After receiving confirmation from the IAEA that Iran has completed the required steps in a deal to restrict its nuclear program, President Obama signed an executive order Saturday striking down 20-years of sanctions against Iran for pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The United States agreed to lift the sanctions as part of an international agreement requiring Iran to mothball its nuclear capabilities for a decade or more.
The most significant effect of the executive order is to free up Iranian assets held in the international financial system, estimated to be worth between $50 billion and $150 billion. Obama administration officials have said they believe the value is on the lower end of that spectrum, because of Iran’s international debts and the amount of currency it needs to keep in foreign reserves.
Most of the sanctions relief applies to what are known as secondary sanctions — those against non-U.S. citizens doing business with Iran. Primary sanctions — those against U.S. citizens — remain in place. But there are narrow exceptions. The Treasury Department grant waivers for Americans to import food, carpets and other floor coverings from Iran. And on Friday, Obama signed a presidential memorandum allowing the export of commercial passenger aircraft to Iran on a case by case basis. Treasury Secretary stressed that other American sanctions against Iran will remain in place.
We will continue to target sanctionable activities … including those related to Iran’s support for terrorism, regional destabilization, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile development.”
The president had the authority to revoke the sanctions by executive order because they were imposed by executive order in the first place. Kerry called the world a safer place because of the developments.
Today marks the moment that the Iran nuclear agreement transitions from an ambitious set of promises on paper to measurable action in progress. Today, as a result of the actions taken since last July, the United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East, and the entire world are safer because the threat of the nuclear weapon has been reduced.”
In a possible sign of the thaw in relations, it was announced that Iran had freed four American prisoners, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, as part of a prisoner swap deal, according to Iran’s semi-official FARS news agency, which quoted the Tehran prosecutor. Beginning in 1995,
Congress passed a series of laws authorizing sanctions but giving the president wide discretion in how to put them into place. Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama all signed executive orders ramping up those sanctions, which Obama aides credit with bringing Iran to the table for negotiations. Obama’s highly technical, eight-page executive order revokes four previous executive orders and amended a fifth. But eight other executive orders imposing other Iran sanctions remain in effect.