BRUSSELS — European Union sanctions against Iran could be eased as soon as December, officials said Monday, after a potentially history-shaping deal that gives Tehran six months to increase access to its nuclear sites in exchange for keeping the core components of its uranium program.
The deal, announced Sunday, envisions lifting some of the sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
The sanctions were in response to fears Tehran is using its nuclear program to build atomic arms. Iran denies it wants such weapons.
“A Europe-wide decision is necessary” to ease EU sanctions, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio. “That’s expected in several weeks, for a partial lifting that is targeted, reversible.”
“It could be in December, it could be in January, it depends on how long the legislative process takes,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Michael Mann told reporters in Brussels.
The United States and the EU have separate sanctions on Iran. Easing European restrictions would affect numerous areas including trade in petrochemicals, gold and other precious metals, financial transfers to purchase food and medicine, and the ability of third countries to use EU-based firms to insure shipments of Iranian oil again.
Mann said work on amending the EU regulations was already beginning, but cautioned that changes depend on the Iranian government living up to its end of the deal.
“It’s important that both sides of the bargain are implementing this agreement, so we would coordinate timing-wise also with the Iranian side,” the EU spokesman said.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague put the total estimated value of sanctions relief at $7 billion over a six-month period, but stressed it would not all come at once.
“They do not receive $7 billion on the first day and then decide if they want to implement their side of the agreement,” Hague said, calling the amount of sanctions relief “a very small proportion” of the total frozen assets and value of sanctions applied to Iran.
“The way we’re doing sanctions relief leaves Iran with a huge incentive” to go for a comprehensive agreement since Tehran wants complete sanctions relief, Hague said.
The deal reached Sunday will allow Iran to keep the central elements of its uranium program, while stopping its enrichment at a level lower than what is needed for nuclear arms.
In addition to a six-month window for Iran to allow more U.N. access to nuclear sites, sanctions will be eased — notably in the oil, automotive and aviation industries — though not ended.
The agreement is a first step — one Israel condemned as a “historic mistake” that effectively accepts Iran as a threshold nuclear weapons state.
Israel found common cause with Saudi Arabia, which shares concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran and Tehran’s growing regional influence.
On his return to Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told state television the country was prepared for quick follow-up negotiations to keep the deal on track.
“We are ready to begin the final stage of nuclear agreement from tomorrow,” said Zarif, who was greeted by hundreds of cheering students.