Defiant Iran storms out of nuclear talks as deal shows signs of crumbling in face of tit-for-tat war of words over sanctions
- Iran recalled its negotiators from Geneva after the U.S. moved to blacklist companies that help Tehran build its nuclear program
- The White House is suddenly talking tough on enforcement as Congress threatens to upset the apple cart with a new round of sanctions
- Iran’s state-run news agency immediately insisted that ‘the collapse’ of all sanctions ‘has started’
- The Obama administration insists that the limited relief it has offered Iran is ‘a modest fraction’ of the penalties already in place
- But observers worry that opening the door a crack will allow Iran to sidestep future sanctions by stockpiling needed materials all at once
PUBLISHED: 18:26, 13 December 2013 |
Iran is openly defying the United States, insisting that ‘the structure of sanctions has cracked and its collapse has started.’
The statement from Tehran came Thursday night via the state-run FARS news service, even as a top Treasury Department official sought to reassure the world that ‘the sanctions pressure on Iran will continue to mount.’
Iran walked out of talks in Geneva designed to implement a deal struck on Nov. 24, following the Obama administration’s decision to take a hard line on enforcing sanctions against companies that assist Tehran with its nuclear program.
Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence David Cohen claimed in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal that ‘Iran will be even deeper in the hole six months from now when the deal expires than it is today.’
But Iran maintained that its crude oil sales ‘will be maintained at the current level and Iran’s oil revenues will also be released.’
‘Sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical sector will be completely removed and the sanctions on the country’s auto industry will also be lifted,’ the Islamic republic’s regime claimed.
The State Department cut a deal with Tehran in Geneva last month that dangled the carrot of sanctions relief on the condition that Iran keep its end of a bargain that would temporarily curtail its nuclear program and open its facilities to inspectors.
A limited set of sanctions, however, have already been put on track for a rollback.
Wendy Sherman, the top U.S. nuclear negotiator, said Thursday in a Senate Banking Committee hearing that ‘between $6-7 billion’ in relief was agreed to in the Geneva accord between Iran and the P5+1 nations, which include the U.S., the UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany.
The sanctions relief represents a ‘modest fraction of the approximately $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings that are inaccessible or restricted,’ Sherman assured the senators.
But the crack in the international community’s previously rigid position has given Iran room to made sweeping claims.
A group of U.S. senators led by South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson is busily preparing legislation that would ramp up sanctions, not relax them, if Iran renegs on its nuclear agreement in the next six months.
The White House has tried to wave lawmakers off, saying that its negotiations will maintain enough pressure on Iran to ensure its compliance with the nuclear restrictions it accepted.
Over objections from Tehran, the Obama administration moved on Thursday to blacklist 19 companies and individuals linked to Iran’s nuclear program.
‘The Joint Plan of Action reached in Geneva does not, and will not, interfere with our continued efforts to expose and disrupt those supporting Iran’s nuclear program or seeking to evade our sanctions,’ Cohen said in a statement.
After the U.S. announced the move, Tehran abruptly broke off talks.
One diplomat told Reuters that Iranians negotiators said ‘they had received instructions from Tehran to stop the discussions and fly back to Tehran. It was quite unexpected.’
The White House hopes aggressive enforcement of existing sanctions will help persuade Congress to take a wait-and-see attitude instead of embracing a new round of sanctions in the near future.
Relaxing sanctions on businesses that sell cars, airplane parts, petrochemicals and precious metals, worried Capitol Hill sources told MailOnline, could allow Tehran to stockpile enough supplies and sell enough material to sustain it for more than a decade if sanctions should tighten in the future.
‘We’re worried that if Iran can suddenly buy aircraft parts, and then we shut off that spigot six months from now, they will already have had enough time to warehouse enough material to outlast whatever we might throw at them next,’ a senior Republican Senate aide said.
And critics worry that Iran could sell gold and oil in sufficient volume to fund whatever nuclear ambitions it secretary harbors.
‘Think of it this way,’ former Reagan administration Defense Department official KT MacFarland said in an email. ‘Iran has a bowl of popcorn, a popcorn machine and kernels, but they’re broke.’
‘We’ve just given them some money in exchange for the bowl of popcorn. They’ve still got the machine and the kernels. They can always make more popcorn.’