Great powers can't wait to lift Iran sanctions

Reuters is reporting that negotiations are underway at the U.N. to lift sanctions on Iran if a deal to limit their nuclear program is concluded.  In fact, there is a move afoot to lift sanctions even before an agreement is reached.  Negotiators are mulling a new resolution in the Security Council that would be considered if a framework deal were reached by the end of this month, that would allow Iran to enrich uranium, thus undercutting the basis for sanctions, which prevented Iran from enriching uranium at all.

The administration's plan to lift sanctions gradually over a period of years based on Iran's compliance with the terms of the agreement appears to be falling apart.

Iran and the six powers are aiming to complete the framework of a nuclear deal by the end of March, and achieve a full agreement by June 30, to curb Iran's most sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years in exchange for a gradual end to all sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

So far, those talks have focused on separate U.S. and European Union sanctions on Iran's energy and financial sectors, which Tehran desperately wants removed. The sanctions question is a sticking point in the talks that resume next week in Lausanne, Switzerland, between Iran and the six powers.

But Western officials involved in the negotiations said they are also discussing elements to include in a draft resolution for the 15-nation Security Council to begin easing U.N. nuclear-related sanctions that have been in place since December 2006.

"If there's a nuclear deal, and that's still a big 'if', we'll want to move quickly on the U.N. sanctions issue," an official said, requesting anonymity.

The negotiations are taking place at senior foreign ministry level at the six powers and Iran, and not at the United Nations in New York.

A senior U.S. administration official confirmed that the discussions were underway.

The official said that the Security Council had mandated the negotiations over the U.N. sanctions and therefore has to be involved. The core role in negotiations with Iran that was being played by the five permanent members meant that any understanding over U.N. sanctions would likely get endorsed by the full council, the official added.

Iran rejects Western allegations it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability.

Officials said a U.N. resolution could help protect any nuclear deal against attempts by Republicans in U.S. Congress to sabotage it. Since violation of U.N. demands that Iran halt enrichment provide a legal basis for sanctioning Tehran, a new resolution could make new sanction moves difficult.

"There is an interesting question about whether, if the Security Council endorses the deal, that stops Congress undermining the deal," a Western diplomat said.

Why the eagerness to lift sanctions?  Commerce, commerce, commerce.  Iran is a great big market, largely untapped, with an oil industry desperately in need of infusions of cash and technological expertise.  Russia and China are especially interested in trading with Iran, and the EU would be delighted if they could hawk their wares in the bazaars of Iran.

The sanctions were always watered down before being adopted in order to create loopholes for illicit trade.  Russia and China made sure of that. So the question for U.N. negotiators isn't should the sanctions be lifted, but rather how fast.

The administration envisions a period of 4-5 years before the bulk of sanctions are lifted.  I doubt whether the U.N. will want to wait that long.  U.S. sanctions may remain in place for a few years, but the international sanctions regime will be dead before the ink dries on a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.

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