U.N. says Iran has kept nuclear promises

As the end of Western sanctions against Iran loomed, the Islamic Republic released five prisoners including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian

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The U.N. nuclear watchdog on Saturday said Iran had put in place all nuclear measures required under a deal reached with six world powers in July, paving the way for crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic to be lifted within hours or days.

“Iran has carried out all measures required under the (July deal) to enable Implementation Day (of the deal) to occur,” the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement.

The announcement came just a short time after it was revealed that Iran had released five prisoners including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

The end of Western sanctions against Iran had been looming on Saturday as Iran’s foreign minister suggested the U.N. atomic agency was close to certifying that his country had met all commitments under its landmark nuclear deal with six world powers.

Iranian Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held a series of meetings with his European Union and U.S. counterparts - including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry - on implementing the accord.

“All oppressive sanctions imposed against Iran will be annulled today,” Zarif had said earlier on Iranian state TV - a reference to the process that would end financial and other penalties imposed on his country.

But even as diplomatic maneuvering on the nuclear issue dragged on into the evening, progress came on another area of Iran-U.S. tensions: U.S. and Iranian officials initially announced that Iran was releasing four detained Iranian-Americans in exchange for seven Iranians held or charged in the United States.

Later the same evening it was revealed that Iran had released a fifth American, student Matthew Trevithick, a U.S. official said. The release was separate from the four other Americans.

It was unclear when Trevithick, a student, was released.

Journalist freed

U.S. officials said the four Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati and pastor Saeed Abidini, were to be flown from Iran to Switzerland on a Swiss plane and then brought to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for medical treatment. There were conflicting reports about the name of the fourth American freed.

The Washington Post welcomed Iran’s release of its journalist Jason Rezaian on Saturday, in a message from its publisher Frederick Ryan.

“We couldn’t be happier to hear the news that Jason Rezaian has been released from Evin Prison. Once we receive more details and can confirm Jason has safely left Iran, we will have more to share,” he said.

Responding to the news, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan on Saturday expressed relief over the release of four American prisoners from Iranian jails, but is awaiting details on the terms of that release, according to spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

“We’re glad that Iran has reportedly finally released four American citizens who were unjustly detained,” Strong told Reuters, adding, “They should never have been held in the first place. We’re awaiting details from the administration on the ransom paid for their freedom.”

In return, the U.S. will either pardon or drop charges against seven Iranians - six of whom are dual citizens - accused or convicted of violating U.S. sanctions. The U.S. will also drop Interpol “red notices” - essentially arrest warrants - on a handful of Iranian fugitives it has sought.

Rezaian is a dual Iran-U.S. citizen convicted of espionage by Iran in a closed-door trial in 2015. The Post and the U.S. government have denied the accusations, as has Rezaian.

Talks continued well into the evening in Vienna. At one point a senior diplomat familiar with the nuclear deal said last-minute discussions between French and U.S. officials on what Iran needed to do to restrict its nuclear research under the deal appeared to be responsible for the delay Saturday in lifting sanctions. He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the diplomacy.

A State Department official said “some technical clarifications” were taking place but added: “There is no major issue being fought over.” The official demanded anonymity in line with State Department practice.

Responding to the delay, Zarif, in a tweet, said: “Diplomacy requires patience.”

Certification by the International Atomic Energy Agency allows Iran to immediately recoup some $100 billion in assets frozen overseas. The benefits of new oil, trade and financial opportunities from suspended sanctions could prove far more valuable for Tehran in the long run.

Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini were in Vienna, headquarters to the IAEA, for separate meetings with Zarif.

In his earlier comments to Iranian television, Zarif said the deal between his country and the six world powers would hold, telling Iranian media that all parties would “not allow the outcome of these talks to be wasted.”

The agreement, struck after decades of hostility, defused the likelihood of U.S. or Israeli military action against Iran, something Zarif alluded to.

“Our region has been freed from shadow of an unnecessary conflict that could have caused concerns for the region,” he said. “Today is also a good day for the world. Today will prove that we can solve important problems through diplomacy.”

Iran insists all of its nuclear activities are peaceful. But under the July 14 deal, Iran agreed to crimp programs which could be used to make nuclear weapons in return for an end to sanctions. The agreement puts Iran’s various nuclear activities under IAEA watch for up to 15 years, with an option to re-impose sanctions should Tehran break its commitments.

(With AFP, AP and Reuters)