On US Secretary of State John Kerry`s Swiss bike rides last week to unwind from intense Iran nuclear talks, one emerging tricky issue may well have been going round his head: UN sanctions.
According to negotiators involved and experts, this has become a major snag as Iran and six major powers push for the outlines of a landmark deal by March 31 in marathon talks resuming in a few days.
And it is not just the powers and Iran not seeing eye to eye, there also appear to be divisions on the issue between the United States and France, which has long been wary of too soft a deal with Iran.
According to a European negotiator, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is putting “a lot of pressure” on his team to get “insulting” UN sanctions lifted “on day one” of any deal.
“They (the Iranians) say it is a deal breaker,” the negotiator said in Lausanne during five days of talks which broke up on Friday.
After the Islamic Revolution, the US began in the 1980s imposing sanctions on Iran over human rights abuses and alleged support for “terrorism”.
The United Nations became involved after concerns emerged in 2002-3 that Iran might be seeking nuclear weapons — something it denies — and began imposing sanctions on 2006.
These are focused primarily on preventing Iran getting hold of materials and technologies that might be used in its nuclear and missile programmes.
From 2010 unilateral sanctions from the US, European Union and others began strangling its oil exports and cutting its banks off from the global financial system.Western officials say that they are only prepared to suspend — but not terminate — some of these EU and US measures if Iran agrees to shrink its nuclear programme, and in a phased manner.