Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU staff

INU-The United States Department of the Treasury this week announced enforcement of sanctions against nine individuals and entities accused of helping Iran to evade the economic and procurement restrictions placed on it by the world community, and also for helping with the regime’s censorship and hacking activities.

On Wednesday, according to the Economic Times, the Iranian Foreign Ministry responded to these moves by decrying the blacklisting of those targets as a violation of the spirit of the accord governing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran has long insisted that those negotiations must conclude with the wholesale removal of all economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. But the United States and its allies have

permitted only limited sanctions relief under the interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, and they have expressed commitment to a final agreement that requires Iran to prove its own compliance in order to secure a gradual removal of existing sanctions.

Apart from the limited relief, which has seen the release of several billions dollars’ worth of frozen Iranian assets, the overall sanctions regime remains in place and continued enforcement can rightly be expected at least until the inking of a final agreement. If that enforcement constitutes a violation of the spirit of the interim agreement, as Iran claims, then Iran’s activities could easily be argued to constitute a far more substantial series of violations.

Indeed, this claim has repeatedly been made by critics of the Iranian regime who say that Iran has directly violated last year’s Joint Plan of Action by expanding its nuclear enrichment capabilities, by growing its oil exports, or by procuring parts for the heavy water reactor at Arak.

On Wednesday, PolitiFact examined these claims as expressed by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard. Although the fact checking website rates Hayes’ statement, “We’ve caught Iran cheating on the interim deal” as false, it also paints a picture of the regime as intentionally pushing the boundaries of compliance and even possibly being in violation in ways that aren’t yet publicly verifiable.

For instance, Iran previously fed uranium into a new model of centrifuge despite the Join Plan of Action specifying that it could not install or run any new centrifuges. The activity reportedly stopped upon demands from the US, but arguably showed that Iran was intent on getting away with as much development activity as possible. This is equally on display at Arak, where Iran admitted to procuring new equipment but successfully argued that this did not constitute a violation of the agreement, which only barred that equipment from being installed.

On the issue of oil exports, PolitiFact points out that the JPOA implementation agreement has not been released to the public, making it impossible to confirm whether Iran’s exports exceed its limits. What is known, though, is that the US also imposed strict limits outside of the JPOA and that these have been rejected by Iran, with its oil minister declaring that the Islamic Republic would export at the highest possible rate.

While individual standards for cooperation are sure to vary, it seems difficult for Iran to argue that the failure to halt sanctions enforcement violates an agreement when Iran itself is unwilling to noticeably reach beyond its strictest obligations.

Indeed, this unwillingness to extensively cooperate has been repeatedly reaffirmed by Iranian regime officials. The supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set this tone with a series of specifically delineated red lines that his negotiators may not cross, including agreement to any reduction or long-term limits on Iran’s enrichment capability, as well as conceding to any other-than-ordinary relationship between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But as Reuters pointed out on Wednesday, even members of the supposedly moderate administration of President Hassan Rouhani have effectively rejected the notion of serious compromise. In a session with the Iranian parliament’s National Security Committee, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed that nuclear talks would resume on January 15, said that large gaps still remained between the two sides’ positions, and vowed to continue standing firm on Iran’s demands, including insistence upon complete and immediate removal of sanctions.

Zarif added that Iran is “ready for any outcome,” suggesting that it is willing to walk away from negotiations in the event that it is not satisfied with the proposals coming from Western powers. Statements like these contribute to worries among Western critics of the Iranian regime that the sanctions relief that has accrued to up to the current date will ultimately have been proffered in exchange for nothing of substance.

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported on Wednesday that Iran had received the first of ten installments of 490 million dollars each that it will receive in unfrozen oil revenues between now and the end of July when a final agreement is due.

The Tower adds that Iranian media had recently been boasting of economic development and international agreements that at once are enabled by and help to undermine international sanctions. The outlet claims that the Obama administration has been “scrambling to keep up with Iranian progress in eroding the sanctions regime,” and it suggests that the recent enforcement of sanctions against nine individuals and entities is part of that effort.

Meanwhile, Iran’s latest efforts to undermine the sanctions regime reportedly include the inking of an oil and gas deal with an Italian energy company – something that is bound to stoke concerns about a loss of international support for sanctions as investment opportunities begin to open up in the newly enriched Islamic Republic.

The Tower also indicates that some 100 Iranian companies will be in attendance at an energy exhibition in Oman where they will be expected to contribute to expansion of trade between the two countries. This is potentially ground for concerns that extend beyond the economic stabilization of Iran and into the prospect for the further expansion of Iran’s political and military influence.

 

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