long-term diplomatic effort” that led to the freeing of the Americans.

EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini — in a statement also read in Farsi by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif — said the accord “demonstrates that with political will, perseverance, and through multilateral diplomacy, we can solve the most difficult issues and find practical solutions that are effectively implemented.”

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama signed executive orders lifting economic sanctions on Iran, while Kerry confirmed that the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency could verify that “Iran has fully implemented its required commitments.”

The July 14 deal, struck after decades of hostility, defused the likelihood of U.S. or Israeli military action against Iran while creating an opening for future cooperation on calming the tumultuous Middle East. But proof that it had been fully implemented had been lacking until Saturday.

For Tehran, the report translates into a huge financial windfall while also helping its efforts at international image rehabilitation.

Beyond sanctions lifting and the unlocking of frozen assets, certification by the IAEA opens the path to new oil, trade and financial opportunities that could prove far more valuable for Tehran in the long run.

Not even waiting for the IAEA report, Iranian Transport Minister Abbas Akhondi said his country had reached a deal with the European consortium Airbus to buy 114 passenger planes once the sanctions are lifted.

As diplomatic maneuvering on the nuclear issue dragged into the night, another source of U.S.-Iranian tension moved toward resolution with officials of both nations announcing the prisoner releases. The four Americans imprisoned in Iran were exchanged for seven Iranians held or charged in the United States.

U.S. officials said the four — Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari — were to be flown from Iran to Switzerland on a Swiss plane and then brought to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for medical treatment.

In return, the U.S. will either pardon or drop charges against seven Iranians — six of them dual citizens — accused or convicted of violating U.S. sanctions. The U.S. will also drop Interpol “red notices” — essentially arrest warrants — on a handful of sought Iranian fugitives.

Rezaian is a dual Iran-U.S. citizen convicted of espionage by Iran in a closed-door trial in 2015. The Post and the U.S. government have denied the accusations, as has Rezaian. He had been held more than 543 days.

U.S. officials said a fifth American detained in Iran, a student, has been released in a move unrelated to the prisoner swap. They said the student, identified as Matthew Trevithick, was already on his way home.

Among the sanctions lifted will be those imposed between 2006 and 2010 by the U.N. Security Council as it attempted to pressure the Islamic Republic to curb uranium enrichment and other activities that could also be used for nuclear weapons. Iran sees that move and the recent closure of a decade-long investigation of whether it worked on such weapons as a formal end to the allegations against it.

But the deal is also a boon for the White House. U.S. President Barack Obama’s greatest foreign policy triumph, it has turned tensions into a first step toward cooperation with Iran, a major regional power instrumental for ending the Syrian conflict and other Middle East crises.

The July 14 deal with six world powers puts Iran’s various nuclear activities under IAEA watch for up to 15 years, with an option to re-impose sanctions should Tehran break its commitments.

It aims to increase the time Iran would need to make enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon from several months to a year, primarily by capping Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium, which can create material ranging from reactor fuel to warhead material. Under the deal, Iran committed to reduce its operating centrifuges enriching uranium by two-thirds, to just over 5,000 machines.

The IAEA report, obtained by The Associated Press, ticked off that commitment and others as met.

With news of the deal’s implementation breaking long after midnight in Tehran, there was no repeat of the boisterous street celebrations that met agreement in July on the accord. But social media networking sites were abuzz.

“Hello to life without sanctions,” said one message. Another praised both Zarif and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose taking office in 2013 led to the start of serious negotiations after years of essential deadlock. “Thank you Rouhani,” one said. “Thank you Zarif.”

Since the world’s attention focused on Iran’s nuclear program more than a decade ago with revelations of its secret uranium enrichment program, Tehran has insisted that it was working only to power a future network of reactors and on medical and scientific research.

Iran denied any work or interest in nuclear arms even after the IAEA closed a prolonged probe with a November assessment that Tehran had an organized research and development program into such weapons up to 2003 and more scattered research and development activities up to 2009.

Still, it had little choice but to negotiate an end to the conflict after years of seeing as its revenues from oil sales — its chief income — dry up due to increasing U.S., European Union and other sanctions.

But the talks turned serious only after the pragmatic Rouhani took office in 2013.

For years, Washington had refused to even sit at the same table with Iran, joining the nuclear talks only in 2008, five years after the first international attempts to negotiate a deal.

By the fall of 2013, however, Kerry had met with his Iranian counterpart and Obama had called Rouhani in what was the first direct communication between a U.S. and Iranian president since the 1979 Islamic revolution led to the U.S. Embassy hostage taking and a diplomatic freeze.

The public goodwill quickly faded, however, and the realities of negotiating a mutually acceptable deal sank in. Deadlines were repeatedly extended by months.

The bickering went on to the very end, with the July 14 agreement emerging only after a series of white-knuckle late and overnight sessions, punctuated by threats from both sides to walk away from the table.

Both sides took hits amid the diplomatic maneuvering — Iran from hardliners accusing Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of selling out his country’s interests and the White House from skeptics at home and abroad — particularly in the Middle East — who said the deal would keep Tehran’s bomb-making capacities intact.

All-out lobbying by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the agreement also was unsuccessful. Warning that Iran has not given up its nuclear ambitions, his office urged world powers Saturday to respond harshly to any violations of the deal by Iran.

Without that, “Iran will think it can continue to develop a nuclear weapon, destabilize the region and spread terror,” the statement said.

___

Associated Press writers Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed.

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  • 100 billion is not chump change………Iran will dump oil on the World market, so watch gas prices come down over time?……time to boost gas taxes to fix our roads?

  • Iran is one of the more civilized countries of the region, more so than many of our so-called friends in the Middle East. It’s too bad we had a few missteps with them.

    • I know two guys from college days who are from Iran. One is back there the other lives on the mainland. They tell me the same thing; the people in Iran are hoping they can travel to America. They get along with Americans for the most part. Yes there is the lunatic fringe there, but both say its only a matter of time before the mullahs release the reigns.

      • Maybe we could do a “Lord of the Flies” kind of reality show in the wilderness somewhere with their lunatic fringe and ours battling it out for supremacy? Think of the ratings! Of course we would need to leave the “winner” out there in the wilderness so the rest of can live our lives.

      • agree. Iranians have every reason to hate America after what we did to them in the Cold War. Most still like Americans. Saudi Arabia and Israel do not want the Obama deal to work and will constantly cause trouble about it. Iran is the only check on those two aggressive and dangerous countries. Odd that Republicans see both these monstrous countries our “friends.” Most of the 9-11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia and Bush to this day will not open the full files on what happened before, during and immediately after 9-11. Iran fights ISIS while Saudi Arabia provides them support, and Israel does nothing except laugh behind closed doors.

  • As quoted back in July :

    “The current sanctions will be lifted,but with a little luck,and sneaking around,the Iranians will be able to get a Bomb anyway”. Indeed folks!They got something and the US got nothing…..Nothing but a promise,a promise most of us know they will Break……just like North Koreans!IMUA

    • Here’s what the US and the other co-signatory nations got: Iran 1) shipped all but 300 kg of its enriched uranium out of the country, 2) removed the core of the Arak heavy water reactor, which could have produced two bombs worth of enriched uranium every year, and filled it with dement, 3) dismantled 13,000 centrifuges, and 4) submitted all of its nuclear activities to IAEA inspection. That’s not “nothing.” It’s a major diplomatic accomplishment. North Korea got the bomb because Bush effectively pulled out the nuclear inspectors who had been in North Korea under Clinton; he was more interested in justifying a war in Iraq with faked intelligence than in stopping the real WMD program in North Korea.

  • Ay Bibi, babes. This is what you get for disobeying Obama and international laws building your obnoxious settlements on occupied lands. Your selfish policy has failed. If Iran nukes you I don’t think anybody will care. You don’t have any oil. I love news like this.

  • So we released some dual citizens and they released some dual citizens. The only prisoner that wasn’t really Iranian in all this was the student. It’s hard to feel sorry for an Iranian born person that goes back to Iran and gets locked up for whatever reason. They should have known better than most what could happen.
    Iran’s economy was on the verge of collapse prior to this deal due to the sanctions, it’s the only reason they agreed to negotiate. I wonder if it might not have been better to just maintain the status quo and wait for the Iranian regime to collapse or their own people to overthrow the government. It certainly would have happened sooner or later. Only time will tell if Obama was right to remove the sanctions.

    • Aren’t you overlooking the central issue in the negotiations — Iran’s ability to produce a bomb in as little as a year? With an Iranian bomb looming in the near future, your suggestion that the US could “just maintain the status quo” is more than naive. Your last sentence could be paraphrased to say, “only time will tell if Obama was right to shut down Iran’s nuclear weapon capability.” The amount of time required to think that one over is measured in seconds.

        • Conservatives criticized Obama for being a party to the negotiations, which they said were simply Iran’s strategy to stall until they had a nuclear weapon, that they had no intention of negotiating in good faith. Now that the weapons program is shut down, the enriched uranium has been exported, the Arak reactor has been shut down and filled with concrete, and inspectors are in place, I’m waiting for conservatives to admit they were completely wrong and that Obama accomplished something they said was impossible.

        • You are badly mistaken if you think their weapons program has closed down. Of course, that’s not surprising.

  • worst news i’ve heard all year. give the largest supporter of terrorism in the world one hundred fifty billion dollars. a government that imprisons Americans of Syrian descent for years just for kicks. killed hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq with their IEDs. there is no way they are giving up their nuclear bomb ambitions. they have spent millions trying to develop a bomb. if they were serious, they would have just dismantled all of their nuclear facilities without all of these years of denying that they are even trying to build a bomb. only a moron or Obama would believe anything the Iranians say.

    • No, the largest supporter of terrorism is our “ally” Saudi Arabia. Thomas Friedman wrote, “But if you think Iran is the only source of trouble in the Middle East, you must have slept through 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam — the Sufi, moderate Sunni and Shiite versions — and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment.

      It is not an accident that several thousand Saudis have joined the Islamic State or that Arab Gulf charities have sent ISIS donations. It is because all these Sunni jihadist groups — ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Nusra Front — are the ideological offspring of the Wahhabism injected by Saudi Arabia into mosques and madrasas from Morocco to Pakistan to Indonesia.”

    • Nobody is “giving” Iran $150B. This is from Politifact’s explanation: “But $150 billion is on the high end of estimates of the value of Iran’s foreign assets, which start as low as $25 billion, said Garbis Iradian, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance. Most experts we interviewed, including Iradian, peg the amount of unfrozen assets at about $100 billion, but no one is 100 percent sure of the amount.

      You can probably get to $150 billion if you count up every possible type of money that sanctions have made difficult for Iran to access and use, said Richard Nephew, an expert on economic sanctions at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

      Iran has financial obligations other than the sanctions, so even if all the sanctions are lifted, they won’t suddenly have all of these assets at their disposal. For example, Iran owes billions to China for infrastructure projects. Lower estimates take into account restrictions on the money other than the sanctions, Nephew said.

      So even if the total assets are $150 billion, it’s unlikely that that much will actually be available to Iran when sanctions are lifted.

      The Obama administration has said that after Iran pays its outstanding financial obligations, it will have about $56 billion at its disposal.”

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