U.S. Finds Peeling Back the Iran Sanctions Onion No Easy Task

WASHINGTON (AP) -

The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement, officials and others involved in the process tell The Associated Press.

The problem derives from what was once a strong point of the broad U.S. sanctions effort that many credit with bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.

Under the sanctions developed over decades, hundreds of companies and individuals have been penalized not only for their role in the country’s nuclear program but also for ballistic missile research, terrorism, human rights violations and money laundering.

Now the administration is wending its way through that briar patch of interwoven economic sanctions.

The penalties are significant. Sanctioned foreign governments, companies or individuals are generally barred from doing business with U.S. citizens and businesses, or with foreign entities operating in the American financial system. The restrictions are usually accompanied by asset and property freezes as well as visa bans.

Negotiators hope to conclude a final nuclear deal by June 30. According to a framework reached in April, the U.S. will be required to lift sanctions that are related to Iran’s nuclear program but could leave others in place. President Barack Obama can suspend almost all U.S. measures against Iran, though only Congress can revoke them permanently.

“Iran knows that our array of sanctions focused on its efforts to support terrorism and destabilize the region will continue after any nuclear agreement,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told a gathering of American Jews in a weekend speech. U.S. officials will “aggressively target the finances of Iranian-backed terrorist groups and the Iranian entities that support them,” he said, including the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbullah and Iran’s Quds Force.

But that’s easier said than done.

The Treasury Department’s sanctions point man, Adam Szubin, has been tasked with sorting out the mess, according to U.S. officials, though no clear plan has yet been finalized.

After years of negotiations, U.S. officials believe a deal is within reach that for a decade would keep Iran at least a year from being able to build a nuclear weapon.

In return, the U.S. would grant billions of dollars in relief from sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. But the whole package risks unraveling if the U.S. cannot provide the relief without scrapping sanctions unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program.

Administration officials say they’re examining a range of options that include suspending both nuclear and some non-nuclear sanctions, a step that would face substantial opposition in Congress and elsewhere.