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White House weighs easing bite of sanctions on Iran with release of assets

Published Oct. 18, 2013

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, following a promising first round of nuclear diplomacy with Iran, is weighing a plan to ease the pain of sanctions on Tehran by offering it access to billions of dollars in frozen funds, the New York Times reported Thursday, citing a senior administration official.

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 Barack Obama the flexibility to respond to Iranian offers that emerge from the negotiations without unraveling the global sanctions regime that the administration has spent years cobbling together.

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

While the two days of talks in Geneva this week did not produce a breakthrough, Iranian officials were more candid and substantive than in previous diplomatic encounters, officials said, particularly in direct negotiations between Iranian diplomats and the senior U.S. representative, Wendy R. Sherman.

Now, though, the administration faces a complex calculation on the future of the sanctions, which have been crucial in bringing the Iranians back to the bargaining table. Administration officials said they would urge the Senate to hold off on voting on a new bill to strangle Iran's oil exports further until after the next round of talks Nov. 7.