EU sanctions against Iran could begin easing next month

Europe may roll back $7 billion worth of sanctions, as Obama defends Iran nuclear deal

Under the terms of the interim deal, negotiators will have six months to finalize a comprehensive, final agreement.

European Union sanctions against Iran could be eased as soon as December, officials said Monday in response to a historic interim deal that gives Tehran six months to increase access to its nuclear sites in exchange for keeping the core components of its uranium program.

The deal, announced in Geneva Saturday, also envisions lifting some of the sanctions that have crippled the country's economy. The sanctions were instituted over fears that Tehran is using its nuclear program to build atomic weapons, something Iran has denied.

"A Europe-wide decision is necessary" to ease EU sanctions, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio. "That's expected in several weeks, for a partial lifting that is targeted, reversible."

"It could be in December, it could be in January, it depends on how long the legislative process takes," EU foreign affairs spokesman Michael Mann told reporters in Brussels.

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President Barack Obama on Monday defended the agreement, declaring that the United States "cannot close the door on diplomacy."

"Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it's not the right thing to do for our security," he said during an event in San Francisco.

The United States and the EU have separate sanctions on Iran. Easing European restrictions would affect numerous areas including trade in petrochemicals, gold and other precious metals, financial transfers to purchase food and medicine, and the ability of third countries to use EU-based firms to acquire shipments of Iranian oil again.

Mann said work on amending the EU regulations was already beginning but cautioned that changes depend on the Iranian government living up to its end of the deal.

"It's important that both sides of the bargain are implementing this agreement, so we would coordinate timing-wise also with the Iranian side," the EU spokesman said.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague put the total estimated value of sanctions relief at $7 billion over a 6-month period, but he stressed it would not all come at once.

"They do not receive $7 billion on the first day and then decide if they want to implement their side of the agreement," Hague said, calling the amount of sanctions relief "a very small proportion" of the total frozen assets and value of sanctions applied to Iran.

The deal will allow Iran to keep the central elements of its uranium program, while stopping its enrichment at a level lower than what is needed for nuclear arms. In addition to a six-month window for Iran to allow more U.N. access to nuclear sites, sanctions will be eased — notably in the oil, automotive and aviation industries — though not ended.

On his return to Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told state television that the country was prepared for quick follow-up negotiations to keep the deal on track.

"We are ready to begin the final stage of nuclear agreement from tomorrow," said Zarif, who was greeted by hundreds of cheering students.

Despite Obama's hopes that no new sanctions will be levied on Iran while the interim agreement is in effect, some U.S. lawmakers want to push ahead with additional penalties. A new sanctions bill has already passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and if it passes the Senate, Obama could have to veto legislation to prevent the derailment of ongoing talks.

Senate Democrats are likely to give the president some time. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday the Senate will consider legislation next month to impose tighter sanctions on Iran, but only after studying the issue and possibly holding hearings.

Reid said he would look to fellow Democrats Tim Johnson, chairman of the Banking Committee, and Robert Menendez, who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, for a decision after the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving holiday recess on Dec. 9.

"They will study this, they will hold hearings if necessary, and if we need work on this, if we need stronger sanctions, I am sure we will do that," Reid said on National Public Radio.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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