As the clock ran out on a Republican-led effort to kill the Iran nuclear agreement in the Senate, the White House moved quickly toward putting the deal into effect, appointing a new lead coordinator and readying its agencies for Oct. 18, when the Iran deal is expected to be signed by all parties.
Under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the six world powers and Iran involved with the nuclear negotiations have 90 days from when the U.N. Security Council approved the deal in July to formally adopt the agreement. On that date, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations will begin taking the steps to lift sanctions, provided Iran begins to comply with the deal.
Ambassador Stephen D. Mull was named as the lead coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation last Thursday. According to a statement released by Secretary of State John Kerry, Mull will be responsible for leading the interagency effort to ensure Iran takes the steps it agreed to under the JCPOA and that the United States and its negotiating partners take the parallel sanctions relief actions.
Mull previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Poland and from 2008 to 2010 served as a senior advisor to William Burns, former under secretary of state for political affairs, working on issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, most notably, playing a role in designing a U.N. Security Council resolution which imposed more nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.
Current sanctions will not be lifted until implementation day — the day the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has complied with all the steps outlined in the deal.
Those steps include taking out thousands of centrifuges from the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities and placing them into IAEA-monitored storage; reducing Iran’s enriched uranium from 12,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms; and removing the calandria, a key piece of equipment, from the Arak heavy-water reactor and filling the center of that reactor with concrete so it cannot be used to make plutonium for weapons. Iran must also work with IAEA on increased transparency measures at its facilities and uranium mills so the atomic agency has continuous monitoring capabilities.
In a telephone call with reporters last Thursday afternoon, senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, could not predict when sanctions relief will begin.
“All of these [steps] are going to take a while, but frankly, the ball’s in Iran’s court, and until they do that, sanctions relief will not be provided,” one of the officials said.
Additionally, the Iranians must report to the IAEA on the possible military dimensions of its past nuclear activity. The Iranians have until Oct. 15 to comply with the IAEA requirements. The agency, in turn, will publish a formal report in mid-December.
“We have indications in press today, in fact, that Iran and the IAEA are moving forward with that,” said an official. The same official confirmed that possible military dimensions must be disclosed as part of the sequence of events that would take the deal to implementation day.
When the sanctions are removed, Iran’s frozen assets will be released and much of the Islamic Republic’s oil dealings with the world can proceed. Prohibitions on arms sales and transfer of missile technology will remain in effect for several years.
The United States waivers, to be laid out Oct. 18 — known as “adoption day” —as a sign of good faith, will need to be renewed every three to six months. Senior administration officials repeatedly stated during the phone call that sanctions can be reimposed should Iran fail to meet its obligations.
Adam Szubin, acting under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes at the Treasury Department and who will manage sanctions relief, said at a hearing last Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee that Iran is his top priority.
“Even now, as we prepare to suspend our secondary nuclear sanctions should Iran fulfill its commitments under the deal, we are simultaneously intensifying a battery of sanctions that will not change under the terms of that deal,” said Szubin. He added that increased pressure will be coordinated with Israeli, European and Gulf states partners.
Szubin, who is Jewish, was nominated in April. He referred to his heritage during his recent confirmation testimony.
These moves by the administration came on the heels of Senate Democrats blocking legislation aimed at scuttling the Iran nuclear deal for the third time.
Last Thursday, deal opponents fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance a resolution of disapproval to a final passage vote. All but four Democrats — Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jewish lawmakers Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Ben Cardin (Md.) — supported the deal.
This was the third attempt by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reach cloture after the Senate took the first procedural vote on the disapproval measure Sept. 10. The 42 Democrats and Independents who filibustered the first go-around held to their positions.
When the first two votes failed, McConnell introduced an amendment that would have linked the lifting of sanctions on Iran with the release of American prisoners held by the Islamic regime and public recognition by Tehran of Israel’s right to exist. A procedural vote on that measure also failed to reach the 60 vote threshold, ending in a 53 to 45 vote.
Cardin, Schumer and Menendez crossed back to their side of the aisle to vote no. Manchin was the only Democrat to vote for McConnell’s amendment. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) missed the amendment vote; they were on the presidential campaign trail.
Cardin, as reported by The Hill, said before the amendment vote, that even if Iran recognizes Israel’s right to exist, “I must tell you that I would have no trust in their statement or confidence in their statement.”
McConnell countered that his amendment was the least the Senate could do if it could not pass a resolution of disapproval.
The Obama administration has long argued that the nuclear agreement has a narrow scope and outstanding issues, including human rights abuses and threats made to the United States and Israel, were not part of the nuclear negotiations between world powers and Iran that concluded in July.
Per the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, Sept. 17 was the final date Congress could have passed a resolution of disapproval on the Iran deal, though some Republicans — notably Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), the lone Jewish Republican in Congress — argued that the clock had not started and would not start until side agreements between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran are made available for review.
To block the deal, both the Senate and the House of Representatives would have had to pass resolutions of disapproval by midnight Thursday and overcome a promised presidential veto. The president secured enough pledges for votes weeks ago to sustain a now-unnecessary veto.