Wall Street Journal: Western powers won’t relax their enforcement of Iran sanctions, U.K. and U.S. officials pledged Monday, as European Union foreign ministers said they weren’t yet ready to ease the bloc’s sanctions regime in line with last month’s nuclear deal.
The Wall Street Journal
By Laurence Norman
BRUSSELS—Western powers won’t relax their enforcement of Iran sanctions, U.K. and U.S. officials pledged Monday, as European Union foreign ministers said they weren’t yet ready to ease the bloc’s sanctions regime in line with last month’s nuclear deal.
Last week, talks between Iran and six major powers on implementing the Nov. 24 confidence-building nuclear agreement were put on hold after Iran reacted angrily to a U.S. decision to expand its list of Iranian sanctions targets.
The Obama administration blacklisted more than a dozen companies and individuals for breaching sanctions already in place. They were accused of helping Tehran procure equipment for its nuclear and missile programs and evade existing international oil sanctions.
The administration’s move was an attempt to deflect a push by U.S. lawmakers to intensify sanctions, which might have torpedoed the fragile nuclear deal. But senior Iranian officials charged that even enforcement actions involving existing sanctions breached the spirit of last month’s confidence-building deal.
Speaking to reporters on his way into a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said there would likely be “difficult negotiations” with Iran in coming weeks.
“Meanwhile, we must maintain our vigilance on sanctions and maintain the sanctions that we aren’t suspending so that Iran has a clear incentive to make a comprehensive deal” on its nuclear program, he said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney also said Monday the U.S. always intended to implement existing sanctions that weren’t part of last month’s interim deal.
“Our call to Congress to refrain from passing new sanctions came with…the assurance that we would continue to maintain the existing sanctions structure and we would continue to implement existing sanctions,” Mr. Carney said.
Last month’s interim deal saw Iran agree to curtail some of its nuclear activities in exchange for a modest relaxing of international sanctions on the country. The European Union and the U.S. also agreed not to impose broad new sanctions on Tehran, but EU officials have said they made clear to Tehran they would continue to police any breaches of remaining sanctions.
November’s interim deal is seen as a first step toward a comprehensive accord which the two sides hope to sign within 12 months. Iran says its nuclear program is for purely civilian, peaceful purposes.
EU and U.S. officials tried to put the implementation talks back on track Monday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, a senior State Department official said, in an effort to design a “way forward” after last week’s dispute on sanctions.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi arrived in Europe, where he will hold talks Tuesday with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and her team in Brussels. Baroness Ashton chairs the six power group that negotiates with Iran on its nuclear program.
Monday evening, Baroness Ashton said she expected the implementation talks to resume “very quickly” and she hopes a target date can soon be agreed for November’s six month deal to take effect.
“We’ve sorted out most of the detail but inevitably there are one or two areas where we need to think very carefully about how the implementation is going to work,” she said earlier.
In a statement Monday, EU foreign ministers welcomed the interim deal and urged “swift implementation” of the agreement once the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirms Iran’s compliance.
“Iran has to implement its commitments in good faith. For its part, the Council is committed to take the necessary steps and to suspend those EU sanctions” agreed last month “immediately after the IAEA has verified” Iran’s compliance.
EU officials have previously said the deal is unlikely to take effect before late January.
Under last month’s interim deal, the EU and U.S. agreed to lift some sanctions on Iran’s petrochemicals sector and scrapped a ban on trade in precious metals and gold. In addition, the U.S. agreed to unfreeze some $4.2 billion in Iranian oil revenue assets held abroad. The EU also agreed to make it significantly easier to make financial transfers to and from Iran for permitted trade.
Among the issues for discussion at implementation talks are when November’s deal should formally start and what steps Iran must first take. There are questions about the precise cap on Iran’s stockpile of lower enriched uranium and how quickly the U.S. will release Iranian oil revenues frozen in overseas accounts.
Iran negotiates on its nuclear activities with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, the so-called P5+1 Group.
–Carol E. Lee in Washington, Naftali Bendavid in Brussels contributed to this article