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What's The Interim Iran Nuclear Deal Really Worth?


As we just heard in Michele's story, the Obama administrative says Iran will get about $7 billion in sanctions relief from the interim nuclear agreement, though just for the next six months, while a more wide-reaching deal is negotiated.

Most of that money comes from unfreezing of assets related to oil and gas. But other parts of the economy will benefit, including Iran's second-largest sector, the automobile industry.

For more, we reached David Cohen. He is undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence. He's helped devise and now oversees the sanctions aimed at crippling Iran's economy. He says the relief offered in this new temporary deal is miniscule compared to the loss Iran has and will continue to suffer.

UNDERSECRETARY DAVID COHEN: Our oil sanctions alone over the last several years have deprived the Iranians of about $80 billion in sales that they have not been able to make. And our financial sanctions have essentially locked up overseas close to $100 billion in Iran's foreign reserves that they have limited or no access to. So this relief really is dwarfed by the economic pain that has been inflicted on Iran over the last several years.

MONTAGNE: You know, those who are concerned or even opposed to this interim deal and any sort of relief at all argue that there's a psychological factor here, that investors are shifting from a mindset of fear to enthusiasm for trading again, once again, with Iran. Some investors, oil companies may even be tempted to move back into Iran, worrying less about being caught by sanctions. I mean, how does that figure into this deal?

COHEN: Well, the important point to bear in mind is that the vast bulk of our sanctions - and really, the entire international sanctions framework - remains in place. So, any oil company that thinks now is the time to get back into Iran will find out that they are on the wrong side of the sanctions. So, I think there's been, you know, some talk about a hoped-for easing of the commercial relationship with Iran. That is well off in the distance, after a comprehensive, long-term agreement is entered into, if we're able to achieve that.

MONTAGNE: There is also some concern that once you turn the spigot - even in a small way - back on, that it would be hard to turn off. Give us an example of how this is, in fact, reversible, which is what the White House calls it.

COHEN: Well, it's reversible in that the sanctions that we have suspended on the petrochemical imports, for instance, can be reinstated with the stroke of a pen.

MONTAGNE: Is it really, though, the case that it's as simple as a stroke of a pen in terms of re-imposing sanctions? Because to put them in place in the first instance took a lot of persuasion. Can sanctions that have been lifted really go back that fast?

COHEN: Well, they can. I think, one, these are our sanctions, and when we choose to re-impose them, others, you know, would be at legal risk if they don't abide by them. But I think even more importantly, if we need to re-impose these sanctions during this six-month period, it's going to be because Iran has failed to fulfill its commitments under this agreement. And in that instance, the international collaboration that has led to the sanctions being as effective as they have been will be with us in the re-imposition and the respect of the sanctions.

MONTAGNE: One thing that's interesting about this temporary deal is that even though the White House objects to this, the Senate is moving ahead with new tough sanctions. There are those who say that if Congress does indeed impose more sanctions or pass more sanctions during this six-month period, that it would be a sign to Iran that the West is not interested in this deal.

COHEN: Well, I think that's also something to be concerned about. I think the judgments of those who have been sitting across the table from the Iranians is that new sanctions adopted at this point - even with a delayed trigger - could well be viewed as the United States not acting in good faith. And I think we also need to consider the reaction of the other countries who are negotiating with us against the Iranians. And I think they also could well regard new sanctions being adopted at this point as counterproductive.

MONTAGNE: David Cohen is the undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence. Thanks very much for joining us.

COHEN: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.