West lifts economic sanctions on Iran

Iran will be able to export oil and trade in gold and precious metals

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The European Union and the United States eased their economic sanctioned on Iran on Monday as part of a ground-breaking nuclear deal under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program, diplomats said.

The EU’s decision, which eases restrictions on trade in petrochemicals and precious metals and on the provision of insurance for oil shipments, among other measures, was expected to go into effect later in the day.

"As part of the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action agreed by Iran and the E3/EU+3, which enters into force today, the Council today suspended certain EU restrictive measures against Iran for a period of six months," an EU statement said.

The suspension was agreed by foreign ministers meeting in Brussels for regular monthly talks after they received word from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, that Tehran had stuck to its side of a November deal to cut back its nuclear program.

The new measures notably include the suspension of a 2012 ban on insuring and transporting Iranian crude oil that caused a more than 50 percent drop in Tehran's oil exports.

European insurers up until then had accounted for 90 percent of coverage for deliveries of Iranian oil anywhere in the world.

The EU also will suspend bans on trade in gold, precious metals and petrochemical products while increasing a ceiling on financial transfers not related to remaining sanctions.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday approved a waiver to ease sanctions on Iran.

"Iran has begun to take concrete and verifiable steps to halt its nuclear program," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, adding it was "an unprecedented opportunity" to resolve global concerns over the atomic program.

Kerry has approved the waiver, which will allow limited relief to help Iran's crippled economy, and it would be sent to Congress on Monday, she added.

The United States and the EU have promised to impose no new sanctions in the next six months, the first stage in efforts to find a lasting solution over fears that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb.

Any new contracts struck with Iranian firms should not go beyond the six-month period.

The lifting of Western sanction comes after Iran suspended on Monday its higher-grade enrichment of uranium at its Natanz nuclear plant.

Under the pact reached in Geneva in November, Iran was to shelve enrichment to 20 percent fissile concentration - a level taking it closer to the capability to yield fuel for a nuclear weapon - in return for a relaxation of some economic sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear activity.

“The suspension of 20 percent enrichment has started at the Natanz plant and the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are going to the Fordow plant,” state TV quoted the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Behrouz Kamalvandi, as saying.

[AFP and Reuters]

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