West reacts to Iran curbs on nuclear program with sanctions relief

Unprecedented opportunity to resolve concerns

WASHINGTON – The US and the European Union eased sanctions against Iran after the Islamic republic began to impose curbs on its suspect nuclear program.
"Iran has begun to take concrete and verifiable steps to halt its nuclear program," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, adding it was "an unprecedented opportunity" to resolve global concerns over the atomic program.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has approved a waiver, which will allow limited relief to help Iran's crippled economy, and it would be sent to Congress on Monday, she added.
As agreed with world powers under a six-month deal reached on November 24, the US administration "has taken the necessary steps to pause efforts to further reduce Iranian crude oil exports," a separate US fact sheet said.
This will allow the six nations that buy Iranian oil to continue to do so for the duration of the deal.
Sanctions will also be suspended on non-Americans trading in Iran's petrochemical exports, as well as certain trade in gold and precious metals and Iran's automotive sector.
White House spokesman Jay Carney hailed Iran's actions as "an important step forward."
"These actions represent the first time in nearly a decade that Iran has verifiably enacted measures to halt progress on its nuclear program, and roll it back in key respects," he said in a statement.
"Iran has also begun to provide the IAEA with increased transparency into the Iranian nuclear program, through more frequent and intrusive inspections and the expanded provision of information to the IAEA."
But senior US administration officials argued that the sanctions easing offered from Monday was "modest financial relief."
"I would underscore that it does not mean that Iran is open for business. Quite on the contrary, the overwhelming majority of our sanctions, and the basic structure of oil and banking sanctions remain in place," a senior administration official said on a conference call.
"The administration is committed to aggressively enforcing those sanctions," he said.
Psaki warned too that the coming "negotiation to reach a comprehensive agreement that addresses all of the international community's concerns will be even more complex, and we go into it clear-eyed about the difficulties ahead."
"But today's events have made clear that we have an unprecedented opportunity to see if we can resolve this most pressing national security concern peacefully. That remains our goal, and that is our challenge ahead."
Also on Monday, the European Union suspended a range of sanctions against Iran, the EU said.
"As part of the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action agreed by Iran and the E3/EU+3, which enters into force today, the Council today suspended certain EU restrictive measures against Iran for a period of six months," a statement said.
The suspension was agreed by foreign ministers meeting in Brussels for regular monthly talks after they received word from the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, that Tehran had stuck to its side of a November deal to cut back its nuclear programme.
The new measures notably include the suspension of a 2012 ban on insuring and transporting Iranian crude oil that caused a more than 50 percent drop in Tehran's oil exports.
European insurers up until then had accounted for 90 percent of coverage for deliveries of Iranian oil anywhere in the world.
The EU also will suspend bans on trade in gold, precious metals and petrochemical products while increasing a ceiling on financial transfers not related to remaining sanctions.
Like the United States, the EU has promised to impose no new sanctions in the next six months, the first stage in efforts to find a lasting solution over fears that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb.
Any new contracts struck with Iranian firms should not go beyond the six-month period.