The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on 16 January confirming that Iran had honoured commitments to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed last July following extensive negotiations between Iran and the E3+3 group (UK, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China). The JCPOA set limits on Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for the removal of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions.
The IAEA had to verify that Iran had taken the following steps to ensure its atomic work remains peaceful, at least for 15 years:
- Reducing its low-enriched uranium stockpile by 98%, leaving only about 300kg. The reduction was completed on 28 December, with most of the uranium being exported to Russia.
- Dismantling 12,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium. The work was completed in November.
- Answering questions from international investigators about Iran's past nuclear work with "possible military dimensions". The IAEA said on 15 December that Iran had done so. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said there was "no credible indications" of such work after 2009.
- Removing and disabling the core of the heavy water research reactor in Arak to prevent the production of plutonium. Iran completed this step in the past week.
Amano said the IAEA report was issued after inspectors on the ground verified that Iran had carried out all measures required under the JCPOA and marked 'Implementation Day'. "This paves the way for the IAEA to begin verifying and monitoring Iran's nuclear-related commitments under the agreement, as requested by the UN Security Council and authorised by the IAEA Board," he noted.
"Relations between Iran and the IAEA now enter a new phase. It is an important day for the international community. I congratulate all those who helped make it a reality, especially the group of countries known as the E3/EU+3, Iran and the IAEA Board."
He added: "We have come a long way since the IAEA first started considering the Iran nuclear issue in 2003. A lot of work has gone into getting us here, and implementation of this agreement will require a similar effort. For our part, we are ready to get on with the job."
Within hours on the same day, the European Union (EU) and the US took steps to lift nuclear-related sanctions, including the oil embargo and financial restrictions, and US President Barack Obama signed an executive order to that effect. The IAEA announcement coincided with the release of five Americans from Iranian jails while US prosecutors simultaneously granted clemency to seven Iranians detained for allegedly breaking sanctions. Federica Mogherini, the EU's High Representative for foreign policy, said: "As Iran has fulfilled its commitments, today multilateral and national economic and financial sanctions related to Iran's nuclear programme are lifted."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, addressing parliament and presenting the draft budget for the next Iranian fiscal year, said the deal was a "turning point" for Iran's economy. International trade will resume and Iran will also receive at least $55bn (some estimates say $100bn) of previously frozen assets deposited in bank accounts across the world, representing almost 14% of Iran's entire gross national product. Iran could produce an extra 700,000 barrels of oil a day (b/d), on top of its current output of 2.9m b/d, according to the International Energy Agency. Iran is targeting an immediate increase in shipments of 500,000 b/d, Amir Hossein Zamaninia, deputy oil minister for commerce and international affairs, said on 17 January. It plans to add another half million barrels within months.
At a press conference in Tehran on 17 January, Rouhani said, in a reference to Russia and China: "We will not forget friends [who stood by Iran] during hard times and during the time of sanctions; those countries that made efforts to maintain expansive economic relations with our country, despite difficulties."
The Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behruz Kamalvandi, has said that China and some European countries will soon start cooperating with Iran in reconstruction of the Arak heavy-water reactor, just a few days after Iran removed the reactor calandria (core). Kamalvandi said China will help Iran in the redesigning and reconstruction of the reactor, adding that the relevant documents will be signed during an imminent visit by China's President Xi to Tehran.
He confirmed that sanctions on Iran's oil, shipping and insurance industries had been terminated, together with restrictions on purchase of commercial planes and international banking transactions. He pointed to measures taken to attract foreign investment in the wake of sanctions' removal, adding that a 200-page document - including frequently asked questions - has been compiled as a guideline for foreign companies.
The Director of the Central Bank of Iran, Valiollah Seyf, said $32.6bn of Iranian assets would be released with sanctions removal, of which $28.1bn belong to the Central Bank and $4.5bn to the government. Swift would be conducted in Central Bank and all banks within 7-10 days after the easing of sanctions.
A few days before the cancellation of international sanctions, a number of the largest oil companies including the Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell company and France's Total Corporation sent representatives to Iran to negotiation with Iranian oil authorities including the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) as well as National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).
EU company executives are beating a path to Iran's door to broker new deals in energy, finance and transportation. The EU's trade with Iran fell to about $9bn a year from $32bn a decade ago, while China's increased to $54bn. Paolo Scaroni, deputy chairman of investment bank Rothschild and a former CEO of Eni Spa, Italy's largest energy company, told Bloomberg: "Everyone is expecting the new contracts will be the real start of the race."