Obama orders steps towards lifting Iran sanctions
President Barack Obama ordered the US government on Sunday to take steps towards lifting sanctions on Iran, in line with the nuclear deal struck between world powers and Tehran in July.
Obama's directive comes 90 days after the UN Security Council endorsed the Iran accord -- formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- a milestone referred to as "Adoption Day."
"I hereby direct you to take all appropriate additional measures to ensure the prompt and effective implementation of the US commitments set forth in the JCPOA, in accordance with US law," Obama said in a memorandum.
"This is an important day for all of us and a critical first step in the process of ensuring that Iran's nuclear program will be exclusively for peaceful purposes," Secretary of State John Kerry added in a statement.
But no sanctions will be lifted immediately -- full relief will come not on "adoption day" but on "implementation day," the point when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is able to certify that Iran has fully complied with its end of the bargain.
The European Union on Sunday also adopted the framework for lifting its sanctions against Iran, although the measure will only take effect once Tehran has met its obligations under a landmark nuclear deal, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
"This is another important milestone that brings us a step closer to the beginning of implementation of the (nuclear agreement agreed in July), to which we are strongly committed," Mogherini said in a joint statement with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Iran says ready to start 'huge task' of dismantling centrifuges
Iran on Sunday notified the IAEA that it would apply a protocol granting inspectors greater access to its nuclear sites, a further step in the implementation of a historic deal struck with world powers, the UN nuclear watchdog said.
The announcement came as the European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were set to make a statement on the lifting of crippling sanctions on Tehran, as part of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in Vienna in July.
"On October 18, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency was informed by the Islamic Republic of Iran that... Iran will provisionally apply the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement, pending its ratification by the (parliament)," the IAEA said in a statement.
Sunday, the so-called "adoption day", marks 90 days after Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China reached an agreement under which most sanctions on Iran would be lifted in exchange for limits on Tehran's nuclear activities.
Iran is expected within days to start dismantling parts of its nuclear facilities and reducing its uranium stockpiles under international supervision.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's nuclear agency, told state television he was awaiting President Hassan Rouhani's order to remove thousands of centrifuges from atomic sites at Natanz and Fordo.
The rendering of the centrifuges -- fast-spinning machines that enrich uranium -- was part of a July 14 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, between Iran and six world powers to end a 13-year dispute over Tehran's atomic activities.
The actual lifting of the crippling economic sanctions will take effect around the end of the year, after the IAEA certifies that Iran has met its commitments under the July 14 agreement.
"We will start our actions when the president gives the order," Salehi said of Rouhani, estimating that the work to comply with the JCPOA would take around two months.
"What we need to accomplish is a huge task. We hope to start this week or next week."
The additional protocol is a voluntary agreement enabling the IAEA to gain greater access to Iran's nuclear facilities and research, to ensure that no atomic material is diverted to any covert weapons program -- an aim denied strenuously by Tehran.
Iran had been a signatory to the protocol from 2003 until 2006 before pulling out of the agreement.
Under the landmark deal struck in July, Iran pledged to dramatically scale down its nuclear activities in order to render any effort to make an atomic bomb virtually impossible.
In return, the world powers must finalize the mechanism for lifting UN and Western sanctions.
Lifting of sanctions
In addition to Washington's conditional orders to suspend US nuclear-related sanctions, the United States, China and Iran will release a joint statement on Sunday committing themselves to the redesign and reconstruction of the Arak research reactor so that it does not produce plutonium.
The fate of the Arak reactor was one of the toughest sticking points in the nearly two years of negotiations that led to the agreement.
Among its key commitments under the deal, Iran agreed to remove thousands of uranium-enriching centrifuges from its facilities at Natanz and Fordow and place them in monitored storage. It will pour cement into the reactor core of its plutonium processing plant at Arak, then redesign it into a less-dangerous light-water reactor.
Unilateral US sanctions against Iran not tied to its atomic program, such as those related to human rights, will remain even after the nuclear deal is implemented.
Once the deal is implemented, Iran will still be "called upon" to refrain from undertaking any work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for a period of up to eight years, according to a Security Council resolution adopted in July.
On Thursday, the IAEA said it had completed on schedule gathering information in its probe into Iran's alleged past efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The agency's chief Yukiya Amano is expected to provide a final assessment on the investigation by December 15.
(staff with AFP)
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