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New Iran sanctions appear as old sanctions lift for nuclear deal compliance

January 18, 2016 at 6:50 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Washington and Tehran faced each other in a new light today, but it was clear that decades of division will not disappear overnight.

The latest point of dispute: new sanctions that appeared, even as old ones melted away.

Hari Sreenivasan begins our coverage.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The new sanctions aimed at Iran’s ballistic missile program sparked fresh criticism from Tehran, after a weekend of milder words.

HOSSEIN JABERI ANSARI, Spokesman, Iranian Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): The Islamic republic of Iran, as it has made clear in the past, will respond to such acts of propaganda and harassment by following its legitimate missile program more seriously and boosting its defensive and national security capabilities.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The limited sanctions announced Sunday followed a missile test in October that violated a United Nations ban. Far more sweeping sanctions are ending, after Saturday’s announcement that Iran’s nuclear program has complied with a landmark agreement.

President Obama hailed the accord’s formal implementation in a Sunday appearance at the White House.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Under the nuclear deal that we, our allies and partners reached with Iran last year, Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Under the agreement, Iranian technicians removed the reactor core at the Arak nuclear site, effectively ending its production of plutonium for a possible weapon. The regime also cut the number of centrifuges at its Fordow and Natanz sites for enriching uranium. And it shipped tons of low-enriched uranium materials to Russia.

As the nuclear deal came to full power, Iran released four imprisoned Iranian-Americans. They include Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, and Pastor Saeed Abedini. Rezaian, Hekmati and Abedini are now undergoing physical and psychological evaluations at the U.S. military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Family members gathered there today to be reunited.

Rezaian’s brother was among them.

ALI REZAIAN, Brother of Released Prisoner, Jason Rezaian: Jason is in good spirits. He obviously is concerned to make sure that he works hard to get better. But he is also the same guy. He is not too depressed. He really seems to be in a good state of mind.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Also released in the deal, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, who opted to remain in Iran, and, separately, a detained student, Matthew Trevithick, who returned home Sunday to Boston.

In exchange, the U.S. Justice Department is releasing seven Iranians being held in the U.S. and dismissing charges against 14 fugitives. The swap went through despite last week’s seizure of 10 American sailors by Iran in the Persian Gulf.

Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged today he’d been angry and frustrated by Iran’s action. But both he and President Obama say the new improved relations with Iran helped resolve it quickly.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Some folks here in Washington rushed to declare that it was the start of another hostage crisis. Instead, we worked directly with the Iranian government and secured the release of our sailors in less than 24 hours.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now the focus turns back to the nuclear deal and inspections to ensure Iran’s compliance. The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog met today with President Hassan Rouhani to discuss a way forward.

Meanwhile, as sanctions end, it’s been widely reported the Islamic republic will see a windfall of up to $150 billion. Secretary Kerry said today it’s actually closer to half or a third of that amount. The end of sanctions also means Iran will pump more oil. The government announced today it’s ramping up production by 500,000 barrels a day.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will have a full analysis of all of this after the news summary.

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