The US is not looking to ease sanctions on Iran “at the front end” of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, a senior White House official said on Thursday.
The Islamic republic would have to take “concrete steps” to address its program before Washington could provide sanctions relief, Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to US President Barack Obama, said at the Reuters Washington Summit.
The US suspects Iran may be using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons. Iran denies that, saying its program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Last week, major powers held their first formal negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program since the election in June of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, opened the door to a possible diplomatic resolution.
Obama has said he will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and that all options are on the table for dealing with Iran, code for the possible use of military force.
However, he has made clear his preference is a negotiated solution — one that is widely expected to gradually remove economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy if Tehran demonstrates the peaceful intent of its program.
Sanctions imposed in 2011 by Washington and the EU have slashed Iran’s oil exports by more than 1 million barrels a day, depriving Tehran of billions of dollars of sales a month and driving up inflation and unemployment.
In an hour-long interview, Rhodes said one way to offer Iran sanctions relief would be to give it access to frozen funds. He said that was one possibility among many and that he did not wish to imply that a preferred course had been identified.
On Oct. 17, the New York Times first reported the access to funds as a way to ease Iran’s economic pain without dismantling sanctions.
Iran’s oil exports have been cut in half over the past year as the US has imposed increasingly tough sanctions because of concern about its nuclear program, which Washington sees as a direct threat to Israel and to its Persian Gulf allies.
“We are not contemplating anything that removes those sanctions at the front end of any negotiation or agreement, because it’s going to be important to test Iranian intentions,” Rhodes said.