The United States and the European Union on Sunday lifted biting oil and financial sanctions on Iran and released about $100 billion of its assets after United Nations inspectors concluded that Tehran has complied with a historic deal with world powers to curb its nuclear ambitions.
“Today marks the day of a safer world,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Vienna as International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran has fulfilled its promises.
“Iran has taken every step that it committed to take, dating back two full years,” Kerry said.
“Today marks the moment the Iran deal has transitioned from ambitious promises on paper to measurable actions in practice,” he said.
The US sanctions-related commitments are now in effect, Kerry said, announcing lifting of crippling sanctions against Iran.
His statement came just hours after Tehran and Washington swapped long-held prisoners.
Reacting to the developments, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “We Iranians have reached out to the world in a sign of friendliness, and leaving behind the enmities, suspicions and plots, have opened a new chapter in the relations of Iran with the world.”
“The implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is not a loss for any country,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Rouhani as saying.
“The friends of Iran are happy and its competitors need not worry, we are not a threat to any government or nation. We are a messenger of peace, stability and security in the region and the world,” he said.
The landmark deal between Iran and world powers -- the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany -- was agreed last July.
In a joint statement with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Vienna, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, representing the six world powers, said that as a result “multilateral and national economic and financial sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme are lifted”.
“This achievement clearly demonstrates that with political will, perseverance, and through multilateral diplomacy, we can solve the most difficult issues,” she said.
In its report, IAEA said Iran has shipped 98 per cent of its fuel to Russia and dismantled more than 12,000 centrifuges so that they could not enrich uranium any further.
Iran also poured cement into the core of a reactor designed to produce plutonium, it added.
Iran has various obligations under the nuclear agreement.
They include slashing by two-thirds its uranium centrifuges, reducing its stockpile of uranium and removing the core of the Arak reactor which could have given Iran weapons-grade plutonium.
Iran has always maintained its nuclear programme is peaceful, but opponents of the deal -- such as some US Republicans -- say it does not do enough to ensure the country cannot develop a nuclear bomb.
Lifting the sanctions will unfreeze nearly $100 billion of assets, allow Iran's oil to be sold internationally and reconnect Iranian banks to the global system.
In Washington, the US State Department announced lifting of sanctions on Iran and the White House said President Barack Obama signed an executive order lifting some of the US economic sanctions on Iran.
The announcement also followed news of a prisoner swap between Iran and the US. Iran released four American prisoners including a Washington Post correspondent.
In return, the US offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual US-Iranian citizens, who had been convicted or are pending trial in the United States. The US also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.
Under the deal, Iran will get billions in cash, at a time oil shipments have been cut by more than half because of the sanctions, and below $30-a-barrel prices mean huge cuts in national revenue.
A senior American official said that Iran will be able to access about $50 billion of a reported $100 billion in holdings abroad, though others have used higher estimates. The official said Iran will likely need to keep much of those assets abroad to facilitate international trade.
Under the new rules put in place, the US will no longer sanction foreign individuals or firms for buying oil and gas from Iran. The American trade embargo remains in place, but the government will permit certain limited business activities with Iran, such as selling or purchasing Iranian food and carpets and American commercial aircraft and parts.
US President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, with just over a year left in office, are hoping to foster new discussions that will bear fruit in other areas, including ending the war in Syria and moving, slowly, to the eventual restoration of diplomatic relations, The New York Times said.
Image: US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran has met all conditions under the nuclear deal, in Vienna. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters