October 18, 2013 | Quote

White House Weighs Easing Iran Sanctions’ Bite With Slow Release of Assets

The Obama administration, in the wake of a promising first round of nuclear diplomacy with Iran, is weighing a proposal to ease the pain of sanctions on Tehran by offering it access to billions of dollars in frozen funds if the Iranian government takes specific steps to curb its nuclear program, a senior administration official said Thursday.

Such a plan, under which the United States could free up Iran’s frozen overseas assets in installments, would avoid the political and diplomatic risks of repealing the sanctions, which had been agreed to by a diverse coalition of countries, the official said. It would also give President Obama the flexibility to respond to Iranian offers that emerge from the negotiations without unraveling the global sanctions regime the administration has spent years cobbling together.

The official likened the plan, which is still being debated inside the White House and the State Department, to opening and closing a financial spigot.

The proposal on freeing up funds has been championed by Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a public policy institute known for its hawkish views on Iran. “My biggest concern is that if the administration takes out a brick from the sanctions regime, you won’t be able to put it back together,” Mr. Dubowitz said. He called the plan “a way to provide nonsanctions financial relief to give the administration flexibility during the negotiations.”

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