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Rouhani Maintains Dubious Claims About Pace of Sanctions Removal

 

Western powers have long said that they expect the process to take four to six months, at a minimum, allowing for full implementation of the JCPOA only in the first half of 2016. But Rouhani reportedly believes that the entire process, including reconfiguration of the Arak heavy water reactor and removal of enriched uranium from the country, could be completed in less than two months.

This has raised some concerns that Iran might not fully execute its obligations, but Rouhani and his officials are confident that the International Atomic Energy Agency will certify completion of the measures and give the green light for sanctions relief before January.

Reuters noted that Rouhani had reiterated his claims last week, and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran had done the same this week. But Ali Akbar Salehi also appeared to be straddling the boundary between contrasting remarks from Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who appears to have become increasingly antagonistic to the deal as it has moved closer to implementation.

Salehi insisted that “whatever the president says we will accomplish,” while speaking at a diplomatic meeting in Tokyo. But he also confirmed that the country would not even begin to move on the reconfiguration of the Arak facility until after the IAEA issues its report on the past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.

This proviso was initiated by Ayatollah Khamenei, and it will result in Iran having a very narrow window of as little as two weeks to accomplish the entire conversion. It seems unlikely that the work could be completed after the December 15 IAEA report and still leave time for the UN agency to confirm Iran’s compliance before the governments of Europe and the United States formally suspend their economic sanctions.

Rouhani’s claims appear even more dubious in this context, thus raising the possibility that he may be counting on Western powers to implement sanctions relief earlier than has technically been outlined by the deal. What’s more, some Western critics of the Obama administration and its allies may see this as a realistic possibility, in light of a variety of perceived concessions to the Rouhani government both during and after the nuclear negotiations.

But on the other hand, some Obama administration officials, including acting Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes Adam Szubin, have been vocal about their intention to continue aggressive enforcement of Iran sanctions for as long as they remain in force. This ongoing commitment was arguably supported on Thursday by the news that the US had ordered Germany’s Deutsche Bank to pay 258 million dollars in fines for previously doing business with sanctioned entities in Syria and Iran.

This comes only a week after reports of 800 million dollars in penalties against French bank Credit Agricole, an incidence of enforcement that was described by Law 360 as a “warning to foreign companies” that might be interested in rushing to do business with Iranian entities on whom sanctions have not yet been lifted. As it stands, those sanctions are on track to be lifted, but this may yet take twice as long as President Rouhani claims.