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'Progress' Reported In Talks On Securing Economic Relief For Iran

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right) meets with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the UN on April 19.

Top diplomats from the United States and Iran said they are making "progress" in ensuring that last year's historic nuclear deal delivers promised economic benefits for Tehran.

"We worked on a number of key things today. We made some progress on it," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after talks lasting 2 1/2 hours at the United Nations in New York on April 19.

"We're both working at making sure that the...nuclear agreement is implemented in exactly the way that it is meant to be and that all the parties to that agreement get the benefits that they are supposed to get out of the agreement," he said.

"We will meet again to sort of solidify what we talked about today," he said. Kerry said they will resume their discussions on April 22 on the sidelines of a signing ceremony that both are attending at the UN for the Paris climate agreement.

Among other problems, Kerry disclosed for the first time on April 18 that Iran has received a cash "windfall" of only about $3 billion so far from the release of wealth assets that had previously been frozen under global economic sanctions. The department estimates that Iran should receive much more than that -- about $55 billion.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said after their meeting April 19 that they discussed ways to "make sure that we will draw the benefits that Iran is entitled to from the implementation of the agreement."

Neither of the top diplomats offered details, but Zarif said he and Kerry at their next meeting will discuss putting "the necessary measures into operation and into motion in order to make sure the benefits will be there for the Iranian people to enjoy."

Tehran has complained about difficulties accessing the global financial system despite the lifting of some U.S. sanctions and most global economic sanctions under the nuclear deal in January.

Tehran wants the United States to do more to remove obstacles imposed by U.S. sanctions that remain in place, which have caused foreign banks to be cautious about resuming business with Iran for fear of triggering penalties from the United States.

Current U.S. policy bars foreign banks from clearing dollar-based transactions with Iran through U.S. banks, for example.

U.S. officials have said the Obama administration is considering easing or clarifying those restrictions through regulations to be issued by the Treasury Department aimed at helping companies feel safe about using the dollar in business transactions with Iran as long as they were authorized under the nuclear agreement.

While many in Iran blame the United States for a disappointing start to sanctions relief, U.S. President Barack Obama recently cautioned that is not the only reason Iran may be having trouble attracting business and investment.

He said Iran's own actions, including its involvement in regional wars and repeated testing of ballistic missiles that Western powers say violates UN sanctions, have deterred some businesses from renewing ties.

Obama is likely to face a backlash in Congress if he aggressively eases the way for Iran to experience sanctions relief, particularly by easing access to U.S. dollars to transact business.

Ed Royce, the powerful chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on April 19 introduced legislation that would prevent the White House from allowing Iran access to U.S. dollars "as along as the Iranian regime continues to engage in illicit activities, including the development of ballistic missiles and terrorism."

Like every other Republican in Congress, Royce opposed the nuclear deal, contending that Iran would use the money freed up under the deal to fuel its military activities in the Middle East rather than improve the living standards of ordinary Iranians.

"If President Obama won’t rule out new concessions to the Iranian regime, Congress should," Royce said. "Allowing a belligerent Iran access to the U.S. dollar poses real dangers to our country and our economy."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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