VIENNA • International sanctions against Iran were expected to be lifted yesterday, with the United Nations nuclear agency set to declare that Teheran has complied with an agreement to scale back its nuclear programme, Iran's Foreign Minister said.
"It's a good day for the people of Iran... and also a good day for the region," said Mr Mohammad Javad Zarif, as he arrived in Vienna ahead of the anticipated report by UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The report was expected to confirm that Iran has dramatically scaled down its nuclear programme as agreed in the hard-won deal reached in Vienna in July last year.
In anticipation of the report, Iran yesterday freed four dual Iranian- United States nationals as part of a prisoner exchange deal with the US that saw Washington releasing seven Iranian nationals, Iran's official Irna news agency reported.
No names were immediately released but Iran's Fars News Agency said one of those being released was the Washington Post Teheran correspondent Jason Rezaian.
The sanctions imposed by the UN, the United States and the European Union have cut off a nation of nearly 80 million from the global financial system, drastically reduced the exports of a major oil producer and imposed severe economic hardship on ordinary Iranians. Most will be lifted immediately.
Mr Zarif was due to meet his US counterpart, Mr John Kerry, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and IAEA chief Yukiya Amano later yesterday.
The implementation of the nuclear deal marks the biggest re-entry of a former pariah state onto the global economic stage since the end of the Cold War, and a turning point in the hostility between Iran and the US that has shaped the Middle East since 1979.
It is a defining initiative for both US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, both of whom faced strong opposition from hardliners at home.
Under the deal, Iran has agreed to forgo enrichment of uranium, which world powers feared could be used to make a nuclear weapon.
The Vienna agreement was sealed after two years of roller- coaster negotiations following the June 2013 election of Mr Rouhani.
The prospect of Iran's emergence from isolation could overturn the geopolitical balance of the Middle East at a particularly volatile time.
Already, Saudi Arabia and Iran - fighting a proxy war in Yemen and key players in the Syrian conflict - are at daggers drawn following Saudi Arabia's execution of a Shi'ite cleric early this month and the subsequent ransacking of the Saudi Embassy in Teheran.
Sunni Saudi Arabia, Iran's great regional rival, is also alarmed at the prospect of warmer US-Iran ties and of a predominantly Shi'ite Iran increasing its influence.
However, US-Iranian hostility still remains deeply entrenched. Apart from the nuclear issue, Washington also maintains separate sanctions against Iran over its missile programme.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE