Some of the EU sanctions on Iran could be lifted as early as next month, as part of a nuclear deal with world powers, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says.
Laurent Fabius was speaking after crowds in Tehran cheered negotiators who had agreed to curb some of Iran’s nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
The six-month interim deal agreed in Geneva prompted a fall in oil prices on markets on Monday.
Meanwhile, Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the agreement is a “historic mistake”.
President Barack Obama phoned Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the deal on Sunday. He told the Israeli leader he understood Israel “has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions” and promised to consult its ally closely, the White House said.
Some of the EU sanctions on Iran could be lifted as early as next month, as part of a nuclear deal with world powers
Laurent Fabius told French radio on Monday that “Iran is committed to giving up the prospect of nuclear weapons. It’s perfectly clear”.
However, the French foreign minister insisted that the temporary deal could be reversed if its terms were not adhered to: “As long as some things remained to be settled, nothing is settled.”
EU foreign ministers would meet “in a few weeks” to put forward a proposal partially to lift some sanctions on Iran, which the 28-member bloc would then have to approve. The limited lifting of sanctions would take place “in December”, he added.
France, the UK and Germany, the US, Russia and China took part in the talks with Iran, hosted by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Under the deal which will last six months, Iran would receive some $7 billion in “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible [sanctions] relief” while a permanent agreement is sought.
In return, Tehran has agreed to a series of measures surrounding its nuclear programme.
The new Iran nuclear deal has been called a “historic mistake”by Israel and some Republicans in US Congress.
“What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement. It was a historic mistake,” Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting Sunday morning.
“Today the world become a much more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step towards getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
The agreement between Iran and the US, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia aims to halt the progress of the Iranian nuclear program and rolls back key parts of it.
Earlier, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon called the agreement “extremely dangerous for the free world.”
“It goes without saying that all options remain on the table and that Israel has the capability – and the responsibility – to defend itself using any means necessary,” Danny Danon said in a statement.
The West and Israel fear that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this, saying its nuclear program is a peaceful energy project.
The White House has tried to reassure Israel that its fear that a deal would leave it vulnerable was unfounded. Late Saturday, President Barack Obama admitted huge challenges remain and said Iran’s promises will be put to the test over the next six months.
“As we go forward, the resolve of the United States will remain firm, as will our commitment to our friends and allies – particularly Israel and our Gulf partners, who have good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions,” the president said.
Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu called the new nuclear agreement with Iran as a historic mistake
Emphasizing the US commitment to Israel as well as his personal relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu, John Kerry said on Sunday that the two allies continue to share the same strategy and the US will not tolerate a nuclear Iran threatening Israel.
“There is no difference whatsoever between the United States and Israel about what the end goal is,” John Kerry said.
Earlier in the news conference, John Kerry said the agreement could not have been reached without the Iranians’ decision to come to the negotiating table. He said the next phase of talks, while even more difficult will also be more important
“If this first step leads to what is our ultimate goal – which is a comprehensive agreement – that will make the world safer,” he said.
An agreement with Iran will likely also affect US relations with Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation, which is threatened by signs of improved US relations with Shiite Iran.
The UAE officially has welcomed the deal but at least one senior Gulf diplomat was much more critical and expressed skepticism over the deal.
The deal stipulates that Iran will commit to halt uranium enrichment above 5% and also to neutralize its stockpile of near-20% uranium. The Islamic Republic has also committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity. Iran will also halt work at its plutonium reactor and provide access to nuclear inspectors.
In exchange, the US and its allies have agreed to offer Iran “modest relief” from economic sanctions and access to a portion of the revenue that the country has been denied through these sanctions. No new sanctions will be imposed.
The Obama administration also faces skeptics in Congress. Reaction poured in late Saturday and early Sunday and appeared to be divided along party lines.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that the deal does not meet the standards necessary to protect the US and its allies.
“Instead of rolling back Iran’s program, Tehran would be able to keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability. Yet we are the ones doing the dismantling – relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years,” Ed Royce said in a statement.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, echoed those concerns, saying in a statement he found it “troubling” that the agreement “still permits the Iranians to continue enriching.”
“Iran’s long history of noncompliance with the U.N. Security Council is well known, as is its use of secret facilities to pursue its nuclear program,” Eric Cantor added.
Iran has agreed, after days of intense talks in Geneva, to curb some of its nuclear activities in return for about $7 billion in sanctions relief.
President Barack Obama welcomed the deal, saying it included “substantial limitations which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon”.
Iran agreed to give better access to inspectors and halt some of its work on uranium enrichment.
However, Iranian negotiators insisted they still had a right to nuclear power.
Tehran denies repeated claims by Western governments that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. It insists it must be allowed to enrich uranium to use in power stations.
After four days of negotiations, representatives of the so-called P5+1 group of nations – the US, the UK, Russia, China, France and Germany – reached an agreement with Iran in the early hours of Sunday.
The specifics of the deal have yet to be released, but negotiators indicated the broad outlines:
Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5%, the level at which it can be used for weapons research, and reduce its stockpile of uranium enriched beyond this point
Iran will give greater access to inspectors including daily access at Natanz and Fordo nuclear sites
In return, there will be no new nuclear-related sanctions for six months
Iran will also receive sanctions relief worth about $7 billion on sectors including precious metals
Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement would make the region safer for its allies, including Israel.
Iran has agreed, after days of intense talks in Geneva, to curb some of its nuclear activities in return for about $7 billion in sanctions relief
However, the Israeli government criticized the deal and said Israel did not feel bound by it.
“This is a bad agreement that gives Iran what it wanted: the partial lifting of sanctions while maintaining an essential part of its nuclear programme,” said a statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli comments came as it was revealed that the US and Iran had held a series of face-to-face talks over the past year that were kept secret even from their allies.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it was an opportunity for the “removal of any doubts about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme”.
Mohammad Javad Zarif insisted that Iran had not given up its right to enrich uranium.
“We believe that the current agreement, the current plan of action as we call it, in two distinct places has a very clear reference to the fact that Iranian enrichment programme will continue and will be a part of any agreement, now and in the future,” he said.
The US state department gave more details of the deal, insisting that most sanctions would remain in place.
Restrictions on Iran’s petrochemical exports and some other sectors would be suspended, bringing in $1.5 billion in revenue.
Barack Obama warned that if Iran fail to keep its commitments, “we will turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure”.
This deal may be the most significant agreement between the world powers and Iran for a decade.
Negotiators had been working since Wednesday to reach an agreement that was acceptable to both sides.
As hopes of a deal grew stronger, foreign ministers of the P5+1 joined them in Geneva.
It only became clear that a breakthrough had been made in Geneva early on Sunday.
President Barack Obama has urged senators to hold off from proposing more sanctions against Iran to allow time for world powers to complete a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme.
A White House spokesman warned that if a deal with Tehran was not agreed, Iran would continue enriching uranium.
Envoys from the P5+1 group of nations will begin a new round of negotiations with Iran in Geneva on Wednesday.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javid Zarif said he believed issues could be resolved.
In a message on the video-sharing site YouTube, Javid Zarif said: “We expect and demand respect for our dignity. For us Iranians, nuclear energy is not about joining a club or threatening others. Nuclear energy is about a leap, a jump toward deciding our own destiny rather than allowing others to decide for us.”
Barack Obama has urged senators to hold off from proposing more sanctions against Iran
Barack Obama held two hours of talks with senators at the White House on Tuesday, along with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
In recent days some legislators have expressed concern that the White House is moving too fast and should take a harder line with Tehran.
“We have the opportunity to halt the progress of the Iranian programme and roll it back in key respects, while testing whether a comprehensive resolution can be achieved,” the White House said in a statement.
It said that if there was not an initial agreement, Iran would grow its stockpiles of enriched uranium, install new centrifuges and develop a plutonium reactor in the city of Arak.
Press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama had told the senators new sanctions would be most effective as a consequence if Iran refused to accept the deal now on the table or agreed and then failed to comply.
The president also rejected reports that Iran would receive at least $40 billion in sanctions relief.
Since 2006 the UN Security Council has imposed a series of sanctions on entities and people involved in Iran’s nuclear programme.
Separate US and EU sanctions have targeted Iran’s energy and banking sectors, crippling its oil-based economy.
EU member states have announced a new package of sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.
Foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg “significantly broadened EU restrictive measures”, focusing on Iranian banks, trade and gas exports, officials said.
The ministers reiterated their “serious and deepening concerns” over Iran’s nuclear activities and their commitment to “work for a diplomatic solution”.
They suspect Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, something it denies.
Analysts say the unilateral sanctions announced by the US and EU, as well as those imposed by the UN Security Council, have done significant damage to the Islamic Republic’s economy.
Earlier this month, riots broke out when Iran’s currency, the rial, plunged to new lows against the dollar, according to local currency exchange websites, having lost 80% of its value since the start of the year.
The Council of the European Union said the new sanctions agreed targeted Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, and government revenues allocated to them.
“They are meant to persuade Iran to engage constructively by negotiating seriously and addressing the concerns of the international community,” a statement said.
“The sanctions are not aimed at the Iranian people.”
The Council prohibited all transactions between European and Iranian banks, unless they are explicitly authorized by national authorities under strict conditions.
There will be a ban on short-term export credits, guarantees and insurance. Medium- and long-term commitments are already banned.
The ministers also prohibited the export to Iran of further materials relevant to the Iranian nuclear and ballistic programmes or to industries controlled by the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), including graphite, raw or semi-finished metals such as aluminium and steel, as well as software for integrating industrial processes.
The import, purchase and transport of natural gas from Iran was also banned, mirroring the more significant embargo on oil imports which came into effect in July.
European companies were also forbidden from providing shipbuilding technology and oil storage capabilities, as well as flagging and classification services to Iranian tankers and cargo vessels.
Finally, the Council targeted 34 additional Iranian entities allegedly providing substantial financial support to the Iranian government and one person involved in the Iranian nuclear programme with an asset freeze and a travel ban. Those affected will be named on Tuesday.
“The objective of the EU remains to achieve a comprehensive, negotiated, long-term settlement which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme, while respecting Iran’s legitimate right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy under the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” the EU statement said.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, told reporters before Monday’s meeting that there was still “room for negotiations” between Iran and the P5+1 – the UK, US, France, China, Russia and Germany.
The P5+1 have asked Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20%.
The Iranian government says it requires 20% enriched uranium for its medical research reactor in Tehran, but Western experts say it could be converted to weapons-grade material within six months.
Meanwhile, Sweden has summoned Israel’s ambassador in Stockholm. The move came after an Israeli foreign ministry official was quoted by the Haaretz newspaper as saying the Swedish government would oppose further sanctions to protect a deal between the telecommunications group, Ericsson, and the mobile operator, Irancell.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt condemned the “mudslinging”, telling the TT news agency: “This is not how I think mature nations should interact with each other and I will react quite sharply against Israel.”
In a separate development on Monday, the leading European satellite provider Eutelsat took 19 Iranian state-run television and radio channels off air on Monday, citing “reinforced EU Council sanctions”.
People in the Middle East will still have access to most of the channels operated by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (Irib) – including English-language news service, Press TV, and Arabic-language al-Alam – but they will no longer be available in Europe except via the internet.
As election day approaches, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney continue to reach for issues each other can use as a stick to beat his opponent.
Find out where rivals Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stand on each of the key issues ahead of the debate and where the biggest differences could emerge.
Signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as the stimulus, a $768 billion package of tax cuts and investment in education, infrastructure, energy research, health, and other programmes. Backed a bailout of the US auto industry; signed trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Plan centres on tax cuts, repeal of Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law and repeal of 2010 Wall Street and banking regulations, and in general the reduction of other regulations he says stifle economic growth. Opposed the auto industry bailout; proposes to reduce federal spending significantly but gives few details about which programmes he would cut.
Has cut effective taxes for most Americans; would repeal Bush-era tax cuts for households making more than $250,000 a year; proposes the “Buffet rule” named for billionaire Warren Buffet, which would increase the effective tax rate paid by millionaires.
Would make permanent all Bush-era tax cuts, further cut individual income tax rates, eliminate taxes on investment income, repeal the estate tax, and reduce the corporate income tax rate. According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, taxpayers at high income levels would see the greatest benefit. Would make up the revenue by closing unspecified tax loopholes.
Says he is determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon; opposes a near-term military strike by US or Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities; emphasizes need for a diplomatic solution but warns “that window is closing” and has said “all options are at the table”; signed new sanctions against Iran’s central bank, oil revenues and financial system.
Says it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon; says military action “remains on the table” and analysts say he presents a clearer military threat to Iran; would send Navy ships to patrol the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf; calls for more sanctions; would publicly back Iranian opposition groups.
4. National security and war
Has killed much of al-Qaeda’s leadership, including Osama Bin Laden; pulled US troops out of Iraq; agreed to a $487 million reduction in defence spending over 10 years with congressional Republicans.
Would spend heavily on military hardware and invest in missile defence, adding an estimated $100 billion to the Pentagon’s budget, while reducing the civilian defence bureaucracy.
Initially increased the number of troops in Afghanistan; has begun a draw-down of US troops with the combat mission to end by 2014.
Has said his “goal” would be “a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014” but pledges to review withdrawal plans and base them “on conditions on the ground as assessed by our military commanders”
Vast 2010 healthcare reform law aims for universal health insurance coverage by requiring individuals who are not otherwise covered to purchase insurance, while restricting insurers’ ability to deny coverage based on pre-existing ailments. The law offers states grants to increase enrolment of poor people in the Medicaid public insurance programme.
Would seek repeal of Barack Obama’s health law, though it is modeled on a law he signed in Massachusetts; would return most health policy to the states; would limit doctor malpractice lawsuits; would encourage individuals without insurance to buy it on the private market, including by purchasing it in other states with lighter coverage requirements and lower costs
7. Illegal immigration
Used executive power to grant legal status to certain young illegal immigrants, bypassing Republicans in Congress. Has dramatically increased deportations of illegal immigrants.
Criticizes Barack Obama’s “stopgap” measure on young illegal immigrants but does not say whether he would overturn it. Says the US should encourage migrants to “self-deport” by making life hard for them.
Supports abortion rights; appointed two Supreme Court justices who appear to favor abortion rights.
Says “My presidency will be a pro-life presidency”, though he supported abortion rights when he was running for governor Massachusetts in 2002. Supports overturning the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion and allowing states to decide whether abortion should be legal; would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood women’s health clinics.
Supports investment in clean energy such as wind turbines and advanced car batteries; tightened car fuel efficiency and emissions standards; blocked development of the Keystone oil pipeline to move oil sands crude from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, saying the US had not had sufficient time to judge its environmental impact.
Would ease regulations hindering coal-burning power plants, oil exploration and nuclear power plant construction; would encourage drilling for oil in the Atlantic and Pacific outer continental shelves; proposes to ease regulations. Pledges to build the Keystone pipeline.
Italian bank Unicredit has confirmed it is co-operating with a US investigation into a possible breach of sanctions.
The bank is thought to have broken sanctions against Iran, according to reports by the Financial Times and Reuters, although this has not been confirmed by Unicredit.
The probe centres on a German subsidiary, HypoVereinsbank, which the major Italian bank bought in 2005.
The news follows similar revelations about two UK banks.
Unicredit originally admitted in January as part of a regulatory filing that it was working with US authorities over a sanctions breach, but without naming the country involved.
“A member of the Unicredit group is currently responding to a third party witness subpoena from the New York County District Attorney’s Office in connection with an ongoing investigation regarding certain persons and/or entities believed to have engaged in sanctionable activities,” the January filing said.
Unicredit is thought to have broken sanctions against Iran, according to the Financial Times
According to Unicredit’s latest statement, which does not name Iran either, the investigation is also being conducted by the US Department of Justice.
Last month the US Senate released a report detailing how HSBC helped launder money for Iran, as well as for other US-sanctioned governments of Burma and North Korea and for Mexican drugs cartels.
Then, earlier this month, Standard Chartered Bank – which is headquartered in London, but mainly active in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – agreed to pay New York regulators $340 million to settle claims that it had concealed $250 billion in transactions with Iran.
Meanwhile, Royal Bank of Scotland is also understood to be facing investigations into whether it has broken sanctions against Iran.
The bank would not comment, but confirmed that it had voluntarily approached US and UK officials with information after an internal inquiry uncovered possible infringements.
Germany’s Commerzbank also warned last week that it may have to make a hefty payment to settle a US investigation into its own violations of sanctions on Iran and other countries.
Press reports earlier this month suggested that another German bank, Deutsche Bank, is also being investigated by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Federal Reserve, the US Justice Department and Manhattan’s district attorney’s office for alleged infringements of US-Iran economic sanctions.
Deutsche Bank refused to comment on the reports.
Iran has been subject to US economic sanctions since 1979. The current system operates under the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The sanctions were toughened in 1997 by then-President Bill Clinton, who signed an order for sanctions that prohibited “virtually all trade and investment activities with Iran by US persons, wherever located”.
Under US criminal law, violations of the Iranian Transactions Regulations may result in a fine up to $1 million and/or jail for up to 20 years.
As part of the sanctions regime, until 2008, banks in the US in some circumstances were allowed to undertake so-called U-turn transactions with Iranian financial institutions.
Those U-turn transactions move money for Iranian clients among non-Iranian foreign banks, such as those in the UK and the Middle East. They are cleared through the US, but neither start nor end in Iran.
To ascertain whether these transactions are permitted, US clearing banks use the wire-transfer messages they get from banks, using the SWIFT payments system.
If the banks do not have enough information to make the call, they are supposed to freeze the assets.
The allegations involving Standard Chartered and HSBC both centred on U-turn transactions.
Standard Chartered was accused of stripping the messages of data that showed the clients were Iranian, replacing it with false entries.
The UK-based bank said that not only did “99.9% of the transactions” relating to Iran comply with U-turn regulations, but that the total value of transactions that did not comply was under $14 million – converse to the $250 billion worth of Iran transactions US regulators said it had hidden.
In July, a US Senate Committee found that HSBC carried out 25,000 transactions totalling $19 billion that were connected to Iran between 2001-07, which it suggested was evidence that the bank may have broken economic sanctions.