US Eyes Major Rollback In Iran Sanctions To Revive Nuke Deal

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Washington- The Biden administration is considering a near wholesale rollback of some of the most stringent Trump-era sanctions imposed on Iran in a bid to get the Islamic Republic to return to compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear accord, according to current and former US officials and others familiar with the matter.

As indirect talks continue this week in Vienna to explore the possibility of reviving the nuclear deal, American officials have become increasingly expansive about what they might be prepared to offer Iran, which has been driving a hard line on sanctions relief, demanding that all US penalties be removed, according to these people.

American officials have refused to discuss, which sanctions are being considered for removal. But they have said they are open to lifting any sanctions that are inconsistent with the nuclear deal or that deny Iran the relief it would be entitled to should it return to compliance with the accord. Because of the complex nature of the sanctions architecture, that could include non-nuclear sanctions, such as those tied to terrorism, missile development and human rights.

Administration officials deny they will remove all non-nuclear sanctions, but have declined to identify those which they believe Trump improperly imposed on terrorism and other grounds.

“Any return to the JCPOA would require sanctions relief, but we are considering removing only those sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“Even if we rejoin the JCPOA — which remains a hypothetical — we would retain and continue to implement sanctions on Iran for activities not covered by the JCPOA, including Iran’s missile proliferation, support for terrorism, and human rights abuses.” When President Donald Trump re-imposed sanctions after withdrawing from the deal in 2018, he not only put the nuclear sanctions back in but also added layers of terrorism and other sanctions on many of the same entities. In addition, the Trump administration imposed an array of new sanctions on previously unsanctioned entities.

But if the Biden administration makes concessions that go beyond the nuclear-specific sanctions, Republican critics and others, including Israel and Gulf Arab states, are likely to seize on them as proof that the administration is caving to Iran. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has led the charge among Trump alumni to denounce any easing of sanctions.

But a senior State Department official involved in the negotiations said officials now “have to go through every sanction to look at whether they were legitimately or not legitimately imposed.” The official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks, also said the U.S. would be prepared to lift sanctions that would otherwise deny Iran the benefits of the deal. Those sanctions could include restrictions on Iran’s ability to access the international financial system, including dealing in dollar-based transactions.

Those comments suggest that sanctions imposed on Iran’s Central Bank, its national oil and shipping companies, its manufacturing, construction and financial sectors are on the block. Deal critics briefed on aspects of the Vienna negotiations say they suspect that is indeed the case.

Current officials say no decisions have yet been made and nothing will be agreed in Vienna until everything regarding sanctions relief and Iran’s return to compliance with the nuclear deal has been settled.

But critics of the nuclear deal fear the administration will go beyond even what has been suggested by the administration’s oblique comments. They suspect that sanctions on people, companies, government agencies or other entities identified for nuclear sanctions relief in the 2015 deal will be cleared; even if they were subsequently penalized on other grounds.  

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