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Lifting sanctions is not always easy

Annie Baxter Mar 31, 2015
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Whatever the outcome of attempts this week to reach a tentative nuclear agreement between six world powers and Iran, experts say the process of lifting sanctions against the country will likely be slow and incremental, with many hurdles.

Iran is under sanctions from many entities, including the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, for refusing to halt activities that could result in the production of nuclear weapons. The sanctions have hammered its economy, throttled its oil exports and choked off investment there. Iran wants the sanctions lifted as soon as any deal goes into place.

“It’s unrealistic to expect that the sanctions will be lifted immediately,” says Elizabeth Rosenberg, director of the Energy, Economics and Security program at the Center for New American Security. 

The six world powers negotiating with Iran are the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Rosenberg says even if they hash out a deal with Iran by the final deadline of June 30th, there will be yet more steps to easing sanctions. She notes that the European Union, for example, will have to get consensus from all 28 member states.

“And that’s been a challenge in the past when it comes to Iran, is getting everyone on the same page,” she says.

Rosenberg says it’s even more complicated in the U.S., which has some of the most powerful sanctions in place limiting commerce with Iranian individuals and institutions. There are also sharp disagreements here between President Barack Obama and Congress over whether to ease sanctions.

Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, says the president has some ability to waive sanctions but only on a temporary basis.

“The president will in most cases have no more than 180-day waiver authority, and in some cases even less,” she says.

Maloney says some members of Congress want to limit the president’s powers even further. She says with that much uncertainty in the air, American businesses will likely be very cautious about any investment in Iran for the foreseeable future.

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