Diplomats said Saturday that Iran and six world powers have reached tentative agreement on sanctions relief for Tehran, among the most contentious issues in a long-term nuclear agreement that negotiators hope to clinch over the next several days.
Experts have hammered out an annex, one of five meant to accompany
the agreement, outlining which U.S. and international sanctions will be
lifted and how quickly.
The diplomats told The Associated Press on Saturday that the document
has been agreed on by experts for both sides, who have been working on
details of the outline to implement the preliminary agreement reached in
The senior officials in the talks, which include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, still had to sign off on the package, a senior administration official said.
"Even if and when issues get resolved at an experts level, there will
remain some open issues that can only be decided by ministers,” said
the official, who asked not to be named.
Still, the word of significant progress indicated that the sides were
moving closer to a comprehensive accord that would set a decade of
restrictions on Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for tens of billions of dollars' in economic benefits for the Iranians.
Officials had described sanctions relief as one of the thorniest
disagreements between Iran and the United States, which has led the
international pressure campaign against Iran's economy. The U.S. and
much of the world fears Iran's enrichment of uranium and other activity
could be designed to make nuclear weapons; Iran says its program is meant only to generate power and for other peaceful purposes.
The diplomats, who weren't authorized to speak publicly on this past
week's confidential negotiations in Vienna, said the sanctions annex was
completed this week by experts from Iran and the six world powers with
whom it is negotiating: the United States, Britain, China, France,
Germany and Russia. They did not provide details of the agreement.
A senior U.S. official did not dispute the diplomats' account, but
said work remained to be done on "Annex II" before the issue could be
described as finalized.
Negotiators are striving to wrap up the deal by July 7.
Along with inspection guidelines and rules governing Iran's research
and development of advanced nuclear technology, the sanctions annex of
the agreement had been among the toughest issues remaining to be
Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
have made repeated demands for economic penalties to be lifted shortly
after a deal is reached. Washington and its partners have said they
would take action after Iran verifiably complies with restrictions on
enrichment and other elements of the nuclear program.
Much of the negotiation on the matter has concerned sequencing, so
that both sides can legitimately claim to have gotten their way.
Several other matters related to sanctions also had posed problems.
The Obama administration cannot move too quickly to remove economic
penalties because of Congress, which will have a 30-day review period
for any agreement during which no sanctions can be waived.
U.S. officials also had been struggling to separate the
"nuclear-related" sanctions they are prepared to suspend from those they
wish to keep, including measures designed to counteract Iranian
ballistic missile efforts, human rights violations and support for
U.S.-designated terrorist organizations.
And to keep pressure on Iran, world powers had been hoping to
finalize a system for snapping suspended sanctions back into force if
Iran cheats on the accord. Russia has traditionally opposed any plan
that would see it lose its U.N. veto power, and a senior Russian
negotiator said this week that his government rejected any automatic
"snapback" of sanctions.