Iran sanctions lifted

An Iranian national flag flutters during the opening ceremony of the 16th International Oil, Gas & Petrochemical Exhibition (IOGPE) in Tehran April 15, 2011.  REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

An Iranian national flag flutters during the opening ceremony of the 16th International Oil, Gas & Petrochemical Exhibition (IOGPE) in Tehran April 15, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Iran has kept its promise to adopt nuclear measures required under an international deal struck six months ago, paving the way for many crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic to be lifted immediately.

“Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified that Iran has completed its commitment,” said European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who issued a joint statement in Vienna with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who gave the same statement in Persian.

“As Iran has fulfilled its commitments, sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program are lifted in accordance with the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action],” she said.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog also confirmed Iran’s measures.

Earlier, Iran freed four Americans including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian in a prisoner swap, as diplomats gathered to announce the lifting of international sanctions and bring the country of 80 million people back to the global economic stage.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced the lifting of sanctions on Iran in Vienna Saturday. (Vahid Salemi/Associated Press)

The four held in Iran include bureau chief Rezaian, held since 2014 and convicted in Iran of espionage. Rezaian’s case in particular has been a notable obstacle to a thaw in Iranian-U.S. relations.

The Iranian state news agency reported the Americans were swapped for seven Iranians who were in U.S. jails for violating sanctions. Other Iranians were pardoned by U.S. President Barack Obama, and arrest notices for more Iranians were lifted.

Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, is among the Iranian-Americans released by Iran Saturday in a prisoner swap with the U.S. (Zoeann Murphy/Associated Press)

Here’s what has happened so far:

  • Four American prisoners in Iran have been released: Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi.
  • Another American, student Matthew Trevithick, was released separately. He had been in prison in Iran for 40 days.
  • Seven Iranians were released from U.S. jails: Nader Modanlu, Bahram Mechanich, Khosro Afghahi, Arash Ghahraman, Touraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Sabounchi.
  • Obama pardoned three Iranians charged with sanctions violations: Bahram Mechanic, Tooraj Faridi, and Khosrow Afghahi. They were accused in 2015 of shipping electronics to Iran. Mechanic and Afghahi were being held without bail in Houston, while Faridi was out on bail. All three are Iranian-American dual citizens and had pleaded not guilty.
  • U.S. authorities moved to drop charges or commute prison sentences for five other men.
  • The U.S. State Department said it withdrew international arrest notices for 14 Iranians wanted on sanctions violations.
  • The U.S. Justice Department also moved to drop sanctions charges against four other men who are outside the United States, according to electronic court filings. U.S. authorities have considered three of them fugitives and had been seeking extradition from Malaysia for one.
  • U.S. authorities were also working to obtain early release for Ali Saboonchi, convicted of export violations in 2014, according to people familiar with the matter. Between 2009 and 2013, Saboonchi and several associates tried to export industrial parts to customers in Iran, according to an indictment filed in 2013. He was sentenced to two years in prison and was due to be released in November 2016.
Amir Mirza Hekmati was originally sentenced to death in Iran on a charge of spying, but the decision was overturned. He is of Iranian descent, born in Arizona, and living in Michigan. (Reuters TV)

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who developed a strong rapport while hammering out last year’s deal, met in a Vienna hotel before the announcement.

“Implementation day” of the nuclear deal marks the biggest re-entry of a former pariah state into world commerce since the end of the Cold War.

It is also a turning point in the hostility between Iran and the United States that has shaped the Middle East since Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, and a defining initiative for both U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Both leaders have faced strong opposition from hardliners at home in countries that have called each other “Great Satan” and part of the “axis of evil”.

“Today, with the release of the IAEA chief’s report, the nuclear deal will be implemented, after which a joint statement will be made to announce the beginning of the deal,” Zarif was quoted as saying in Vienna by IRNA.

“Today is a good day for the Iranian people as sanctions will be lifted today,” the IRNA agency quoted him as saying.

The sanctions have cut Iran off from the global financial system, drastically reduced the exports of a major oil producer and imposed severe economic hardship on ordinary Iranians. Most will be lifted immediately.

Even before the expected announcement that sanctions would be lifted, Iran’s Mehr news agency reported on Saturday that executives from two of the world’s largest oil companies, Shell and Total, had arrived in Tehran for talks with state firms.

The deal is opposed by all of the Republican candidates vying to succeed Obama as president in an election in November, and is viewed with deep suspicion by U.S. allies in the Middle East including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

For Iran, it marks a crowning achievement for Rouhani, a pragmatic cleric elected in 2013 in a landslide on a promise to reduce Iran’s international isolation. He was granted the authority to negotiate the deal by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an arch-conservative in power since 1989.

Zarif, a U.S.-educated fluent English speaker, has emerged as the cheerful face of Iran’s diplomacy, developing a close rapport with Kerry in unprecedented one-on-one talks. Zarif has chipped away at Iran’s image as a pariah state, to the dismay of hardliners in Tehran as well as regional rivals.

“There are some people who see peace as a threat, who were always against (the nuclear deal) and will continue to oppose it,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

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