Yesterday the United States and the United Nations lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran’s cooperation dismantling and scaling back its controversial nuclear program.
The lifting of international sanctions unlocks an estimated $100 billion worth of sanctioned frozen assets after international inspectors concluded that Tehran cooperated with main requirements of a nuclear agreement reached in July needed to dismantle their nuclear program.
After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the United States imposed sanctions against Iran and expanded them in 1995 to include firms dealing with the Iranian government.
The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions in 2006 after Iran refused to suspend its nuclear enrichment program.
Last July in Vienna, Austria a nuclear agreement was finalized, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that blocks the so-called “4 pathways” for Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb and lengthens Iran’s breakout time from 2-3 months to over a year or more if Tehran fails to honor its commitments.
The agreement was reached between Iran and five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council including Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States plus Germany.
Iran has maintained a uranium stockpile to create 8 to 10 nuclear bombs.
But under the terms of the newly reached nuclear deal, Iran is required to reduce its stockpile of uranium by 98 percent and keep its level of uranium enrichment at 3.67 percent, a level significantly below the enrichment level needed to create a bomb.
Since October Iran has shipped 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium out to Russia, dismantled and removed two-thirds of its centrifuges, removed the calandria from its heavy water reactor and filled it with concrete, and provided unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities and supply chain.
If Iran violates any aspect of the agreed nuclear deal, the U.N., U.S., and E.U. can snap back the sanctions on Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to London this week from January 13-15 to meet with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and then met on Saturday in Vienna, Austria, for consultations with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini on the full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Secretary Kerry told reporters on Saturday that Iran has already fulfilled the necessary steps from the agreement that a host of U.S. Republicans and Middle Eastern leaders had doubted would ever occur.
“Today, more than four years after I first traveled to Oman at the request of President Obama to discreetly explore whether the kind of nuclear talks that we ultimately entered into with Iran were even possible, after more than two and a half years of intense multilateral negotiations, the International Atomic Energy Agency has now verified that Iran has honored its commitments to alter – and in fact, dismantle – much of its nuclear program in compliance with the agreement that we reached last July,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Saturday
Kerry emphasized that verification remains the backbone of the nuclear agreement.
“We welcome that Iran has followed through on the promises that it made. It has kept its word. And we will continue to do the same. But we will also remain vigilant in verifying Iran’s compliance every hour of every day in the years ahead” Kerry said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters that diplomacy and negotiations played a large role in securing the terms of the closely scrutinized nuclear agreement.
“Through respect, through dialogue, through negotiations we can in fact reach mutually acceptable solutions, implement mutually acceptable solutions, prove that the nay sayers were always wrong, and therefore move towards a world in which diplomacy- not force, not pressure- will prevail” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters on Saturday.
Lifting sanctions will release an estimated $100 billion in Iranian assets, remove sanctions against Iranian oil, allow foreign companies to invest in Iran’s oil and gas infrastructure, autos, and other sectors while it permits Iran to trade with the rest of the world using the global banking system.
An estimated 500,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil are soon expected to be sold in international markets at a time when the price of crude oil has tumbled to under $30 a barrel and is well below the $110 level from mid 2014.
The United States will continue its sanctions on Iran from its human rights violations related to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and prohibit nearly all trade with Iran.
On Saturday before the nuclear accord was fully implemented, Iran and the United States agreed to swap prisoners.
Five Americans, including American Matthew Trevithick, who was studying in Iran and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, were released after being detained on questionable grounds that were widely criticized and disputed outside of Iran.
Rezeaian was held captive in July 2014 and accused of espionage, a charge his family and Washington Post vehemently denied.
U.S. Secretary Kerry said that the five were “unjustly detained” but as part of the exchange the U.S. released 7 Iranians charged with sanction violations and 14 others removed from an international extradition list.
The swap agreement asks Iranian officials to continue to cooperate to determine the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, an American private investigator and possible CIA contractor who disappeared from Iran in 2007.
Iranian authorities deny that Levinson is held captive in Iran.
Tensions between Iran and the U.S. were high earlier last week when 2 U.S. Navy vessels with 10 Navy sailors on board were seized by Iran after making a navigational error and drifted into Iranian waters, three miles off Iran’s Farsi Island.
Reportedly, one of the boats was suffering engine trouble.
Images surfaced of the 10 U.S. sailors on their knees with their hands up surrounded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The 2 U.S. vessels were detained and the sailors taken to Farsi Island.
Diplomatic efforts secured the release of the 10 sailors a day later but several U.S. Republicans, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, became upset by the actions taken by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and claimed international law was violated.
“The Iranian seizure of U.S. ships and sailors this week was a clear violation of international law. The Iranians had the right to approach the vessel to verify its nationality. Once determining that the vessels were sovereign immune warships of the United States, the Iranian government had no right to stop, board, or search the vessel” McCain wrote.
“They had no authority to exercise any control of U.S. Navy personnel on the vessel, or to remove them from the vessel. The exploitation of those sailors by photograph, and the video of a forced apology was inappropriate and inconsistent with well-established principles of international law” Senator McCain wrote from a released statement on January 15th.