EU pledges readiness to lift Iran sanctions swiftly

The EU said Monday it was ready to suspend some sanctions against Iran as soon as experts check that Tehran is implementing the terms of an historic deal on its nuclear programme.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said the 28-nation bloc backed the Joint Plan of Action reached on November 24 in Geneva as "a long-awaited signal of the commitment of all sides to build trust and reduce tensions" over Iran's nuclear activities.

The so-called P5+1 world powers that negotiated the accord with Iran -- the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany -- say it is a key first step that wards off the threat of military escalation in the volatile Middle East.

"A swift implementation of the voluntary measures by all sides is now key," the EU ministers' statement said.

"Iran has to implement its commitments in good faith. For its part, the (EU) Council is committed to take the necessary steps and to suspend those EU sanctions as set out in the Joint Plan of Action," it added.

Those sanctions would be suspended after inspectors from the international watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, had verified the implementation of nuclear-related measures by Iran, the statement said.

An EU official said the suspension would take place "as soon as possible" during a first six-month period which has not yet officially kicked in and which is to pave the way to a more long-lasting solution still to be negotiated.

Under the Geneva deal, Tehran will limit uranium enrichment to low levels used only for civilian energy purposes. It will also neutralise its existing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, which is close to weapons-grade and therefore an area of top concern.

Talks in Vienna last week on implementing the deal have however been interrupted for further consultations.

Iranian state media reported that Tehran's negotiators had returned home after Washington blacklisted a dozen companies and individuals for evading US sanctions.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi will be in Brussels on Tuesday to meet EU officials involved in the nuclear talks as well as the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Senior US administration officials have said Washington's sanctions last week were part of the existing sanctions regime.

In return for the freeze, the Islamic state will get some $7 billion (five billion euros) in sanctions relief in access to frozen funds and in its petrochemical, gold and precious metals and auto sectors. But the raft of international sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy remain untouched.