New sticking point in nuclear talks: Iran wants arms embargo lifted

Iran’s desire for a quick lifting of United Nations restrictions on its trade in missiles and other conventional arms has emerged as another potential sticking point in its nuclear negotiations with the United States and five other world powers.

As negotiators raced to complete a sweeping nuclear deal by midnight Tuesday, Iranian officials said Monday that they would like to see a quick lifting of the missile and arms embargoes, which Tehran contends should never have been a part of penalties imposed because of Iran’s disputed nuclear activities.

A senior Iranian official told a group of reporters that the embargoes were part of the security council’s unfair treatment of Iran, which would have to end for a nuclear deal to be reached.

“The treatment of Iran by the [United Nations] Security Council has been terrible, to put it mildly,” said the official, who declined to be identified because he was speaking about sensitive diplomacy. If Iran’s long dispute with world powers is to be resolved, he said, “there should be a shift.”

Iran, the United States and the five other powers –- France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China -- are close to completing a deal that would lift sanctions on Iran if it agrees to restrictions intended to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear bomb. All of the countries, except Germany, are permanent members of the Security Council.

Under a preliminary agreement reached April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, U.N. nuclear sanctions on Iran would be lifted as part of a deal after it takes specified steps to curtail sensitive aspects of its nuclear program.

But the so-called framework agreement says that restrictions on missiles and conventional arms would remain in place under a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would establish the nuclear deal.

Iran has won support from Russia and China for its proposal to have the arms embargo lifted when the nuclear-related sanctions are removed, according to people familiar with the talks. But U.S. and European officials want it to remain in place longer, perhaps for many years, along with restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program.

A 2007 Security Council resolution banned member states from buying or receiving arms from Iran and urges them to “use vigilance” in selling it arms. A 2010 resolution further tightens the ban, prohibiting member countries from selling conventional arms to Iran, including heavy weapons such as tanks, combat aircraft and missile launchers.

The missile embargo was imposed in a 2006 resolution aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring technologies it could use to deliver nuclear weapons.

The Iranian official said the negotiators are still weighing the key issue of how they will set up a procedure providing for a “snapback” of sanctions on Iran if it is found to be breaking rules of the agreement. The official said Iran wants to find a way to restore its leverage over the world powers if they are found to be violating the deal.

Negotiators from the seven countries say they are closer to concluding a landmark deal than they have ever been. But issues remain, including how sanctions will be lifted, how closely U.N. inspectors will be able to monitor Iran’s nuclear program, and what restrictions will remain on Iran’s nuclear research and development after the deal’s first 10 years. Also to be resolved is the U.N.’s incomplete investigation into Iran’s suspected past research into nuclear weapons.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry have both warned in public comments since last weekend that the other side’s intransigence was threatening completion of the deal.

Foreign ministers of all six countries were convening in Vienna on Monday and Tuesday in hopes of making tough policy decisions that their subordinates passed along to them. But some officials are saying that the deal making may not be completed by the latest deadline of midnight Tuesday and could spill over into Wednesday or Thursday.

The Obama administration is trying to complete the deal so that it can send its text, along with supporting documents, to lawmakers by Thursday to meet a congressional deadline. If that deadline isn’t met, Congress will extend the period it is taking to review the deal from 30 to 60 days, possibly opening the agreement to new risks.

A former Obama administration official, Ilan Goldenberg, said missing the Thursday congressional deadline “might complicate things somewhat, but won’t threaten the underlying agreement.”

The conservative Fars news agency in Iran quoted Iranian officials saying that the bargaining could continue into Thursday.

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