US waives sanctions on Iran broadcaster for 180 days in the run-up to nuclear talks

Obama official says sanctions levied last year against Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting would be suspended as a confidence-building measure ahead of international talks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 1:04pm

The Obama administration is temporarily waiving sanctions on Iran’s state broadcaster, a senior US official said late on Thursday. The move could be seen as a confidence-building measure as the US, Iran and five other world powers prepare to open talks this month on a final agreement on Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.

The official said the move comes after the US determined that “harmful satellite interference” was not currently emanating from Iran. The US levied sanctions on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) last year, charging that the state-run broadcaster was blocking foreign channels that the government found objectionable and citing human rights groups who say it distorted and falsified reports.

The official confirmed the waiver the same day the Treasury Department announced it was penalising dozens of foreign companies and individuals for evading Iran sanctions. The targets of the sanctions are located in Turkey, Spain, Germany, Georgia, Afghanistan, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Liechtenstein. The Treasury accused the entities and individuals of evading US sanctions against Iran, aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and supporting terrorism.

The 180-day broadcasting waiver will allow non-US companies to provide the Iranian broadcaster with satellite services without being exposed to American penalties, according to the official, who was not authorised to discuss the move publicly by name and thus spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said the actions were reversible if satellite interference from Iran begins again. The US will re-evaluate the situation in two months.

The waiver is separate from the US$7 billion in international sanctions relief Iran secured as part of the six-month nuclear agreement it signed last year with the US, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia. The parties are due to begin a new round of talks later this month, aimed at working out a final agreement to ease international concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme.

It was unclear what the economic impact of the IRIB sanctions waiver would be.

The move could rankle sanctions supporters in Congress, where momentum for new penalties has appeared to stall. The pro-Israel group AIPAC said on Thursday that it agreed with lawmakers who said there should not be a vote on a tougher sanctions bill while diplomatic negotiations are underway.

US officials insist the sanctions relief the international community has provided so far to Iran does not mean the Islamic republic is open for business. However, European investors are eagerly eyeing opportunities in Tehran. More than 100 potential investors from France arrived in Iran on Monday, following visits by officials from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, South Korea and other countries ready to explore new trade opportunities. Automobile makers also are assessing Iran’s workforce with a view to establishing manufacturing.

Under the terms of the six-month nuclear deal, Iran agreed to slow its uranium enrichment programme to a level that is far below what would be necessary to make a nuclear bomb. It also agreed to giving international inspectors more access to its facilities as a way to give world leaders confidence that it is not trying to build weapons in secret.