x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Juan Zarate was a former senior staffer of the former United States president George W Bush.

A worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr. Iran has been a frequent target of various international sanctions since 1979. AP Photo/Mehr News Agency/Majid Asgaripour
A worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr. Iran has been a frequent target of various international sanctions since 1979. AP Photo/Mehr News Agency/Majid Asgaripour

Unwinding sanctions against Iran will be an onerous and complex process, says a former senior staffer of the former United States president George W Bush.

Under an interim deal between world powers and Iran last month, the Islamic republic agreed to freeze part of its nuclear programme in return for modest relief from sanctions.

“The unwinding of sanctions in the Iranian context, even in the best-case scenario, will prove quite challenging and difficult,” said Juan Zarate, who served as deputy assistant to Mr Bush and as deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009.

“That is in part because as the sanctions have grown over time, they’ve been layered with elements of sanctions building on themselves and the issue of sanctions with Iran have not just been about nuclear issues. They’ve been about human rights, support to president [Bashar] Al Assad in Syria, support to Hizbollah, support to Iraqi militias.”

Mr Zarate spearheaded the Bush administration’s counterterrorism efforts at home and in countries including Iraq and Afghanistan. He was speaking in Dubai on Sunday evening in his capacity as a senior adviser at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington.

Iran has been a frequent target of various international sanctions since 1979, with the most recent action aimed at preventing it from building a nuclear bomb. Iran insists its nuclear plans are solely for peaceful purposes.

Under the interim sanctions deal, the Obama administration has estimated that the sanctions relief will be worth US$6 billion to $7bn. Banking and oil sanctions will remain in place while negotiators attempt to reach a permanent deal over the next six months.

“The reason Bank Saderat, Bank Melli and Bank Mellat have been unplugged from the banking world largely has been about suspicion of their activities, the financial integrity of these institutions, and so the lifting of these sanctions, so to speak, is a more complicated endeavour,” said Mr Zarate.

In a reminder the US government intends to comprehensively enforce existing legislation against Iran, last week it targeted more than a dozen companies and individuals for violating sanctions.

“It was intended to be a clear signal to the private sector not to get over-anxious or eager about anticipating a final resolution of what the lifting of sanctions will look like,” said Mr Zarate.

According to the US treasury department, among the newly penalised companies is Singapore-based Mid Oil Asia, which is alleged to have supported the National Iranian Tanker Company in making payments for services through money transfers.

The Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi told the semi-official Fars news agency last Friday that the action was “against the spirit of the Geneva deal”.

But officials later confirmed nuclear talks would continue as planned.

At the same time as policing the enforcement of existing sanctions, US officials have been keen to guard against Congress from rolling out further legislation that could risk derailing the preliminary deal.

tarnold@thenational.ae