President Obama on Friday directed his diplomats to use “creative negotiations” to bridge a sharp divide with Iran over the fate of sanctions if it agrees to curb its nuclear program, signaling flexibility in hopes of keeping a tentative agreement from unraveling.
Iranian leaders have insisted in recent days that the punishing sanctions be lifted as soon as a written accord is signed, a position that the country’s foreign minister reinforced on Friday. Mr. Obama did not repeat past American assertions that sanctions would be removed only in phases as Tehran follows through on obligations to scale back its nuclear facilities.
Instead, Mr. Obama suggested that negotiators seek a solution that would seem “more acceptable” to Iran’s political constituencies, while preserving leverage to force the government to abide by the deal. Rather than the timing and structure of sanctions relief, he said his priority was creating a system for reimposing the punitive measures if Iran is caught cheating.
“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,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference alongside the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi. The negotiators, Mr. Obama said, need to “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,” Mr. Obama continued. “That’s our main concern.”
With Secretary of State John Kerry seated in front of him in the East Room, the president said: “And it will require some creative negotiations by John Kerry and others. And I’m confident we will be successful.”
The dispute over sanctions has proved to be one of the biggest flash points as each side characterizes a framework agreement that has yet to be committed to writing. American officials long anticipated that Iran would portray the agreement in more favorable terms to its domestic audience, but the insistence on immediate sanctions relief underscored the challenges in translating the current understanding into a final accord by a June 30 deadline.
SOURCE: PETER BAKER and RICK GLADSTONE
The New York Times