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US Spokesmen Say Some Iran Sanctions Will Stay As Nuclear Deal Revives

The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers does not prevent the United States or any other country enacting sanctions against Iran over "other areas of its behavior, [including] malign influence," US State Department Spokesman Ned Price told a press briefing on Wednesday [April 21].

Responding to a question on whether US sanctions imposed since the deal violated the agreement (the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), Price said the US would continue efforts to “hold Iran accountable for its human rights abuses, ballistic missiles program, support for terrorism, and support for proxies in the region.”

Under the JCPOA, which the US left in 2018, world powers committed themselves to refrain from “imposing discriminatory regulatory and procedural requirements in lieu of the sanctions and restrictive measures covered by this JCPOA.” Tehran has argued the JCPOA, which was endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, was never fully implemented by Washington and that sanctions levied after 2018 by President Donald Trump, while ostensibly linked to ‘terrorism’ or other matters, were openly designed to complicate the task of reviving the agreement.

Describing the Vienna talks as constructive and business-like, Price told reporters he would not overstate signs of progress. "We probably have a longer road ahead of us than we do in the rear-view mirror at this point,” he said. “And that is because of the inherent challenges in this process."

Price reiterated that the US was prepared to lift sanctions "inconsistent" with the JCPOA, and noted that identifying such sanctions and steps needed to lift them was being discussed in Vienna. "We wouldn't want to get into that publicly at this point."

The Joint Commission of the JCPOA – made up of remaining signatories China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, and the United Kingdom – has set up three expert-level groups in Vienna: one investigating which steps taken by Iran since 2019 in its nuclear program go beyond JCPOA limits, one identifying US sanctions violating the agreement, and a third correlating the work of the other two. US officials are involved indirectly in the process.

A senior State Department official whose name was withheld at a briefing Wednesday said the US and Iran were developing a clearer idea of how to come back into compliance with the JCPOA but that this would not necessarily lead to consensus. The official suggested there was "a greater distance to travel" than had been travelled so far.

The official refused to comment on Wednesday’s report in the Wall Street Journal quoting two “informed sources” that the US government was ready to lift sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank, and its national oil and tanker companies. He added that the US was open to different kinds of sequencing meeting interests but not prepared to comply fully with the JCPOA before Iran acted.

Republicans in Washington continue to argue that Trump’s sanctions should be continued. Former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday joined House Republicans in unveiling a bill to impose further measures, targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program, the Revolutionary Guards, and groups around the region allied with Tehran.

The legislation, entitled the Maximum Pressure Act, would require any new agreement concerning Iran to be ratified by the Senate. It seeks also restrict the ability of the president to issue waivers – a means used, for example, by Trump to protect Iran’s export of electricity to Iraq. In 2018 Pompeo described sanctions on Iran introduced by Trump after withdrawing the US from the JCPOA as “the strongest sanctions in history.”

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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