Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has hailed a “glorious victory” after senior diplomats in Vienna formally announced the lifting of sanctions against the country following confirmations from the UN that Tehran had fulfilled its obligations under last year’s nuclear accord.
A final report by the International Atomic Energy Agency released late on Saturday triggered the much anticipated announcement of so-called “Implementation Day”, which puts Iran on the brink of an extraordinary transformation, reconnecting it to the global economy.
“Today we have achieved Implementation Day of the joint comprehensive plan of action,” Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said in a joint statement read at the UN in the Austrian capital in front of the world media.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, who was also in Vienna, said the sanctions termination provisions of Iran’s landmark nuclear agreement were now in effect. President Barack Obama delegated authority to Kerry to make the determination. At the same time, all nuclear-related sanctions imposed by the EU and the UN were also lifted.
The move came after a remarkable day that saw the release of four dual nationals and a teenage student in a prisoner swap with the US. They included the Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who had been held on charges of spying for over a year. The Iranian-Americans were released in exchange for seven Iranian nationals held in US prisons, apparently for violating sanctions. The timing of the prisoner swap suggests that the issue had been discussed on the sidelines of the nuclear talks, despite denial from both sides.
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who is due to deliver a live TV address tomorrow, reacted by tweeting: “ #ImplementationDay – I thank God for this blessing & bow to the greatness of the patient nation of Iran. Congrats on this glorious victory!”
Kerry, meanwhile, said the American prisoners “should be on their way home”. “I am very happy to say, as we speak, we have received confirmation that five Americans that have been unjustly detained in Iran have been released,” he said in a statement. “They should be on their way home to their families before long.”
The UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, welcomed the implementation of the nuclear accord and said: “This achievement demonstrates that international proliferation concerns are best addressed through dialogue and patient diplomacy.”
Earlier in the day, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, had hailed the milestone as “a good day” for Iran and for the international community. In the words of a report by leading Russian investment firm Renaissance Capital, Iran is “the last remaining sizable global economy that has been cut off from international capital to reopen”.
The UK’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said: “The nuclear deal with Iran, in which Britain played a major role, makes the Middle East and the wider world a safer place. Years of patient and persistent diplomacy, and difficult technical work, have borne fruit as we now implement the deal.
“There were many sceptics who said Iran would never deliver on its side of the bargain, but the independent International Atomic Energy Agency has said they have. Tonnes of uranium have been shipped out of Iran, thousands of centrifuges have been taken out of use and the core has been removed from the Arak reactor. Iran’s nuclear programme has been substantially rolled back, in return for the lifting of sanctions and the economic benefits that will bring.
“The UK has played a central role, and I hope British businesses seize the opportunities available to them through the phased lifting of sanctions on Iran. The future is as important as the landmark we’ve reached today.”
Rouhani particularly wants his people to feel the impact of the nuclear deal in their everyday lives in the runup to parliamentary elections in February .
The removal of sanctions will have a huge impact inside Iran and internationally. Iranian banks will soon re-establish connections with the European financial system, and private firms can now pursue business opportunities without fear of western punishment. About $30bn (£21bn) of a total of $100bn in frozen assets will be released to Iran imminently.
The lifting of sanctions, which will include an end to an EU embargo on imports of Iranian oil, will also affect the global oil market, as Tehran is expected to immediately add almost half a million barrels per day to crude exports. This is likely to add to downward pressure on an oil price that is already plummeting due to oversupply.
The Mehr news agency said a group of oil executives from Total and Shell were in Tehran on Saturday for talks with Iranian officials on the sidelines of an oil conference marking the 60th anniversary of the national Iranian tanker company. Iran has already unveiled a set of new lucrative oil contracts worth tens of billions of dollars to lure foreign investment.
The mood in Tehran is upbeat, but many remain cautious . The index of the Tehran stock market rose to its highest level in 18 months on Saturday morning. Reuters reported that as many as 13 Iranian crude carriers were on course to be fully loaded and prepared to leave for India and Europe. President Barack Obama on Friday night also lifted the ban on the sale of passenger planes to Iran, a decades-long restriction that resulted in Iran’s fleet being very old, prone to accidents and faults.
Zarif said: “This is a very good day for the Iranian people … a very good day for the region. Our region will be relieved of the shadow of an unnecessary conflict that could have caused worry. This is also a good day for the world. Today is a day when we prove to the world that threats, sanctions, intimidation, pressure don’t work; respect works.
“Through respect, through dialogue, through negotiations, we can in fact reach mutually acceptable solutions, implement mutually acceptable solutions, prove that the naysayers were always wrong, and therefore move towards a world in which diplomacy – not force, not pressure – will prevail.”
The west has already put in place the legislation for lifting sanctions, meaning that it is not subject to further paperwork.
European companies will be able to resume business with Iran, but American companies are still hampered by terrorism, human rights and ballistic missiles-related sanctions that will remain in place. Foreign companies dealing with Iran will however no longer be punished by the US.
“Implementation Day is a demonstration of how persistent, high-level engagement is a critical ingredient for successful policies between Iran and the international community,” said Reza Marashi of the National Iranian American Council, who followed the nuclear talks closely.
He said direct diplomacy between Kerry and Zarif “was the linchpin of this peaceful outcome. In the absence of US-Iran dialogue, accidents such as [the recent capture of US sailors ] could have quickly escalated. Thanks to the Iran nuclear deal, a sustained diplomatic channel now exists to de-escalate. The entire Middle East will benefit if this is the new normal.”
Hossein Rassam, a London-based Iranian analyst, said the removal of sanctions would bring two years of intensive diplomacy to fruition. “The significance of the post-implemenation day period is that sectors of the Iranian economy, such as trade and oil, can, after many years, experience relative normalcy,” he said.
John Forrest, head of international trade in London at the law firm DLA Piper, said: “As a significant and diverse emerging market, Iran presents substantial opportunities for European businesses” – particularly those in the energy sector, manufacturing, retail, consumer goods, food and drink, and financial institutions and services.
“From a practical perspective, it remains to be seen whether EU sanction relief will be held back should banks continue to take a cautious approach to processing Iranian payment transactions,” he said.
Forrest also said ongoing human rights and terrorism-related sanctions in the US would have an effect. “Whilst the EU piece of the puzzle is clear, as it has already published relevant legislation amending existing sanctions measures to pave the way for early EU termination, there remains a lack of clarity with regards to the US.”
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