The US and the EU today lifted sanctions against Iran after the UN atomic watchdog confirmed that Tehran met its nuclear obligations under a landmark deal designed to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.
“Iran has taken every step that it committed to take, dating back two full years,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Vienna as International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified that Iran has fulfilled its promises.
The US sanctions-related commitments are now in effect, Kerry said, announcing lifting of sanctions against Iran. The landmark deal between Iran and world powers - the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany - was agreed last July.
In a joint statement with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Vienna, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, representing the six world powers, said that as a result “multilateral and national economic and financial sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme are lifted”.
“This achievement clearly demonstrates that with political will, perseverance, and through multilateral diplomacy, we can solve the most difficult issues,” she said.
Lifting the sanctions will unfreeze billions of dollars of assets, allow Iran’s oil to be sold internationally and reconnect Iranian banks to the global system.
In its report, IAEA said Iran has shipped 98 per cent of its fuel to Russia and dismantled more than 12,000 centrifuges so that they could not enrich uranium any further. Iran also poured cement into the core of a reactor designed to produce plutonium, it added.
Kerry also said the international community can now finally work to address the other regional challenges without the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran including the Syrian crisis, on which important progress in recent months have been made.
Hours later in Washington, the US State Department announced lifting of sanctions on Iran and the White House said President Barack Obama signed an executive order lifting some of the US economic sanctions on Iran.
The announcement also followed news of a prisoner swap between Iran and the US. Iran released four American prisoners including a The Washington Post correspondent.
In return, the US offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual US-Iranian citizens, who had been convicted or are pending trial in the United States. The US also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.
Today marks the moment the Iran deal has transitioned from ambitious promises on paper to measurable actions in practice,” Kerry said.
The latest developments was welcomed by former Secretary of State and the front-runner Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I am greatly relieved by the safe return of American prisoners from Iran. Their families and our country have waited and prayed for this day to come. I also welcome the full implementation of the nuclear agreement, an important achievement of diplomacy backed by pressure,” Clinton said.
Implementation marks an important step forward in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, she said, adding that Iran has dismantled centrifuges, disabled a reactor and shipped out almost all of its enriched uranium.
However, many Republican presidential candidates including Donald Trump and Marco Rubio were critical of the development and described prisoners swap as a sign of weakness. They in particular objected to the release of USD 100 billion in frozen assets, which Iran will now access to.
“Iran will receive much-needed funds to expand its regional aggression and its support to terrorist groups like Hezbollah,” Rubio wrote in RedState.
“This nuclear deal and the appeasement that has accompanied it will not improve Iranian behavior. Just the opposite it rewards bad behavior. It teaches the world a simple lesson: when challenged, America backs down and abandons its allies,” he alleged.
“We shouldnt have to trade anything to get our citizens back home. They were taken illegally by a rogue regime of Mullahs over in Iran and this is the problem with this president, he gets no respect around the world,” Christie said.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League urged continuous close monitoring and vigorous enforcement now that sanctions are lifted, accompanied by strong US pushback on Tehrans continued violations of human rights, regional expansionism and its ongoing militarism exemplified by its continuation of missile development.