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US envoy to Iran says more sanctions coming, urges Biden to maintain leverage

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WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The Trump administration plans to tighten sanctions on Teheran during its final months in power, the top US envoy on Iran said on Wednesday (Nov 25), as he urged President-elect Joe Biden to use the leverage to press for a deal that reduces the regional and nuclear threats posed by the Islamic republic.

US Special Envoy for Iran Elliott Abrams, praising Mr Biden’s national security adviser and nominee for secretary of state as “terrific people”, cautioned against repeating what he saw as former president Barack Obama’s mistakes in negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal. President Donald Trump left that deal unilaterally two years ago.

Mr Biden, set to take office on Jan 20, has said he will return the United States to the Obama-era deal if Iran resumes compliance.

Mr Abrams, at a virtual Beirut Institute event, said the Trump administration plans further pressure on Teheran, with sanctions related to arms, weapons of mass destruction and human rights.

“We will have next week, and the week after, and the week after – all through December and January, there will be sanctions that deal with arms, that deal with weapons of mass destruction, that deal with human rights… So this will continue on for another couple of months, right until the end,” Mr Abrams said.

US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea said the United States could impose further sanctions on Lebanese figures over corruption and aiding the Iran-backed Hizbollah group after Washington in recent months blacklisted three former Lebanese government ministers, including the president’s son-in-law.

“There are files that are in preparation under the authorities that have to do with counter-terrorism and… against corruption,” Ms Shea told the event.

Mr Abrams said he expects a negotiation to take place with Iran next year and that he believes a deal will be struck under the Biden administration.

“We think the Biden administration has a great opportunity because there is so much leverage on Iran through the sanctions,” Mr Abrams said, adding he sees an opportunity to work with France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as allies in the region, to strike a deal that addresses both missile and regional threats from Iran.

“If we discard the leverage we have, it would really be tragic and foolish. But if we use it, there is a chance I think for constructive agreement that addresses all of these problems,” he added.

He said it would be wrong to assume the new administration could reverse Iran policy like switching a light, and said negotiations would take many months.

Iran’s clerical rulers have ruled out negotiations over its missile programme or changing its regional policy. Instead, it wants a change in US policy, including the lifting of sanctions.

Tensions between Washington and Teheran have risen since Mr Trump abandoned Mr Obama’s 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and restored harsh economic sanctions to pressure Teheran to negotiate deeper curbs on its nuclear programme, ballistic missile development and support for regional proxy forces.

Mr Abrams on Wednesday announced Iran-related sanctions on four entities in China and Russia, accusing them of activities promoting Iran’s missile programme.