U.S. To Offer Iran Sanctions Relief In Exchange For Pause In Nuclear Program

CREDIT: European Union

Secretary Kerry (upper left) sits next to Iranian FM Zarif

On the eve of new nuclear discussions between Iran and the international community, new reports say that the United States is willing to offer temporary sanctions relief to Tehran in exchange for a pause in its enrichment program.

“What we’re looking for is a first phase, a first step, an initial understanding that stops Iran’s nuclear program from moving forward and rolls it back for first time in decades,” a U.S. official told reporters on Wednesday. That first phase, according to the official, would involve levels of Iran’s uranium enrichment, its stockpiles of uranium it currently possesses, and international monitoring. Before today’s report, the details of offers from either side of during the most recent set of negotiations have remained closely guarded secrets, though outlines of the proposals have been communicated to the press.

“We are prepared to offer limited, targeted and reversible sanctions relief. We are not talking about touching the core architecture of the Iranian sanctions regime in this first step,” the official continued, adding that the administration is “looking for ways to put additional time on the clock.

The United States will be in Geneva beginning Thursday, along with the other members of the P5+1 group — France, China, Russia, Germany, and the United Kingdom — in the hopes of striking an accord with Iran over its nuclear enrichment work. Revealed fully in the early 2000s, the international community remains concerned that Iran’s nuclear enrichment could be used to produce nuclear weapons. Iran insists that its program is for peaceful purposes only. An earlier proposal from the P5+1 would have provided some sanctions relief to Iran, had Tehran accepted it, in exchange for such actions as transferring part of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s custody and suspending all activity at the once-secret Fordow facility.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif earlier this week told reporters that he believed that the possibility of a deal in Geneva was much higher than many were anticipating. “I believe it is possible to reach an agreement during this meeting, but I can only talk for our side, I cannot talk for the other side,” Zarif said after meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “I believe we’ve come very far in the last three rounds [of talks], so we [only] need to make a few more steps,” he said, though noting that not striking a deal in Geneva would not be a “disaster.”

The new package may also draw some critiques from those who believe that any let up of pressure on Iran for anything less than the unrealistic goal of total dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program is a sign of weakness. Ahead of tomorrow’s talks, the Obama administration has already been pushing Congress to ensure that no new sanctions would be passed while negotiations were looking more promising that they have in years. “We’ve asked for a pause to give us just a few weeks to see if in fact we can get a first step agreement that would stop the advance of Iran’s nuclear program and we don’t think waiting a few weeks should hurt the effort here,” Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told MSNBC on Monday. American Jewish groups have reportedly complied for the most part with the administration’s own lobbying efforts, agreeing to hold off on pushes for new embargoes against Iran.