As resumption of nuclear talks nears, U.N. powers discuss how to end sanctions on Iran
UNITED NATIONS — Major world powers have begun talks about a United Nations Security Council resolution to lift U.N. sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is struck with Tehran, a step that could make it harder for Congress to undo a deal, Western officials said.
The talks among Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — the five permanent members of the Security Council — plus Germany and Iran, are taking place in anticipation of difficult negotiations that resume next week over constricting Iran's nuclear ability.
Eight U.N. resolutions — four of them imposing sanctions — ban Iran from uranium enrichment and other sensitive atomic work and bar it from buying and selling atomic technology and anything linked to ballistic missiles. There is a U.N. arms embargo as well.
Iran considers their removal crucial, as U.N. measures are a legal basis for more stringent American and European Union measures to be enforced. The United States and EU often cite violations of the U.N. ban on enrichment and other sensitive nuclear work as justification for imposing additional penalties on Iran.
Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress on Wednesday that an Iran nuclear deal would not be legally binding, meaning future presidents could decide not to implement it. That point was emphasized in an open letter by 47 Republican senators sent Monday to Iran's leaders asserting any deal could be discarded once President Obama leaves office in January 2017.
But a Security Council resolution on a nuclear deal with Iran could be legally binding, Western diplomatic officials say. That could complicate and possibly undercut future attempts by Republicans in Washington to unravel an agreement.
Iran and the six powers are aiming to complete the framework of a nuclear deal by the end of March and achieve a full agreement by June 30 to curb Iran's most sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years in exchange for a gradual end to all sanctions on the Islamic Republic. So far, those talks have focused on separate American and European Union sanctions on Iran's energy and financial sectors, which Tehran desperately wants removed. The sanctions question is a sticking point in the talks that resume next week in Lausanne, Switzerland.
But Western officials involved in the negotiations said they are discussing elements to include in a draft resolution for the 15-nation Security Council to begin easing U.N. nuclear-related sanctions that have been in place since December 2006.
“If there's a nuclear deal, and that's still a big ‘if,' we'll want to move quickly on the U.N. sanctions issue,” an official said, requesting anonymity.
A senior U.S. administration official said the Security Council had mandated the negotiations over the U.N. sanctions and therefore has to be involved. The core role in negotiations with Iran that was being played by the five permanent members meant that any understanding over U.N. sanctions would likely get endorsed by the full council, the official added.
Officials said a U.N. resolution could help protect any nuclear deal against attempts by Republicans in Congress to sabotage it. Because violation of U.N. demands that Iran halt enrichment provide a legal basis for sanctioning Tehran, a new resolution could make new sanction moves difficult.
“There is an interesting question about whether, if the Security Council endorses the deal, that stops Congress undermining the deal,” a Western diplomat said.
Other Western officials said Republicans might be deterred from undermining any deal if the Security Council unanimously endorses it and demonstrates that the world is united in favor of a diplomatic solution to the 12-year nuclear standoff.