The International Atomic Energy Agency has said Iran is abiding by the terms of a nuclear agreement it signed with world powers last year, clearing the way for the removal of sanctions that have pushed its economy into recession.
The lifting of the embargo, which will allow Iran to sell oil again and reconnect its banks with the world financial system, is a triumph for President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 on a promise to end Iran’s isolation and revitalize its economy.
It is also a victory for Rouhani’s American counterpart, Barack Obama, who has staked his legacy on a deal that is meant to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
American officials said on Saturday that the president had signed an executive order lifting some of the sanctions.
His right-wing critics accuse Obama of appeasing a regime that has sponsored terrorist activity against the United States and its friends in the Middle East, including Israel.
Those same friends worry that a normalization of Western relations with Iran will only embolden its ambitions in the region. The Shia state is currently embroiled in proxy wars with its Sunni rivals in Syria and Yemen.
In a sign of détente, Iran said on Saturday it would release five Americans, including a Christian minister and a journalist.
America reciprocated by pardoning three Iranian-Americans charged with violating sanctions. Prosecutors dropped charges against another four Iranians outside the United States.
The releases come only days after Iran let go a score of American sailors whose two ships had veered into Iranian waters by mistake.
Despite those gestures, The Economist, a supporter of the nuclear deal, cautions that Rouhani was only desperate to get the sanctions lifted — and see up to $100 billion in overseas assets unfrozen — because his supporters must face off hardliners in parliamentary elections next month.
The newspaper points out that Iran’s behavior hasn’t changed in other ways. “It still hangs gay people, locks up dissidents and stokes sectarian conflict around the Middle East, most destructively in Syria,” where it supports the regime of President Bashar al-Assad against a largely Sunni opposition.
The country also continues to lie about the military dimension of its nuclear research, which lasted at least until 2009.
Not all sanctions
Iran’s compliance nevertheless prompted European countries and the United States to start lifting sanctions. Russia already resumed arms sales last year. The Reuters news agency reports that some two dozen huge oil tankers are currently floating off Iran’s coast, waiting to resume petroleum trade with Asia.
Not all nuclear-related sanctions are immediately rescinded. Some will stay in place for another ten years. And Western countries have also imposed sanctions for Iran’s rights abuses that are unaffected by the nuclear deal.
The agreement, reached in July, commits Iran to reducing its level of uranium enrichment as well as its existing stockpile of enriched uranium and the number of centrifuges it operates. It also agreed to unfettered international inspections.