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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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European powers warn Iran over 'dangerous' uranium enrichment move

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The European countries party to the Iran nuclear deal told Tehran on Wednesday (14 April) its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity, bringing the fissile material closer to bomb-grade, was contrary to efforts to revive the 2015 accord, writes John Irish.

But in an apparent signal to Iran’s arch-adversary Israel, which Tehran blamed for an explosion at its key nuclear site on Sunday, European powers Germany, France and Britain added that they rejected “all escalatory measures by any actor”.

Israel, which the Islamic Republic does not recognise, has not formally commented on the incident at Iran’s Natanz site, which appeared the latest twist in a long-running covert war.

Last week, Iran and its fellow signatories held what they described as “constructive” talks to revive the deal, which the Trump administration quit in 2018 saying its terms favoured Tehran, and re-imposed sanctions - moves welcomed by Israel.

But Britain, France and Germany said Tehran’s new decision to enrich at 60 percent, and activate 1,000 advanced centrifuge machines at its underground Natanz plant, was not based on credible civilian reasons and constituted an important step towards the production of a nuclear weapon.

“Iran’s announcements are particularly regrettable given they come at a time when all JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) participants and the United States have started substantive discussions, with the objective of finding a rapid diplomatic solution to revitalise and restore the JCPoA,” the three countries said in a statement, referring to the 2015 deal.

“Iran’s dangerous recent communication is contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith of these discussions,” it said of the talks, which resume between Iran and global powers in Vienna on Thursday, aimed at salvaging the accord.

In an apparent rebuff later on Wednesday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the United States was trying to impose its terms for rescuing the deal and European powers were doing Washington’s bidding.

“America does not seek to accept the truth in negotiations ... Its goal in talks is to impose its own wrong wishes ... European parties to the deal follow America’s policies in talks despite acknowledging Iran’s rights,” Khamenei, who has the last word on Iranian matters of state, was quoted as saying by state television.

“The nuclear talks in Vienna must not become talks of attrition ... This is harmful for our country.”

U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January with a commitment to rejoin the deal if Tehran returns to full compliance with its restrictions on enrichment. Tehran has repeatedly said that all sanctions must be rescinded first.

“We have already declared Iran’s policy. Sanctions must be removed first. Once we are certain that has been done, we will carry out our commitments,” Khamenei said, according to semi-official Tasnim news agency.

“The offers they provide are usually arrogant and humiliating and are not worth looking at.”

Iran's Khamenei says nuclear talks to revive 2015 deal must not become 'attritional'With Biden seeking nuclear detente, Israel ratchets up pressure on Iran

The Biden administration called Iran’s 60% enrichment announcement “provocative” and said Washington was concerned.

The nuclear deal has frayed as Iran has breached its limits on uranium enrichment in a graduated response to the Trump administration reinstating harsh economic sanctions on Tehran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the decision to raise the enrichment level was a response to Sunday’s sabotage, adding Tehran had no intention of building a nuclear weapon.

“Of course, the security and intelligence officials must give the final reports, but apparently it is the crime of the Zionists, and if the Zionists act against our nation, we will answer it,” Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting.

In an allusion to the incident and Iran’s response, the European statement said: “In light of recent developments, we reject all escalatory measures by any actor, and we call upon Iran not to further complicate the diplomatic process.”

Iran’s leading Gulf foe Saudi Arabia also weighed in on Wednesday, saying it believed any revival of the nuclear deal should be a starting point for further talks that include regional states to expand the accord.

Rayd Krimly, head of policy planning at the Saudi foreign ministry, told Reuters any deal that fails to effectively address the security concerns of countries in the region would not work, and Riyadh was consulting with the global powers.

“We want to make sure at a minimum that any financial resources made available to Iran via the nuclear deal are not used...to destabilise the region,” he said.

Iran’s deal with the six powers caps the fissile purity to which it can refine uranium at 3.67%. That is well under the 20% achieved before the agreement, and far below the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.

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Israel’s security services uncover Iran’s intelligence methods to use social media to lure Israelis abroad and abduct them

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Israel’s Security Agency (ISA), in co-operation with the Mossad, has uncovered a method by which Iranian intelligence operatives attempted to lure Israelis to travel to various countries abroad in order to harm or abduct them, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

"The method is based on the use of fictitious profiles on social networks and making contact with Israelis who are have international commercial contacts and travel abroad," the ISA said.

The method worked as follows:

Iranian elements created fictitious Instagram profiles of women who were seemingly engaged in business and tourism.

These profiles made contacts with Israeli civilians, coordinated meetings with them abroad and attempted to draw them into romantic or commercial meetings.

Activity of this kind is being carried out in various countries with links to Israel and with Israelis, including Arab and Gulf countries, Turkey, and countries in the Caucasus, Europe and Africa.

‘’This pattern of action is well-known and is similar to that previously used by Iran against opponents of the regime in Europe. Iran is currently using similar methods against Israeli citizens seeking to develop legitimate commercial ties in the aforementioned countries and regions,’’ the ISA statement said.

Iranian elements created fictitious Instagram profiles of women who were seemingly engaged in business and tourism.
Picture from ISA.

It added:  ‘’There is genuine concern that such activity by Iranian operatives could lead to attempts to harm or abduct Israelis in those countries in which Iranians are active.’’

The security services called on Israelis with overseas commercial contacts to be alert and aware regarding social media contacts from unknown profiles and to avoid contact with them.

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EU sanctions Iranian security officials, including powerful IRGC chief, for human rights violations

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In the framework of its annual review of the EU’s Iran human rights sanctions regime, the EU announced on Monday (12 April) that it has issued sanctions against eight Iranian security officials, including the chief of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ([IRGC)  and three entities over the violent response to the demonstrations in November 2019, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

The eight people have been added to a sanctions that now comprises a total of 89 individuals and 4 entities.

‘’The Council today decided to extend its restrictive measures responding to serious human rights violations in Iran until 13 April 2022. These measures consist of a travel ban and an asset freeze, and a ban on exports to Iran of equipment which might be used for internal repression and of equipment for monitoring telecommunications,’’ an EU statement said.

The sanctions to be imposed on Iran are taken in the framework of the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime established by the Council of Ministers in December.

Since then, the EU has made use of this sanctions regime, modeled ater the U.S. Magnitsky Act, against China, North Korea, Libya, Russia, South Sudan and Erithrea.

Under this Sanctions Regime, the listed individuals and entities are subject to an asset freeze in the EU. In addition, listed individuals are subject to a travel ban to the EU and EU persons and entities are prohibited from making funds available, either directly or indirectly, to those listed.

The move to impose asset freezes and visa bans, including on the IRGC head, comes as the EU plays a mediation role between Iran and the U.S., as coordinator of the Joint Commission of the JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear deal.

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