Iran “opens a new chap­ter”, as sanc­tions lifted

EU for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini, rep­re­sent­ing the six world pow­ers, an­nounced the lift­ing of “mul­ti­lat­eral and na­tional” sanc­tions in Vi­enna on Satur­day, say­ing the nu­clear deal showed that in­tense diplo­macy could re­solve even “the most dif­ficu

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Iran has “opened a new chap­ter” in its ties with the world, Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani said on Sun­day, hours af­ter sanc­tions were lifted.

The UN’s atomic watch­dog late on Satur­day con­firmed that Iran had com­plied with its obli­ga­tions un­der last sum­mer’s ac­cord and the United States and Euro­pean Union an­nounced they were lift­ing the sanc­tions that have for years crip­pled the coun­try’s econ­omy.

Western gov­ern­ments hailed the an­nounce­ment as a mile­stone though some crit­ics, in­clud­ing Is­rael, al­leged that Tehran was still seek­ing to de­velop a nu­clear weapon.

The an­nounce­ment fol­lowed news of a pris­oner swap be­tween Iran and the United States that will in­clude the re­lease of Wash­ing­ton Post correspondent Ja­son Reza­ian, in an­other sign of thaw­ing re­la­tions be­tween the long­time foes.

Rouhani, a mod­er­ate whose 2013 elec­tion vic­tory helped launch a huge diplo­matic ef­fort to­ward the deal struck on July 14 in Vi­enna, said im­ple­men­ta­tion of the agree­ment did not harm any coun­try.

“We Ira­ni­ans have reached out to the world... have opened a new chap­ter in the re­la­tions of Iran with the world,” the of­fi­cial IRNA news agency quoted Rouhani as say­ing.

Iran is “not a threat to any govern­ment or na­tion”. The agree­ment, he said, “is not a loss for any coun­try”.

Rouhani, who has promised that 2016 will be a “year of pros­per­ity” for Ira­ni­ans, was to give a press con­fer­ence later Sun­day af­ter pre­sent­ing this year’s bud­get.

The United States lifted a raft of sanc­tions, with Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry say­ing in Vi­enna: “The United States, our friends and al­lies in the Middle East, and the en­tire world are safer be­cause the threat of the nu­clear weapon has been re­duced.”

The lift­ing of the sanc­tions will al­low Iran to re­sume wide­spread oil ex­ports, long the lifeblood of its econ­omy though Rouhani has steadily moved away from re­ly­ing on crude to fund bud­gets.

The deal will also open up busi­ness in the coun­try of 79 mln.

The Vi­enna agree­ment was nailed down af­ter two years of roller­coaster ne­go­ti­a­tions fol­low­ing Rouhani’s elec­tion.

The highly com­plex deal drew a line un­der a stand­off dat­ing back to 2002 marked by failed diplo­matic ini­tia­tives, ever-tighter sanc­tions, de­fi­ant nu­clear ex­pan­sion by Iran and threats of mil­i­tary ac­tion.

In ad­di­tion the nu­clear talks put Iran and the United States on the road to bet­ter re­la­tions, more than three decades af­ter the Is­lamic rev­o­lu­tion that top­pled the USbacked Shah.

Four of the five de­tainees to be freed by Tehran un­der the pris­oner swap, in­clud­ing Reza­ian, were still in the coun­try as of early Sun­day, with a US of­fi­cial say­ing “lo­gis­ti­cal steps” were on­go­ing.

Un­der the ex­change, Wash­ing­ton said it had granted clemency to seven Ira­ni­ans, six of whom were dual US-Ira­nian cit­i­zens, and dropped charges against 14 more.

In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency chief Yukiya Amano was also due in Tehran on Sun­day for talks on the UN watch­dog’s en­hanced in­spec­tions to en­sure Iran’s con­tin­ued com­pli­ance with the deal.

The steps taken so far by Tehran ex­tend to at least a year - from a few months pre­vi­ously - how long Iran would need to make one nu­clear bomb’s worth of fis­sile ma­te­rial.

They in­clude slash­ing by two-thirds its ura­nium cen­trifuges, re­duc­ing its stock­pile of ura­nium - enough be­fore the deal for sev­eral bombs – and re­mov­ing the core of the Arak re­ac­tor which could have given Iran weapons-grade plutonium.

Iran has al­ways de­nied want­ing nu­clear weapons, say­ing its ac­tiv­i­ties are ex­clu­sively for peace­ful pur­poses in­clud­ing power gen­er­a­tion and med­i­cal re­search.

Crit­ics, in­clud­ing US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Repub­li­can op­po­nents, have poured scorn on the deal, say­ing it fails to do enough to en­sure Iran will never ac­quire the bomb.

Is­rael, widely as­sumed to be the Middle East’s only nu­clear-armed state and Iran’s arch-foe, has re­peat­edly slammed the agree­ment.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said on Satur­day that Iran “has not re­lin­quished its am­bi­tion to ob­tain nu­clear weapons, and con­tin­ues to act to desta­bilise the Middle East and spread ter­ror through­out the world”.

Sunni Saudi Ara­bia, Iran’s main re­gional ri­val, is also alarmed at the prospect of warmer US-Iran ties and of pre­dom­i­nantly Shi­ite Iran, newly flush with oil rev­enues, in­creas­ing its in­flu­ence.

Ten­sions be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran, al­ready fight­ing a proxy war in Ye­men and back­ing op­pos­ing sides in the Syr­ian con­flict, have reached new heights in the past two weeks.

Saudi Ara­bia and a num­ber of its Sunni Arab al­lies cut diplo­matic ties with Tehran ear­lier this month af­ter pro­test­ers an­gry at Riyadh’s ex­e­cu­tion of a prom­i­nent Shi­ite cleric on Jan­uary 2 sacked its em­bassy in Tehran.

Iran’s im­mi­nent re­turn to the oil mar­ket has also con­trib­uted to the sharp slide in the price of crude to 12-year lows of un­der $30 per bar­rel this week, putting pub­lic fi­nances in Gulf na­tions un­der strain.

Gulf stocks tum­bled on their first trad­ing day of the week on Sun­day, with the Saudi Tadawul All-Shares In­dex open­ing down 6.5% and the Dubai and Qatar ex­changes both div­ing 6.0% at the open­ing.

The nu­clear deal has more than a decade to run, which is likely to be a bumpy road, ex­perts say, not least if more hard­line gov­ern­ments take power in Tehran or Wash­ing­ton.

A “snap­back” mech­a­nism en­sures that many of the sanc­tions can be swiftly reim­posed, and a spe­cial joint com­mis­sion is meant to han­dle any mis­un­der­stand­ings.

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