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Iran and US to hold indirect nuclear talks in Vienna

Reuters

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Iran and the United States held indirect talks in Vienna on Tuesday (6 April) aimed at bringing both countries back into full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal that Washington abandoned three years ago, writes Parisa Hafezi.

Iran has steadily overstepped the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme in response to Washington’s withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and its reimposition of sanctions that have crippled the Islamic Republic’s economy.

While Tehran has repeatedly rebuffed “direct and indirect negotiations” with its long-time foe, Washington said on Monday it expected indirect talks with Iran about reviving the deal to be difficult. Both Tehran and Washington did not foresee any early breakthrough.

A Western diplomat told Reuters on Friday that a shuttle-diplomacy approach would be adopted in Vienna.

“What other parties to the deal do is their business. Where and how they negotiate with the United States is up to them. The Iranian delegation will not have any talks with the US delegation in Vienna at any level,” Iranian media on Tuesday quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying.

Adding fresh doubt to the chances of a breakthrough on Tuesday, an Iranian official told Reuters: “Our agenda during the meeting (in Vienna) will be removal of all U.S. sanctions against Iran ... as our supreme leader has said repeatedly, anything less than that will not be accepted by Tehran”.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters, has opposed any gradual easing of sanctions.

President Joe Biden’s administration wants to revive the accord but has said that this requires negotiations. Tehran has dismissed any engagement in talks with Washington about both sides resuming compliance with the deal.

“Iran will reverse its nuclear steps only after all US sanctions on Iran are lifted. After verifying it, which will take a few hours, Iran can quickly reverse its nuclear steps,” the official said.

The US State Department has said the focus of the Vienna talks will be on “the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take in order to return to compliance” with the nuclear accord.

Under the 2015 accord, US and other economic sanctions on Tehran were removed in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme to make it harder to develop a nuclear weapon - an ambition Tehran denies.

Iran

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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Iran

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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