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Iran

Iran reacts coolly to US talk offer, demands lifting of sanctions

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Iran will “immediately reverse” actions in its nuclear programme once US sanctions are lifted, its foreign minister said on Friday (19 February), reacting coolly to Washington’s initial offer to revive talks with Tehran aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, writes Parisa Hafezi.

President Joe Biden’s administration said on Thursday (18 February) it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord, which aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons while lifting most international sanctions. Former President Donald Trump left the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Tehran said Washington’s move was not enough to persuade Iran to fully respect the accord.

When sanctions are lifted, “we will then immediately reverse all remedial measures. Simple,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.

Since Trump ditched the deal, Tehran has breached the accord by rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.

Tehran and Washington have been at odds over who should make the first step to revive the accord. Iran says the United States must first lift Trump’s sanctions while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal.

However, a senior Iranian official told Reuters that Tehran was considering Washington’s offer to talk about the revival of the deal.

“But first they should return to the deal. Then within the framework of the 2015 deal, a mechanism to basically synchronise steps can be discussed,” the official said. “We have never sought nuclear weapons and this is not part of our defence doctrine,” the Iranian official said. “Our message is very clear. Lift all the sanctions and give diplomacy a chance.”

The European Union is working on organising an informal meeting with all participants of the Iran deal and the United States, which has already signalled willingness to join any gathering, a senior EU official said on Friday.

Adding to pressure for a resolution to the impasse, a law passed by the hardline parliament obliges Tehran on Feb. 23 to cancel the sweeping access given to UN inspectors under the deal, limiting their visits to declared nuclear sites only.

The United States and the European parties to the accord have urged Iran to refrain from taking the step, which will complicate Biden’s efforts.

EU aims for meeting on Iran nuclear deal with US, official says

UK says Iran must come back into compliance with nuclear deal

“We have to implement the law. The other party must act quickly and lift these unjust and illegal sanctions if they want Tehran to honour the deal,” said the Iranian official.

The IAEA’s short-notice inspections, which can range anywhere beyond Iran’s declared nuclear sites, are mandated under the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol” that Iran agreed to honour under the deal.

While Iran’s demand for a lifting of all U.S. sanctions is unlikely to be met anytime soon, analysts said, Tehran faces a delicate choice about how to respond to Biden’s overture with an upcoming presidential election in June.

With growing discontent at home over economic hardship, the election turnout is seen as a referendum on the clerical establishment -- a potential risk for Iran’s rulers. Hardliners, set to win the vote and tighten their grip, have been pushing to squeeze more concessions from Washington for reviving the deal.

Iran’s fragile economy, weakened by U.S sanctions and coronavirus crisis, has left the ruling elite with few options.

“Hardliners are not against dealing with Washington. But their tactic is to stall any engagement to get more concessions until a hardline president is at the office,” said a senior government official.

Some Iranian hardliners said top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s tough stance had forced Washington to cave in. On Wednesday (17 February) he demanded “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to restore the deal.

“They have reversed some measures ... It is a defeat for America ... but we are waiting to see whether there will be action on lifting sanctions,” state media quoted Tabriz city’s Friday prayer leader Mohammadali Ale-Hashem as saying.

Biden has said that he will use the revival of the nuclear deal as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s ballistic missile development and regional activities.

Tehran has ruled out negotiations on wider security issues such as Iran’s missile programme.

EU

European politicians condemn upcoming business forum with Iran which ignores Iranian terrorism on European soil

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A group of senior European politicians took part in an online conference to express outrage over the European Union’s silence vis-à-vis the recent conviction and imprisonment of an Iranian diplomat and three of his accomplices for terrorism and attempted murder in Belgium. The conference took particular aim at Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, who is scheduled to take part in the Europe-Iran Business Forum on March 1 alongside Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, writes Shahin Gobadi.

Borrell and Zarif are both being promoted as keynote speakers at that three-day virtual event, organized by the International Trade Centre and funded by the EU. Critics of the Business Forum described it as an endorsement of “business as usual” approach by the EU toward the Iran regime, which they insist is neither a practical nor a desirable objective as long as Tehran continues to use terrorism as a form of statecraft. The speakers urged Borrell and other European officials to cancel their participation in this conference.

Giulio Terzi, minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy (2011-2013), Hermann Tertsch, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament from Spain, Dr. Alejo Vidal Quadras, a former EP Vice-President, Struan Stevenson, former MEP from Scotland, and Paulo Casaca, former MEP from Portugal, took part in Thursday’s (25 February) conference.

The International Committee of “In Search of Justice” (ISJ), a Brussels-registered NGO that seeks to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, peace and stability in Iran, organized the virtual conference.

Speakers focused on the case of Assadollah Assadi, the Third Counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, who he hatched a plot to bomb the “Free Iran” gathering held north of Paris on June 30, 2018. Tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from across the world took part in that event, along with hundreds of political dignitaries. The prime target of Assadi’s foiled plot was the keynote speaker, Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). On February 4, Assadi received a 20-year prison term and three co-conspirators were sentenced to 15-18 years in jail.

The trial established that Assadi was supervising a terrorist network that spanned the EU and that he had collected and tested a bomb in Tehran for use against the Free Iran rally, and then transported it to Vienna on a commercial airliner, using a diplomatic pouch. From there, Assadi passed the device to two of his co-conspirators, along with directions for its use.

Participants in Thursday’s conference pointed out that Assadi had been exposed as a senior officer of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), an officially designated terrorist organization. The European politicians warned that if the EU’s failure to take retaliatory and punitive measures against Iran over this terror plot will embolden the regime to engage in even larger terrorist conspiracies on European soil.

Hermann Tertsch strongly condemned Borrells’ approach toward Tehran, saying that he was compromising the integrity of Europe, adding that Europe cannot keep it as business as usual posture in dealing with Tehran after the court ruling. He said he expects that the European Parliament strongly and vocally oppose the scheduled business summit forum and added that he and other MEPs are very much committed to be the loud voice to the international community to stop the Business Forum.

According to ambassador Terzi: “Borrell is in charge of the security policy of the European people, all people who are residing in Europe. He does not do this at all.”, adding, “his approach to Tehran goes far beyond appeasement: it is total surrender.”

He added that Borrell’s participation in the business forum makes it appear as though nothing has happened and that he is under the illusion that not addressing the case and the court ruling by a Belgian court convicting Assadi and the three terrorists would serve Europe’s business interests. This is not diplomacy. Diplomacy should be an element of deterrence when it comes to security of our countries.

The speakers also noted that Europe should address the Iranian regime’s appalling human right record and the dramatic surge in the number of executions in recent weeks.

Dr. Vidal Quadras denounced the Europe-Iran Business Forum as an example of Western appeasement of the Iranian regime, calling it a shameful act of cowardice. The speakers said that it was absolutely essential for the safety and security of EU citizens that Mr. Borrell and the EU External Service close Iran’s embassies and make all future diplomatic relations contingent on the regime ending its terrorism on European soil. They also specifically demanded action against Foreign Minister Zarif for his role in the murderous bomb plot in Paris.

According to Mr. Stevenson: “If you allow this business forum to go ahead Mr Borrell, you will be sending the clearest possible signal to the fascist regime in Tehran that as far as Europe is concerned, trade matters more than human rights. Terrorism and brutality can be ignored, so long as EU businesses can make money. EU jobs mean more than Iranian lives.”

Paulo Casaca, who was spokesman for the Socialist Group and a member of the budget control committee in the European parliament, said: “Every European expenditure, as in any state following the rule of law, has to be legal and regular. The European Union Treaty sets, in the most unequivocal way, in article 21, the guidelines for the EU’s action on the international scene and therefore, to pay for propaganda of a regime that embodies the reverse of these principles in the wake of masterminding a terrorist attack on European soil is illegal and should be stopped by the European Parliament.” 

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Iran

EU foreign affairs chief sounds optimistic on possibility of meeting to revive nuclear agreement with Iran

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EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (pictured) sounded quite optimistic Monday about the possibility of a EU-led meeting to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, after a video conference between the 27 EU Foreign Ministers and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It was the first such conversation on various world issues with the top US diplomat since the Biden administration took office, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

‘’I hope that in the next days there will be news,’’ said Borrell at a press conference after the Foreign Affairs Council meeting.

He added, ‘’We discussed the worrying recent developments in the nuclear field. We need to bring back full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and IRAN, both as regards nuclear commitments and when it comes to sanctions lifting. This is the only way forward, and is in the interest of global and regional security.’’

The US under former President Trump left the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions on Iran. Since then, Tehran has intensified its uranium enrichment

But last week, the Biden administration offered to talk to Iran under the aegis of the European Union in an effort to revive the nuclear deal.

“We are of course concerned that Iran has over time moved away from its commitments under the JCPOA. There is now a proposition on the table; If Iran returns to full compliance, we will be prepared to do the same,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

Borrell said that ‘’intense diplomatic contacts’’ are ongoing these days, including with the United States. ‘’As JCPOA Coordinator, it is my job to help create space for diplomacy and to find solutions. And the work on this is ongoing. I informed the Ministers and I hope that in the next days there will be news,’’ he said.

Borell called the discussion with Blinken ‘’very positive’’. ‘’The next days and weeks will prove that working together (with the US) delivers,’’ he said.

The US State Department spokesperson said Blinken ‘’highlighted the United States’ commitment to repairing, revitalizing, and raising the level of ambition in the US-EU relationship.’’

Borrell noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency has reached a temporary technical understanding with Iran that ‘’will allow a sufficient level of monitoring and verification in the coming months.’’  ‘’This gives us a window of opportunity and time, the time needed in order to try to reinvigorate the JCPOA,’’ he said as Tehran has increased its use of advanced centrifuges and begun producing  quantities of uranium metal, essential for building nuclear warheads.

Tehran has threatened to expel inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visiting the nuclear facilities this week.

The U.S. announcement that it was ready to talk directly with Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement was met with concern in Israel, amid accelerating Iranian breaches of the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities.

“Israel remains committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and its position on the nuclear agreement has not changed,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Friday. “Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. Israel is in close contact with the United States on this matter.”

“With or without an agreement,” he added, “we will do everything so Iran isn’t armed with nuclear weapons,” he said.

Israel views the E3, the three  European countries who are part of the nuclear deal with Iran-  France, Germany and the UK – as more open to the Israeli position in recent months, according to a report by KAN, the Israeli public broadcasting channel, due to Iran’s repeated violations of the deal’s limitations. The E3 have pointed out that Iran’s announcement of more uranium enrichment and production of uranium metal have no credible civilian use.

Israel has increased pressure on the E3 to try to talk them out of rejoining the old Iran deal, KAN reported.

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Germany

Germany urges Iran to comply with nuclear pact

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (pictured) called on Monday (22 February) for salvaging the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers which he said was in Tehran’s interest, writes Stephanie Nebehay.

Addressing the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, he noted the Biden’s administration’s stated readiness to rejoin the pact, adding: “It is in Iran’s best interest to change course now, before the agreement is damaged beyond repair.”

Maas said that Germany expected “full compliance, full transparency and full cooperation” from Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose chief Rafael Grossi returned on Sunday from a trip to Tehran.

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