President Barack Obama appeared to yield Friday to Iran’s insistence that sanctions be removed immediately when a nuclear deal goes into effect, rather than over time. Rather than lifting sanctions only when Iran is shown to be complying with the agreement, Obama now wants sanctions to be able to “snap back” when Iran is found to be in violation of the deal.
Speaking at a joint news conference with the Italian prime minister, Obama was asked by a journalist to “be definitive” as to whether sanctions would be phased out, as the U.S. had wanted, or lifted immediately, as Iran insisted. His reply:
With respect to the issue of sanctions coming down, I don’t want to get out ahead of John Kerry and my negotiators in terms of how to craft this. I would just make a general observation, and that is that how sanctions are lessened, how we snap back sanctions if there’s a violation, there are a lot of different mechanisms and ways to do that. Part of John’s job and part of the Iranian negotiators’ job, and part of the P5+1’s job is to sometimes find formulas that get to our main concerns while allowing the other side to make a presentation to their body politic that is more acceptable
Our main concern here is making sure that if Iran doesn’t abide by its agreement that we don’t have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops in order to reinstate sanctions. That’s our main concern. And I think that goal of having in reserve the possibility of putting back and applying forceful sanctions in the event of a violation, that goal can be met. And it will require some creative negotiations by John Kerry and others, and I’m confident it will be successful. And I very much appreciate, by the way, the support that has been provided by Prime Minister Renzi as well as his former foreign minister, who now is the EU representative in many of these discussions.
In other words: Obama is willing to let sanctions drop immediately in return for some mechanism by which they could be easily restored. He justified that concession by the supposed need to allow Iran to save face, but the Iranian regime is not accountable to a “body politic.”
In fact, it is the White House that needs a face-saving gesture, hence the “snap back” provision.
Russia’s recent announcement that it intends to deliver S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, given the pending Iran deal, shows just how difficult it would be to restore sanctions, and how hard a “snap back” mechanism would be to create. Obama attempted to assuage concerns about the missile transfer, saying he was surprised it had not happened already.