An Iranian carpet trader in Isfahan, Iran.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – World powers and Iran have not yet agreed on a fundamental component of the structure of a nuclear deal, the White House said on Monday, saying that international sanctions would be lifted only gradually.
The disagreement between the parties is over how to pair international sanctions relief for Iran with its demonstrated compliance with an accord.
Washington stipulated that it would accept sanctions being “phased out” only as Tehran complies with a final agreement to halt its nuclear program.
The United States and its allies want to lift sanctions over time, providing little relief up front; Iran is demanding full exemption from all EU and UN sanctions upon the initial implementation of a comprehensive agreement.
In an interview with The New York Times, US President Barack Obama said that the chances of reaching that comprehensive deal are now above 50 percent. Still, the parties have also not yet agreed on a mechanism for “snapping back” sanctions in place should Iran violate the deal.
“I have been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch,” Obama said. “They should understand that we mean it.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Monday that the US would not budge from its position. A phased approach is the only way to incentivize Iran to comply over the life of the deal, he said, which includes provisions lasting between 10 and 25 years.
“You can’t start talking about relieving sanctions until we’ve reached agreements about how we’re going to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon,” Earnest told reporters.
“Details of the phase-out of the sanctions have not been agreed to. It is the strong view of the administration that it would not be wise... to simply take away sanctions on day one.”
Iranian officials have said there will be no deal without the full dismantlement of a sanctions regime that has, since 2009, crippled its economy.
US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said on Monday the differences in portrayals of the deal by both sides are not disputes over content but are related to what each side chooses to emphasize.
“There’s no doubt that right now there’s a different narrative, but not in conflict with what’s written down,” Moniz said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed support for swift sanctions relief last week, before entering a critical round of negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, with other world powers.
The US-led group of nations published a framework for a comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran last week, declaring a “historic” level of agreement between the two sides.
In Lausanne, Moscow was opposed to a US-designed mechanism that would undermine its veto power on the United Nations Security Council, allowing for sanctions to snap back in place against Iran without requiring a full vote from the chamber.
“No one country could block the snapback of sanctions,” Moniz told reporters on Monday, without elaborating.
Russian officials praised the deal over the weekend, questioning claims from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a comprehensive deal would trigger an arms race in the Middle East.
“There are no reasons for an arms race,” Lavrov told Russian media. “Iran will be the most checked and inspected country, if the principles agreed in Lausanne are transferred into the language of practical agreements.”
Saudi Arabia, which has publicly criticized allowing Iran to retain any nuclear capacity whatsoever, appeared to tepidly support the deal in a statement on Monday.
“The council of ministers,” a key body in the Kingdom, “expressed hope for attaining a binding and definitive agreement that would lead to the strengthening of security and stability in the region and the world,” Saudi state-run media reported.
The leader of Hezbollah said on Monday that the framework nuclear agreement that Iran reached with world powers last week rules out the specter of regional war.
“There is no doubt that the Iranian nuclear deal will be big and important to the region,” Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with Syria’s Al Ekhbariya television.
“The agreement, God willing, rules out the specter of regional war and world war,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.