U.S. envoy to Iran says more sanctions coming, urges Biden to maintain leverage


FILE PHOTO: U.S. special envoy for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on U.S. Policy in the Middle East, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 24, 2020. Susan Walsh/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration plans to tighten sanctions on Tehran during its final months in power, the top U.S. envoy on Iran said on Wednesday, 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.

U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Elliott Abrams, praising 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.

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.

Abrams, at a virtual Beirut Institute event, said the Trump administration plans further pressure on Tehran, 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," Abrams said.

U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea said the United States could impose further sanctions on Lebanese figures over corruption and aiding the Iran-backed Hezbollah 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 authorities that have to do with counter-terrorism and ... against corruption," Shea told the event.

IRAN NEGOTIATIONS

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," 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 program or changing its regional policy. Instead it wants a change in U.S. policy, including the lifting of sanctions.

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

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

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

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