Verifying removal of sanctions will take 3 - 6 months

It has been two weeks now that England, Germany, Russia and China have been negotiating with the diplomatic team of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Vienna on the return of the US to the JCPOA and the fulfillment of its duties. Because of the US’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic of Iran has refused to directly negotiate with that country and has set certain conditions for the return of the US to the deal. KHAMENEI. IR has conducted an interview with Mahdi Muhammadi, a political analyst and expert, in order to discuss the conditions set by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mr. Muhammadi was previously a member of the negotiating team and he is currently advisor to the Speaker of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) on strategic affairs.

Interviewer: We had better begin the interview with the terms set by Iran. What terms has the Islamic Republic of Iran set for the return of the US to the JCPOA? I mean the terms and conditions on the basis of which the Iranian team in Vienna is negotiating with the European sides.


Muhammadi: As the Leader of the Islamic Revolution mentioned, Iran has set certain terms for the return of the US to the JCPOA. The Americans withdrew from the deal and after having done so, they inflicted serious damages on us. According to one estimation only, we have made a loss of about 200 billion dollars from May 2018 to the present time. Generally speaking, Iran has set a number of important conditions for accepting the return of the US to the JCPOA and the membership of that country in the 5+1 group. The first condition is that sanctions should be removed in a way that Iran’s economic profit from the JCPOA will be completely ensured.


However, looking at history, we see that we have not profited from the nuclear deal, particularly economically speaking. The promises made to Iran were “never fulfilled”, as stated by Dr. Seif, the former head of the Central Bank of Iran. The first issue for Iran is that any return, on the part of the US, to the JCPOA and any act of removing the sanctions should pan out in a way that Iran’s economic profit from the deal will be ensured in a stable, tangible, and real way. This is the first condition. The second condition is that all sanctions should be removed before Iran returns to its commitments.


Interviewer: Does “all sanctions” mean the sanctions imposed after the JCPOA and during the Trump administration?


Muhammadi: All sanctions mean all sanctions. Iran will not accept any distinction between sanctions: the distinction made by the Americans, which they refer to as the red, green and yellow lists. According to these lists, they say that they will remove certain sanctions, that they will not remove certain others and that some others are negotiable. There are other terms for the sanctions as well: for example, JCPOA and non-JCPOA sanctions and the ones imposed by Trump and the ones imposed by others. Basically, Iran’ condition is that it will not accept such distinctions. All the sanctions that prevent Iran from economically profiting from the deal should be removed. That whether the sanctions were imposed during the Trump or Obama administration, that with what titles, names and laws they were ratified and that whether they were put in effect by their president or their Congress are matters related to them, not to us. These issues have nothing to do with us.


Interviewer: Does this mean that the first step should be taken by the US?


Muhammadi: Yes, more importantly, there should be a specific interval between the resumption of Iran’s commitments and the resumption of the Americans’ commitments. The interval is not a matter of hours, days and weeks.


Interviewer: Let us return to Iran’s conditions.


Muhammadi: Iran’s next condition, which is a very important one, is that the mere legal removal of the sanctions is not enough. If they give us a piece of paper, calling it the US President’s decree and saying that the sanctions imposed against Iran have been removed or mitigated according to that decree, this is of no use to us. We are imposing restrictions on our nuclear plan in practice, but we will receive a piece of paper in return. Then, later on, we will see that while we are holding a piece of paper, we cannot sell our oil, we cannot do banking transactions, we do not have international insurance and our transit system is not working. When Dr. Seif said that we received “almost nothing”, that did not happen in the Trump administration, rather it happened in Obama administration. That the JCPOA is not working properly now, economically speaking, this did not begin during the Trump administration.


Iran’s fourth condition is that as they are entitled to verify our commitments, we too should be able to verify theirs. There is an international agency which verifies Iran’s nuclear commitments, but neither in the JCPOA nor in international law has any mechanism been predicted for verifying the other side’s commitment regarding the removal of the sanctions. How are such commitments going to be verified? The condition that Iran has set is important because the verification is done by us and it concerns Iran’s economic profits from the deal, not the mere act of removing the sanctions. There is a last condition which is, in my opinion, very important: that Iran will not directly negotiate with the US during this period of time.


Interviewer: Is this one of the conditions set by the Islamic Republic of Iran?


Muhammadi: Yes, it is one of our terms and the other side very much insists that we should sit and talk with the Americans directly. The Americans insist on this as well and there is a reason for that: the main reason is that basically, reviving the negotiations is more important to the Americans than reviving the JCPOA itself. What is of vital importance to the US is to make Iran sit at the negotiating table.


Interviewer: What is the procedure for verification and how long will it take?


Muhammadi: The procedure in the JCPOA itself is that the parties involved in the deal can verify each other’s commitments. If one member finds out that another member is not honoring its commitments, it can reduce its commitments according to Article 36. However, experience has shown us that this formula is not working. The other side brought its commitments to almost point zero. The Europeans reduced all their commitments to a dysfunctional mechanism known as INSTEX. And as it happened, the Americans withdrew from it. In other words, not only did they not honor their commitments, but they also began to punish those who were doing so. They imposed sanctions on the countries which were fulfilling their commitments. For example, they imposed sanctions on Chinese companies for their interactions with Iran despite the fact that those interactions were legal within the framework of the JCPOA. Right now, one of the demands that the Chinese make in Vienna negotiations is that the Americans should remove not only the sanctions imposed against legal and natural persons but also the sanctions against Chinese companies.


In the present time, the new idea Iran is putting forward is that Article 36 is not enough for ensuring the fulfilment of commitments and that more valid guarantees are needed. The most important guarantee is that there should be a good interval between the fulfillment of both sides’ commitments. We will verify whether we will be capable of selling oil “in any amount” and “to whomever” we want or not. If we can do so, then we will verify if we can receive the money from official channels or not and after that if we can buy any product that we want from any part of the world or not. Later, we will see if those products will be transited to Iran safely or not and whether Iran will have access to international banking systems or not. These are the issues that Iran will verify. And this is only possible by defining a good interval between our commitments and the Americans’ commitments. There is no other formula.


We will need at least between three and six months in order to make sure that the removing of the sanctions is working in practice and that Iran’s foreign trade is up and running. This is the only valid verification formula. Should we make sure that these things are working, then Iran will resume its nuclear commitments.


Interviewer: Some people are talking about the simultaneous return of Iran and the US to their commitments


Muhammadi: Iran’s conditions show that it does not agree with the simultaneity pattern at all. Simultaneity means that we should honor our commitments and then wait for them to remove the sanctions. And they have stated that they will not remove the sanctions. Why? It is because sanctions have benefits for them. They want to use them for achieving other goals. The Americans say that they want to return to the conditions which existed in January 2017; that is to the time when Trump had just received the administration from Obama. This is not a mechanical issue. In Iran too, some officials say that we could return to the conditions existing in January 2017 in the course of a few hours or a few days. This mechanical view of the return of both sides to the JCPOA will damage the interests of the country.


Yes, Iran can restore January 2017 conditions within a short time. Our commitments are a series of clear technical commitments and we could either cancel or resume them, but will Iran’s economic and strategic condition simply be like January 2017?


Interviewer: In his recent speech, the Leader of the Revolution stated that the negotiations should not become too lengthy. How is this compatible with not being in a rush for the return to the JCPOA?


Muhammadi: Our goal is to have all sanctions removed and to help the country benefit economically. The resolution of this issue requires a reasonable period of time. So, we should not be in a hurry, meaning that we should not make things easy for the Americans and receive a piece of paper in return and say that we have reached an agreement. On the other hand, we should not drag out the negotiations so long that the other side will be able to engage “public opinion” in Iran without conceding any advantage.


Notice that if negotiations are prolonged more than necessary, the public opinion in Iran together with its economy will be subjected to “conditioning” and the country will be hesitant without any advantage. Therefore, both are necessary. We should not be in a rush, nor should we prolong the negotiations. And the requirement for this is to be on the lookout for real economic interests. If this is the case, it does not matter how much time is necessary for achieving it.


Interview: Let us assume that there will be an agreement and that its economic benefits will be ensured. What guarantees do we have that the US will not dishonor its commitments again?


Muhammadi: There is not any guarantee at all. Basically, one cannot envisage any guarantee in this area. Only two things can be helpful here. The first is that, as the Leader as repeatedly said, we should pursue the nullification, rather than the removal, of the sanctions. In other words, Iran should move towards the establishment of an administration which will reinforce and strengthen the economic infrastructures to the extent that Iran’s economy will not be influenced even if the sanctions are never removed or even if they reappear in the future.


And there are certain formulas in the negotiations. For example, we should make our commitments temporary and short-lived. We can announce that we will honor our commitment in such and such an area as long as banking relations are in place. As soon as the slightest disruption appears in banking transactions or the sale of oil, we will immediately put a stop to our nuclear commitments. If nuclear commitments become temporary like this, the other side will know that we are adequately determined to halt our commitments should he decide to dishonor his. This might give us a little guarantee as it will make the other sides feel that the price of dishonoring one’s commitments is steep.


Interviewer: In your speech, you implied a few times that the US needs Iran and its agreement in the current circumstances. The return to the JCOPOA reflects this need. Why? Why should the US return to the JCOPA?


Muhammadi: The Americans have a paradigmatic outlook towards the JCPOA. They do not look at the JCPOA as a merely disarmament deal or a deal which is merely related to limiting Iran’s nuclear plan. At least, the team which currently holds office in the US thinks that the JCPOA is a platform and an infrastructure for curbing Iran in all the areas which are a source of strategic conflict for the US. Despite the fact that the US has started with the JCPOA, the nuclear deal has the potential to force it into negotiation, by holding its economic interests hostage, over all the issues which the Americans are concerned about. The Americans once said that the sanctions have the capability to drag the Iranians into all areas because they have already brought them here. So, those who are making decisions about Iran in Washington have such a mentality.


Interviewer: The last point is that some people think that the Islamic Republic is essentially not after reaching any agreement.


Muhammadi: I will tell you frankly that as preventing a good deal due to electoral considerations is a treacherous act, insisting on a bad deal because of the same considerations is also a treacherous act. What matters most is the interests of the nation. In the present time, it is completely clear that the JCPOA has had serious shortcomings and problems and that we should eliminate them. We should persist in our position.


  • Experiences from JCPOA
  • Iran Talks
  • sanctions