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Zarif touts swift sanctions relief

Iran's foreign minister told a New York audience that after a nuclear agreement is reached, sanctions could be lifted within weeks.
A demonstrator holds up a sign while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks with Washington Post journalist David Ignatius at the New York University (NYU) Center on International Cooperation in New York April 29, 2015. Iran's foreign minister on Wednesday offered assurances that Tehran is committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of the seizure of a commercial ship by Iranian forces a day earlier. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson  - RTX1AUZQ

NEW YORK — Iran’s foreign minister laid out a course of action this week in the case of an anticipated nuclear deal with six world powers, including a UN Security Council endorsement “within days” and the lifting of sanctions “within weeks” of an agreement, but diplomats say that the process is not that simple.

“As our understanding stands today, and I don’t think there is any divergence here, if we have an agreement on June 30, on or within a few days after that, we will have a resolution in the Security Council under Article 41 of Chapter 7, which will be mandatory for all member states,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told a public audience at New York University on April 29.

“The resolution will endorse the agreement, will terminate all previous resolutions and will set in place the termination of EU sanctions and the cessation of the application of US sanctions,” he said. “These are steps that should only take a few weeks. Sanctions are off.”

But a Western diplomat with knowledge of the negotiations said that the process is not as straightforward as Zarif suggested.

The source told Al-Monitor that while sanctions may be lifted or stopped, “certain restrictive measures will nonetheless be maintained” following a potential deal.

“It’s really a question of nomenclature. Whether they’re called sanctions or restrictive measures, it’s really the same thing,” he said. “We’re not going to say anything because we don’t want to vex him, but him saying ‘the sanctions are off,’ while not horribly dishonest, is PR. It’s a presentation that suits the Iranians,” he said.

The source confirmed that a process concerning a Security Council resolution and the subsequent altering of sanctions could happen as fast as Zarif had suggested once a deal had been struck.

An official at the US State Department would not confirm how quickly such a process would take, stressing that the issue of a timeframe remained unresolved.

“The UN Security Council will terminate previous sanctions measures … only after Iran verifiably completes all of its major nuclear-related steps under a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA],” the official told Al-Monitor. “The exact pace and scope of the sanctions relief that would follow any verified Iranian actions are still among the details being worked out as part of the ongoing negotiations toward a final JCPOA.”

Discrepancies between the Iranian and American presentations of the preliminary deal struck on April 2 have caused embarrassment for the Obama administration, resulting in a strict rule of total discretion before any agreement is reached.

US-educated and a former UN envoy, Zarif seemed to revel in a welcoming crowd April 29 and spoke confidently, sometimes defiantly, in his discussion with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who acted as moderator.

Another Western diplomat who attended the event said that the audience seemed to represent “an American public growing increasingly more amenable to an agreement.”

Among several jokes Zarif made, the loudest laughs followed a jab at Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, who initiated an open letter to Tehran pledging to thwart a potential deal. An agreement would stand, Zarif said, “whether Senator Cotton likes it or not.”

He also dismissed congressional resistance to negotiations as “a domestic issue” irrelevant to dialogue between Iran and its partners.

“We don’t want to get bogged down in domestic procedures of the United States,” he said. “As a foreign government, I only deal with US government, not with Congress or the Supreme Court. The responsibility of bringing that into line falls on the shoulders of the president of the United States.”

Underlining Obama’s executive authority, which he is expected to use in the case of a deal to stop implementing sanctions against Iran (rather than lifting them, which would require congressional support), Zarif said, “However he does it, it is his problem.”

On April 27, Zarif met with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the monthlong Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference for the first time since the April 2 agreement was signed.

“The hard work is far from over and some key issues remain unresolved,” Kerry said in his address to the conference, adding that negotiations were “closer than ever to the good comprehensive deal that we have been seeking.”

Zarif acknowledged unresolved issues within “almost every” area of the text. “How we transform that [preliminary deal] into a legally binding agreement which will be endorsed by a mandatory Security Council resolution — that is the area where we need to do a lot of work,” he said, adding that he didn’t think the problems were “insurmountable.”

Zarif said that as of April 30, negotiators from Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, France and Germany would work “nonstop” to meet a June 30 deadline for a final agreement, dismissing any potential delay (the preliminary agreement was two days overdue) as inconsequential.

“We should not kill this opportunity for a few days more or less. We have all agreed that this is a human process,” he said. It would be a “travesty to lose this possibility.”

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