Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the world became a safer place today as the Obama administration repealed sanctions on Iran.
Implementation Day came as the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report “confirming that Iran has completed the necessary preparatory steps to start the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
“It was issued after Agency inspectors on the ground verified that Iran has carried out all measures required under the JCPOA to enable Implementation Day to occur,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said. “This paves the way for the IAEA to begin verifying and monitoring Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the agreement, as requested by the U.N. Security Council and authorised by the IAEA Board.”
In releasing guidance on the lifting of sanctions, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the administration “will continue to target sanctionable activities outside of the JCPOA – including those related to Iran’s support for terrorism, regional destabilization, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile development.”
Members of Congress, particularly a group of Senate Democrats, have been pressuring the administration to act against Iran’s missile program in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
“It is also important to note that, other than certain limited exceptions provided for in the JCPOA, the U.S. embargo broadly remains in place, meaning that U.S. persons, including U.S. banks, will still be prohibited from virtually all dealings with Iranian entities,” Lew said.
In Vienna, Kerry didn’t take questions from reporters because he said his airline pilots would have run afoul of rest period regulations.
The Obama administration has insisted that the Americans imprisoned in Iran would not be connected to the nuclear deal, thus the P5+1 agreement was inked without assurances of their release.
“While the two tracks of negotiations were not directly related – and they were not – there is no question that the pace and the progress of the humanitarian talks accelerated in light of the relationships forged and the diplomatic channels unlocked over the course of the nuclear talks. And certainly in the time since we reached an agreement last July, there was a significant pickup in that dialogue,” Kerry said.
Seven people, mostly U.S. citizens, held on a variety of national security charges from hacking a defense contractor to procuring banned items for Iran were released by the U.S. in exchange for Americans Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, and Nosratollah Khosrawi Roudsari. Matthew Trevithick, an American student detained by Iran since November, was also released, with the U.S. claiming he wasn’t part of the swap but a goodwill gesture by Iran.
Iran did not release or provide information on the whereabouts of Bob Levinson, a retired FBI agent seized off the coast of Iran in March 2007. His angry family tweeted today with the hashtag #WhatAboutBob.
Iran also kept two others taken since the Iran nuclear deal was inked last year: one American citizen, businessman Siamak Namazi, and one permanent U.S. resident, IT expert Nizar Zakka. Iran’s Fars News Agency said they kept Namazi out of the deal because his charges were “not political.”
The U.S. also “removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful,” an administration official said. The list included arms traffickers.
Kerry said President Obama would speak more about the swap later. He wanted to mainly talk about the nuclear deal’s Implementation Day.
“To get to this point, ladies and gentlemen, Iran has undertaken significant steps that many – and I do mean many – people doubted would ever come to pass,” Kerry said. “And that should be recognized, even though the full measure of this achievement can only be realized by assuring continued full compliance in the coming years. In return for the steps that Iran has taken, the United States and the EU will immediately lift nuclear-related sanctions, expanding the horizon of opportunity for the Iranian people. And I have even tonight, before coming over here, signed a number of documents over those sanctions that the State Department has jurisdiction over in order to effect that lifting.”
“Today marks the moment that the Iran nuclear agreement transitions from an ambitious set of promises on paper to measurable action in progress,” he added. “Today, as a result of the actions taken since last July, the United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East, and the entire world are safer because the threat of a nuclear weapon has been reduced. Today we can confidently say that each of the pathways that Iran had toward enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon has been verifiably closed down.”
Kerry reiterated at the end of his remarks that “the fact is that today marks the first day of a safer world, one where we believe it is possible to remain safer for years to come, and particularly with the compliance of this agreement.”
“I think we have also proven once again why diplomacy has to always be our first choice, and war our last resort,” he said. “And that is a very important lesson to reinforce. We have approached this challenge that the – with the firm belief that exhausting diplomacy before choosing war is an imperative.”
But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” receives sanctions relief “for allegedly taking steps to scale down its nuclear program,” it is “almost impossible to verify these actions, and we remain highly skeptical that the regime will follow through on any agreement.”
“In the past month, Tehran has repeatedly violated international law, including testing ballistic missiles, seizing U.S. personnel, and firing rockets near U.S. ships,” Nunes said. “It is clear that the nuclear agreement has emboldened the regime, a foreseeable outcome that drove Congress to oppose the nuclear deal in the first place.”
“As Iranian hardliners, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, reap the financial windfall of this agreement and use it to meddle in places throughout the world, the United States must be prepared to confront further Iranian aggression.”