Posts Tagged ‘nuclear deal’

U.S. Pushes Europe to Abandon Iran Over Terror Plots—but Meets Resistance

August 3, 2018

European officials, some skeptical that Iran is behind the plots, say the nuclear deal benefits the region

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U foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at a ministerial meeting on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna on July 6. PHOTO: SHCHERBAK ALEXANDER/ZUMA PRESS

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A slate of investigations into alleged terror plots and killings sponsored by Iran has opened a new front in U.S. efforts to persuade European governments to cut ties with Tehran following President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May.

Washington, Israel and Iranian dissident groups say the alleged recent operations show that Iran has ended years of caution about hunting its enemies in Europe. They are urging European governments to withdraw support for Iran and ban Iranian officials from the region.

But European officials, some skeptical that Iran’s government is behind the plots, are reluctant to adopt a harder line.

In late June, police in three European countries arrested an Iranian diplomat and three others in an alleged plot to bomb an Iranian opposition meeting outside Paris, marking a rare public confrontation between European security services and Iran.

In July, Dutch authorities said they had expelled two Iranian diplomats whom foreign officials say were linked to the assassinations of at least one Iranian dissident, Ahmad Mola Nissi. He was gunned down in November by a masked assassin in The Hague. U.S. officials believe Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was involved. Dutch authorities are investigating.

“Europe isn’t immune to Iran-backed terrorism,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter last month. “At the same time the regime is trying to convince Europe to stay in the Iran Deal, it’s plotting terrorist attacks in Europe.”

However, European officials have declined to rescind their support for the nuclear deal although they are following the investigations. Some say they could be the work of a faction within the Iranian government, without sanction from its top leaders.

Iran’s leadership “isn’t a pyramid,” said one French security official. “We can imagine an ultranationalist faction carrying out an operation to raise tensions.”

Top Iranian officials continue to travel to Europe, and European governments remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal as long as Tehran complies with its terms.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran on July 22.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran on July 22. PHOTO: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Britain, France and Germany are seeking to help Iran weather the impact of the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on companies doing business with Iran. The first set of measures take effect Monday, leading many large Western companies to halt investments and trade.

European officials stress differences with Tehran on many issues but say the nuclear deal benefits European security. Europeans say dialogue and diplomatic contacts best address Iran’s interference in the Middle East and other points of contention, like Tehran’s missile program. Few European capitals cut ties with Iran after the 1979 revolution.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Western officials blamed Iran for a spate of killings of opposition figures in Europe and supporting terrorist acts in Europe by Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah. U.S. and other Western governments blame Hezbollah for the 2012 killing of five Israelis and a local driver in Bulgaria, but they didn’t tie the attack directly to Iran.

The EU sanctions the military wing of Hezbollah, but has dealings with government officials and others from what the bloc calls the political wing in Lebanon.

How Trump Is Tightening His Squeeze on Iran

With the U.S out of the Iran nuclear agreement, the Trump administration is clamping down on the Iranian regime. The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib explains the sources of pressure. Photo: Reuters (Originally Published July 1, 2018)

From the mid-1990s, Iran seemed to be steering clear of using violence in Europe. But last month, French, Belgian and German authorities arrested four people, including an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna, for allegedly planning to bomb a gathering of the National Council of Resistance, an umbrella group of Iranian dissidents, outside Paris on June 30.

Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, was one of several high-profile U.S. critics of Tehran who spoke at the meeting, whose main backer is the opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MeK.  MeK has waged a decadeslong, sometimes violent campaign against Iran’s Islamist government. An alliance with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and a history of bombings prompted the U.S. government to list MeK as a terror group in 1997, but the listing was lifted in 2012.

The arrests came days before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Europe to rally support for the nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the allegation was a “false flag” setup and Iranian officials have repeatedly denied any involvement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized European authorities for not canceling Mr. Rouhani’s visit. He said he told Europeans to stop “funding the very regime that is sponsoring terrorism against you and against so many others.”

Similarly, Mr. Pompeo has called on Tehran to stop backing terror groups in Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, a government agency, has provided a four-decade timeline of Iran-backed terror incidents in Europe, including the arrest of two Iranian operatives in March on charges of terrorism by Albanian authorities.

A Western diplomat said the arrests were linked to a prior attempted attack by Iran in Albania on MeK.

The U.S. list also cites the conviction of a Pakistani man in Germany last year for spying on a pro-Israeli politician and people close to him under direction from the Quds Force, an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. In 2012, the U.S. alleges, four Iranian operatives entered Turkey intending to attack Israeli targets.

Some of Iran’s opponents have alleged Iran was behind a spate of other killings and disappearances of Iranian dissidents since 2015 in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey. No hard evidence has emerged of Iran’s involvement.

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com and Matthew Dalton at Matthew.Dalton@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-pushes-europe-to-abandon-iran-over-terror-plotsbut-meets-resistance-1533301621

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Iran rocked by new protests as economy heads for collapse — use of violence to keep power

August 1, 2018

Iran faced fresh warnings over human rights abuses on Tuesday as its economic crisis worsened and hundreds of protesters took to the streets.

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Demonstrations spread to the historic city of Isfahan, with protesters demanding an end to the Iranian regime’s costly interference in the affairs of neighboring countries in the region.

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Iranian protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in central Tehran on June 25. (File Photo: AFP)

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At least 29 people have been arrested on vague charges of “economic disruption,” and some face the death penalty.

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Signs of further unrest emerged on Tuesday as shopkeepers and other workers went on strike in protest at the decline of Iran’s currency.

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“In recent weeks and months we’ve had many protests,” Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesman for the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group, told Arab News. “Human rights are suffering … and every day they suffer more. Iran is amongst the biggest violators of human rights in the world today.”

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He said the recent arrests were unlikely to have targeted the corrupt officials who occupy the “inner circles” of Iranian public life. The arrests serve two purposes, he said — to suggest the Iranian government is acting to stamp out “huge corruption,” and to instill fear in the public. “There are people who have been executed for economic corruption. But … the trials are not public so nobody knows that what the authorities are claiming is true.

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“From the authorities’ view, these death sentences are more important as instruments of intimidation and spreading fear. If they really want to go after the corruption, they will be in deep trouble because the corruption is at the highest levels.”

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Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Dr. Majid Rafizadeh also said the reasons for Iran’s economic crises go to the top of government. “The Iranian regime’s financial corruption, misuse of public funds, the widespread banking crisis, and the hemorrhaging of billions of dollars … on militia and terror groups are among the major reasons behind the present currency and economic crises,” he said.

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Protests in Isfahan In Isfahan, striking shopkeepers, farmers and truck drivers were joined by other citizens in the Amir-Kabir industrial complex in New Shapur, according to Iranian activists.

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Video footage showed hundreds of protesters shouting: “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, my soul is Iran’s redemption.” The slogan refers to Tehran’s costly military adventures in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, at the expense of the domestic economy.

BBC NEWS فارسی

@bbcpersian

حضور پلیس ضد شورش در منطقه شاپور جدید اصفهان
گروهی از کسبه و رانندگان شاپور جدید در “اعتراض به گرانی و بیکاری” تجمع کرده‌اند.

Amiry-Moghaddam urged the world to do more to address the human rights situation, which he said was a result of a regime looking to cling on to power. “The main reason for people suffering is the regime: There is a lack of accountability and huge corruption … and use of violence to keep power.”

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The slogan has been repeated at a series of protests that started at the end of last year. It refers to the regime’s expenditure on the regional military interventions instead of using the funds to tackle the country’s economic woes.

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In December and January widespread protests against economic conditions shook the country. At least 25 protesters were killed and nearly 5,000 arrested in a brutal response by the security forces.

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Last month, protesters clashed with police outside parliament in Tehran in three days of protests sparked by the plunging rial.

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On June 25, a strike shut down the stalls of the Grand Bazaar in Tehran and several other markets.

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Meanwhile, a truck drivers’ strike entered its eighth day in cities across the country, according to reports.

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And railway workers in Tabriz, north-east Iran, protested on Monday after receiving no salary over the past four months, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

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It reported that the workers had cut off the railway route, which connects Tabriz with the rest of the provinces.

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Activists on Tuesday continued to publish pictures showing an intense presence of security forces and police in Tehran.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1349006/middle-east

Iran faces ‘economic disaster’ as currency plunges to new low

July 31, 2018

The Iranian rial plunged to a historic low on Monday despite Tehran’s attempts to restore calm before the reimposition of international sanctions next week.

The year-long slide of the currency has accelerated in recent days as Iranians turn to the black market to buy hard currency while the authorities arrested traders accused of profiteering.

The dollar was trading at about 112,000 rials on the black market compared to about 90,000 last week as Iranians braced for tough times ahead.

The Iranian currency has lost about half of its value since April because of a weak economy. (AFP)

It follows a decision by US President Donald Trump in May to pull out of the international nuclear deal with Iran and reintroduce sanctions.

“A shift to a convertible currency is a natural reaction when people lose faith in the local currency and want to shift quickly to something they will know will hold value as is the case now,” Oxford Economics senior economist Maya Senussi told Arab News.

“On the ground, sentiment is deteriorating as hopes that US sanctions can be circumvented are fading and that is reinforcing the flight to dollars in the ‘beat the clock’ fashion.”

Jean Francois Seznec, a political scientist in Washington specializing in Middle East business, said the new sanctions being imposed on Tehran will hit the economy hard.

“The sanctions — which haven’t really started yet — will bite a lot more than the Iranians are hoping,” he said.

“That will influence the value of the rial. It’s going to be a major economic disaster. By and large, it will be drastic for Iran. I think the markets really feel that.”

There will be a “major” further decline in the value of the rial against the US dollar later this year, Seznec forecast.

“Everyday Iranians are going to be more and more miserable,” he said.

Seznec outlined the policy steps the Iranian regime would need to take to avert such an economic crisis — although he said they were unlikely to do so.

“They would have to compromise on the whole nuclear issue, and agree not to support the Houthis and Hezbollah … which I don’t think the current leadership is willing to do.”

Iran last week appointed a new central bank governor to replace Valiollah Seif, who had attracted criticism for the steep decline in the currency.

President Hassan Rouhani has pledged to prosecute corruption within state and private sector institutions amid growing public anger.

The rapid weakening of the currency is expected to stoke inflationary pressures as the cost of imports surges.

“The authorities have remained in denial, the unification of the official rate with the parallel rate in April was insufficient as the new official rate was not where the market saw it even though it was the largest official depreciation of the currency since the step devaluation in 2013,” said Senussi.

“The collapse is very significant and the direct effect will be faster than inflation (it averaged 40 percent in 2013), though I would imagine official data will probably continue to understate actual price pressures.”

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1348411/business-economy

Lawmakers to President Trump: End Putin Summit Mystery

July 21, 2018

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin may use his one-on-one meeting with President Trump in Helsinki to drive a wedge between NATO allies by claiming secret side deals with the United States.

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Congressional Republicans are urging the White House to get ahead of the Kremlin by defining what was and wasn’t agreed to. What was said between the two leaders, they admit, remains a disconcerting mystery.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says he has “no idea” what Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov meant when he said Wednesday that Trump and Putin had entered into “important verbal agreements.”

Corker expressed concern about talk that the White House and Kremlin are “setting up a second meeting so they can begin implementation” of these mystery agreements.

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Bob Corker

Other Republicans pointed to the lack of transparency as problematic.

“I don’t know what happened privately, nobody does,” said Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), adding that Trump needs to publicize whatever efforts he made to push back against Putin in their private meeting.

“It’s not enough just to raise it privately because everyone is watching, including our allies, including the people of Russia, including our intelligence agencies,” he said of any grievances Trump may have aired with Putin.

Members of Congress worry that Russia will use the Helsinki summit to undermine U.S. relations with NATO allies, especially with former Eastern Bloc and Soviet states that Putin views as within his country’s traditional sphere of influence.

Antonov said this week that Trump and Putin reached verbal agreements on two charged issues: Syria and arms control.

“The White House better get out in front of this before the Russians start characterizing this,” warned Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and frequent Trump critic. “The Russians will use this.”

“There’s so little trust of this president, our president, among our allies,” he added.

U.S. security officials recognize that undermining NATO is one of Putin’s top foreign policy goals.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford warned Congress last year that Russia “every day is undermining the credibility of our alliance commitment to NATO and our ability to respond to NATO.”

Republican lawmakers worry that Trump may be unwittingly advancing that strategy by criticizing allies sharply at a NATO summit in Brussels and then embracing Putin in Helsinki.

Flake noted that in a recent trip to Latvia he and his colleagues witnessed a concerted Russian propaganda campaign to convince Baltic states that “NATO is weak” and “America is an unreliable ally.”

Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right think tank said that while Russia’s remarks about the outcome of an international summit wouldn’t normally be viewed as credible, Trump’s unorthodox style creates an atmosphere of uncertainty.

“In normal circumstances I would say that statements by Russia about their inferences about particular meetings are not especially credible or important or right or destabilizing,” she said. “The problem is because our president is himself so loosey-goosey about his leadership, about these meetings, about fundamentally everything that we can begin to worry.”

But agreements entered into solely by the president don’t carry a lot of weight, she said, pointing to former President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran that largely circumvented congressional approval.

“If the president has verbal discussions with anybody and no one else is there, no one can reasonably be expected to act on them,” she said.

Even so, congressional Republicans aren’t taking any chances about how the optics of the situation may affect bedrock international security arrangements.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took the unusual step of telling European Union allies Tuesday that Republicans in Congress value NATO and view Russia as a hostile adversary.

“We believe the European Union counties are our friends and the Russians are not,” McConnell told reporters. “We understand the Russian threat.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) warned on the Senate floor Thursday that the president and senior U.S. officials should be careful not to undermine Western alliances.

“Words matter. And what Americans say can bolster or shake confidence in the United States,” Moran said, adding that a recent trip to Moscow, Norway and Finland left him “unconvinced that that Russia is prepared to change its behavior.”

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, said concern that fallout from the summit could weaken U.S.-NATO relations “is warranted.”

But he said “it shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.”

NATO alliances don’t depend on the president alone, he noted.

“If, for example, Trump promised somehow to abandon an ally, first of all he really couldn’t if a treaty binds us to them, and second of all, the ally would presumably raise this issue with us the minute the Russians whispered some threat in their ear,” O’Hanlon said. “At that point, Trump would have the chance to deny or correct or repudiate whatever the Russians were saying.”

Nevertheless, longtime U.S. allies have been unsettled by Trump’s foreign policy stances, even before he met with Putin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in May that Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement “damages trust in the international order,” and that Europe could no longer rely on the United States to provide for its security.

“It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands,” she said.

Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), a Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, said “we shouldn’t be just guessing on the statements of the Russian ambassador” about what was agreed to at the summit.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has demanded the U.S. government translator who attended the private Trump-Putin meeting be made available to testify before Congress.

He and other Democrats also want the White House to turn over contemporaneous notes from the summit.

 

In a letter to Trump this week, Democrats asked what “suggestions” Putin made to the president, whether the two leaders agreed to any changes in international security agreements and whether they made any commitments about the future presence of U.S. military forces in Syria, among other questions.

They also asked if the president discussed sanctions relief for Russia, NATO military exercises in the fall, U.S. security assistance to Ukraine or made any other commitments to Putin.

Republicans say they hope to learn details about what Trump discussed and may have agreed to when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifiesbefore the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

If questions remain after his appearance, Corker said he would consider asking for notes or testimony from the American translator who was present at the meeting with Putin.

But he cautioned it would be a last resort.

“It feels a little out of bounds,” Corker said. “I’m open to listening. I’d rather address it after the Pompeo hearing on Wednesday and see how transparent that ends up being.”

“I’m not going to say no, no, no,” he added. “If there’s no transparency, maybe we’ll revisit it.”

So far, Flake is the only Senate Republican to back Schumer’s call for the White House to turn over notes from the summit.

“I would hope that those notes — all interpreters take notes — would be turned over,” he said Thursday. “We need to know.

Mnuchin says U.S. will consider some waivers on Iran sanctions

July 16, 2018

The United States wants to avoid disrupting global oil markets as it reimposes sanctions against Tehran and in certain cases will consider waivers for countries which need more time to wind down their oil imports from Iran, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin 

“We want people to reduce oil purchases to zero, but in certain cases if people can’t do that overnight, we’ll consider exceptions,” Mnuchin told reporters on Friday, clarifying some U.S. officials’ comments that there would be no exemptions. Mnuchin’s comments were embargoed for release on Monday.

Mnuchin was talking to reporters en route from Mexico where he was part of a high-level U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet Mexico’s next president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The Trump administration is pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November when the United States reimposes sanctions against Tehran, after Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal agreed between Iran and six major powers, against the advice of allies in Europe and elsewhere.

Mnuchin said he would meet with counterparts from developed and developing countries on the sidelines of a G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Buenos Aires on July 19-22. U.S. sanctions against Iran are likely to be raised in his talks.

“We’ve said very specifically, there’s no blanket waivers, there’s no grandfathering,” Mnuchin said, “We want to be very careful in the wind-down around the energy markets to make sure that people have the time.”

He added: “The State Department has the ability to issue waivers around significant reductions in the oil markets, that’s something that Treasury and State will be doing.”

Mnuchin said Washington had made clear to allies that it expects them to enforce the sanctions against Iran “but if there are specific situations we’re open to listening.”

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said at the weekend that Washington had rejected a French request for waivers for its companies operating in Iran, according to Le Figaro.

Paris had singled out key areas where it expected either exemptions or extended wind-down periods for French companies, including energy, banking, pharmaceuticals and automotive.

The Trump administration has said there are more than 50 foreign companies that have withdrawn their business from Iran since Trump announced the U.S. was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia.

Pompeo, also speaking to reporters on Friday, said he had discussed U.S. plans to reimpose sanctions on Iran with “all but one” country. He did not name the country he had not yet consulted.

“What they’ve asked us to do is review how we get there and the timeline for that,” he said, “and so I’m very confident they understand.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking in remarks carried live on state television on Saturday, said Washington was more isolated than ever over sanctions against Iran, even among its allies.

His comments appeared to be trying to ease popular concerns fueled by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

The likely return of U.S. economic sanctions has triggered a rapid fall of Iran’s currency and protests by bazaar traders usually loyal to the Islamist rulers.

Trump has said he asked Saudi Arabia to raise oil production if needed to ensure global oil supplies and the country has 2 million barrels per day of spare capacity.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed with Russia and other oil-producing allies on June 23 to raise output from July, with Saudi Arabia pledging a “measurable” supply boost, but giving no specific numbers.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

Reuters

Iran says EU economic proposal to save nuclear deal not enough

July 6, 2018

With US sanctions looming, European powers are looking to persuade Iran to remain in the 2015 agreement. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a compromise before November appeared unlikely.

    
Federica Mogherini and Javad Zarif (picture-alliance/dpa/TASS/A. Shcherbak)

Foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia are meeting in Vienna on Friday with their Iranian counterpart, to discuss an economic plan that could save the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and took 12 years to negotiate.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chairs the meeting, hopes to persuade Iran to remain in the JCPOA with a package of incentives that includes European Investment Bank lending, a special measure to protect EU companies from US sanctions and encouraging EU governments make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank.

“We are here to listen to practical solutions, rather than slogans,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in the Austrian capital, signaling a willingness to study the options presented.

In May, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the signature accord that his predecessor Barack Obama had signed, calling it “horrible” and “defective at its core.”

The White House’s retreat from the deal dismayed the remaining five countries, who swiftly signaled their continued support for the accord. But Washington reintroduced sanctions on Iran and threatened the remaining signatories with punitive measures if they engaged in trade and investment with Iran.

The Iranian government has strongly denied planning to build a nuclear bomb and has threatened to resume uranium enrichment for civilian purposes if the deal completely collapses.

Read more: Can Europe rescue Iran as Trump’s sanctions loom?

Rouhani: Current deal not good enough

In the wake of the US withdrawal, Iran’s rial currency has fallen, prices have risen and the country has been hit by street protests and strikes.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who signed the nuclear deal in 2015, has been under pressure at home from ultra-conservatives, who denounced his willingness to talk to the West and blamed him for the country’s ailing economy.

The Iranian president spoke to European leaders this week in support of saving the deal. But Rouhani told French President Emmanuel Macron that the current economic measures offered by Europe did not meet all of Tehran’s demands to salvage the nuclear deal, Iran’s IRNA state news agency reported.

Read more: Opinion: Khamenei’s empty threats over the Iran nuclear deal

Deal before November unlikely

Prior to heading to Vienna, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio that he thinks it unlikely that European powers would be able to put together a successful economic package to save the deal before November and asked Tehran to be more cooperative.

“They must stop permanently threatening to break their commitments to the nuclear deal,” Le Drian said.

“They must stop the threats so that we can find the solutions so that Iran can have the necessary economic compensations,” the foreign minister added.

Le Drian noted that Russia and China were working closely with the European signatories to find a suitable financial solution to US sanctions.

“We are trying to do it before sanctions are imposed at the start of August and then another set of sanctions in November. For the start August it seems a bit short, but we are trying to do it by November,” Le Drian said.

Read more: Opinion: Trump’s Iran nuclear deal exit dangerous for the world

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas lowered Iranian expectations prior to the Vienna meeting, saying that the five signatories would not be able to mitigate all the problems created by sanctions, but said that abandoning the deal would cause Tehran more harm to its economy.

“We will not be able completely counterbalance the effect of companies that are withdrawing from Iran because their US business is threatened by sanctions,” Maas said.

“We want to make it clear to Iran today that it will continue to  benefit economically from this agreement,” Maas told reporters

jcg/ng (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)

 

Struggling to Save Nuclear Deal, Iran and World Powers Meet

July 6, 2018

Iran wants world powers to present measures guaranteeing oil revenue and investment into the country despite U.S. sanctions when ministers meet on Friday to save the 2015 nuclear deal, but European states will fall short of its demands, diplomats said.

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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani arrives at the Austrian Chancellery in Vienna, Austria July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the multinational deal in May under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear program, verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Washington has since told countries they must stop buying the OPEC producer’s oil from Nov. 4 or face financial consequences.

Foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia meet with their Iranian counterpart in Vienna for the first time since Trump left the pact, but diplomats see limited scope for salvaging it.

“The objective is to save the deal. We’ve made some progress, including on safeguarding some crude sales, but it’s unlikely to meet Iranian expectations. It’s also not just about what the Europeans can do, but also how the Chinese, Russians, Indians, others can contribute,” said a senior European diplomat.

The pillars of the European Union’s strategy are: European Investment Bank lending, a special measure to shield EU companies from U.S. secondary sanctions and a Commission proposal that EU governments make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank to avoid U.S. penalties.

“The Iranians expect the others to say what we are going to do to keep the deal alive. We will have to see if it is going to be good enough for them,” an EU source added.

Describing the Friday meeting as important, Iranian officials have said that key for them is to ensure measures that guarantee oil exports do not halt, and that Tehran still has access to the SWIFT international bank payments messaging system.

During a visit to Europe this week President Hassan Rouhani warned that Iran could reduce its co-operation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog having already threatened Trump of the “consequences” of fresh sanctions against Iranian oil sales.

Rouhani was quoted by state media and on his website after calls with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as having told them he was disappointed with their package which did not go far enough.

“SWIFT is the key but Iran has to stay in at least until the end of the year to maintain divisions between the EU and U.S., keep some credibility and try and survive amidst forthcoming sanctions,” said Sanam Vakil, Associate Fellow at Chatham House, a London-based international think tank.

While talks are expected to focus purely on the nuclear deal, they come amid increasing rhetoric from the Trump administration, which argues that Iran poses a serious security threat.

An Austria-based Iranian diplomat was among four people arrested on suspicion of plotting an attack on an Iranian opposition group in France last week.

The issue could be a distraction in the Vienna talks. Iran has said it had nothing to do with the plot and has demanded the official be released without delay.

Any confirmation that Iranian authorities were behind the plot could make it politically difficult for European leaders to continue to back the nuclear deal.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Vienna and Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Reuters

Israel chides Europe for Iran nuke deal talks after alleged Paris attack plot

July 4, 2018

In mocking speech at US Embassy party, Netanyahu urges Europeans to ‘stop appeasing’ Tehran as foiled plan to bomb opposition rally casts shadow over Vienna talks by Rouhani, Zarif

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an American Independence Day celebration at Avenue in Airport City, on July 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an American Independence Day celebration at Avenue in Airport City, on July 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged European countries to call off planned talks with Iran over preserving the nuclear deal, after officials alleged they uncovered a plot backed by Tehran to attack an event by an Iranian exile group in Paris.

Adopting a mocking tone, Netanyahu expressed incredulity that other nations would still try to deal with Iran, and praised US President Donald Trump for pulling out of the landmark 2015 accord.

“Stop funding the very regime that is sponsoring terrorism against you and against so many others. Stop appeasing Iran,” he said at an American Independence Day celebration hosted by US Ambassador David Friedman at an event hall near Ben-Gurion airport.

“President Trump decided to leave this bad deal and he did the greatest thing for the security of the world and for the security of Israel,” he said.

From left, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, his wife Tammy Friedman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu drink a toast at an American Independence Day celebration at Avenue in Airport City, on July 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The withdrawal has paved the way for new US sanctions against Tehran and foreign companies that trade or invest with it, causing several major businesses to stop activity in the country.

Swiss President Alain Berset, left, walks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as he reviews an honor guard after his arrival at an airport in Kloten – Zurich Canton – on July 2, 2018, at the start of a two day official visit to Switzerland. (AFP/ RUBEN SPRICH)

On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif is slated to meet in Vienna with top envoys from the five powers still party to the nuclear deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — for the first time since Washington’s withdrawal, according to Iranian state media.

Ahead of that meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is holding talks with leaders in Switzerland and Austria aimed at keeping European business in Iran despite the threats of US sanctions.

Rouhani’s visit and the P4+1 meeting have been overshadowed by the arrest of six people arrested in Belgium, France and Germany over an alleged plot against Saturday’s rally in a Paris suburb, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The rally was also attended by leading US figures, including close allies of President Donald Trump.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani delivers a speech during the “Free Iran 2018 – the Alternative” event organized by an Iranian opposition group on June 30, 2018, in Villepinte, north of Paris. (AFP Photo/Zakaria Abdelkafi)

Among those arrested were a diplomat attached to the Iranian embassy in Vienna.

On Tuesday, the Austrian foreign ministry summoned the Iranian envoy to request that Tehran “lift the (diplomat’s) immunity.”

Ministry spokesman Matthias Forenbacher said the unnamed diplomat a would be “deprived of his diplomatic status within 48 hours because of the existence of a European arrest warrant” against him.

Federal prosecutors in Brussels first revealed the arrests, charging a husband and wife they described as Belgian nationals “of Iranian origin.”

People attend the “Free Iran 2018 – the Alternative” event on June 30, 2018 in Villepinte, north of Paris during the Iranian resistance national council (NCRI) annual meeting. (AFP/ Zakaria ABDELKAFI)

The couple were carrying 500 grams (about one pound) of the volatile explosive TATP along with a detonator  when angroup elite police squad stopped them in a residential district of Brussels, authorities say.

They said the Iranian diplomat in Vienna was believed to be a contact of the couple.

On Wednesday, Rouhani is due in Vienna, where the 2015 nuclear deal was signed, to meet Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and President Alexander Van der Bellen.

Zarif has dismissed the alleged plot as a “false flag ploy” designed to tar Rouhani’s tour.

“How convenient: Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its ‘plotters’ arrested,” he tweeted Monday.

Javad Zarif

@JZarif

How convenient: Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its “plotters” arrested. Iran unequivocally condemns all violence & terror anywhere, and is ready to work with all concerned to uncover what is a sinister false flag ploy.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (top- L) and Swiss President Alain Berset (top-R) clap as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and Swiss Economic Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann shakes hands after signing an agreement in Bern on July 3, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ruben Sprich)

But the plot has reawakened fears of Iranian terror on European soil. One of Israel’s largest complaint with the nuclear deal was that it failed to address Iranian sponsorship for terror around the world.

On Tuesday, the popular German tabloid Bild urged Kurz to cancel the meeting, calling Iran the “world’s largest state terror sponsor.”

After arriving in Switzerland on Monday, the Iranian president held talks with his counterpart Alain Berset on Tuesday in a meeting Tehran said was of “crucial importance” for cooperation between the Islamic Republic and Europe.

On Tuesday, the US State Department said it would dispatch Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs Stephen Mull to Belgium and Austria for talks ahead of the Iran meeting. Mull was in charge of the implementing the Iran nuclear deal under the Barack Obama administration.

Department of State

@StateDept

.@Statedeptspox announces Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs Stephen Mull’s travel to , Belgium and , Austria on July 3-5 for meetings with his counterparts at the @eu_eeas and with the EU’s political directors.

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Iran slams U.S. sanctions push, Syria rejects idea of Iranian withdrawal

May 23, 2018

Iran on Wednesday kept up a drumbeat of opposition to U.S. demands for sweeping change in its foreign policy and nuclear program, and Tehran’s ally Damascus dismissed out of hand a U.S. call for a withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria.

rance, one of several European powers dismayed by the U.S. withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear accord, said Washington’s method of adding more sanctions on Tehran would reinforce the country’s dominant hardliners.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday threatened Iran with “the strongest sanctions in history” if it did not curb its regional influence, accusing Tehran of supporting armed groups in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Pompeo was speaking two weeks after President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran that had lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program. European powers see the accord as the best chance of stopping Tehran acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) meets with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, to discuss Iran's nuclear deal, on May 15, 2018 at the EU headquarters in Brussels. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Thierry Monasse)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) meets with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, to discuss Iran’s nuclear deal, on May 15, 2018 at the EU headquarters in Brussels. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Thierry Monasse)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Pompeo had repeated old allegations against Tehran “only with a stronger and more indecent tone”.

“Mr Pompeo and other U.S. officials in the current administration are prisoners of their wrong illusions, prisoners of their past and have been taken hostage by corrupt pressure groups,” he told state television.

Image result for Major General Mohammad Bagheri,

Major General Mohammad Bagheri,

A senior Iranian military official, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, said Iran would not bow to Washington’s pressure to limit its military activities.

“This enemy (the United States) does not have the courage for military confrontation and face-to-face war with Iran, but it’s trying to put economic and mental pressures on the Iranian nation,” state news agency IRNA reported him as saying.

“ENDANGERING THE REGION”

In Damascus, Syria’s deputy foreign minister dismissed the notion of a withdrawal of Iranian forces.

In Syria’s seven-year-old conflict, Iran has provided vital support to President Bashar al-Assad’s military. Its forces and the militias it backs from the region, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, helped Damascus claw back control of major cities from militants and rebels.

“Whether Iranian forces or Hezbollah withdraw or stay in Syria is not up for discussion because it’s the (business) of the Syrian government,” Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV cited Faisal Mekdad as saying.

In Paris, France’s foreign minister said the U.S. decision to scrap the Iran nuclear deal and implement a tough strategy on the country would strengthen Tehran’s hardliners and endanger the region.

“We disagree with the method because this collection of sanctions which will be set up against Iran will not enable dialogue and, on the contrary, it will reinforce the conservatives and weaken President Rouhani. This posture risks endangering the region more,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio.

He said Paris would continue to implement the agreement even if it did agree with the United States that Iran’s ballistic missile activity and regional hegemonic ambitions needed to be curbed.

He said Paris shared Washington’s concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile “frenzy” and regional ambitions, but the 2015 nuclear deal was the best chance of stopping Tehran developing a nuclear bomb.

Deputy foreign ministers of the remaining parties to the accord – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – will meet their Iranian counterpart on Friday in Vienna.

The meeting will assess what can be done to keep the deal and circumvent extraterritorial American sanctions that are impacting foreign business appetite for Iran.

For a graphic on Iran’s nuclear program: tmsnrt.rs/2rvkaq6

Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Ellen Francis in Beirut, Editing by William Maclean and Janet Lawrence

Reuters

EU sources deny report of proposed new nuclear deal with financial aid for Iran

May 20, 2018

Three European Union sources have denied that diplomats meeting in Vienna on Friday to salvage the imperiled Iranian nuclear deal after Washington withdrew will discuss offering Iran financial aid in exchange for concessions.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R), France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (2nd L), Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R), EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Britain's Foreign Secretary arrive for a meeting of EU/E3 with Iran at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Olivier Matthys)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R), France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (2nd L), Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R), EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Britain’s Foreign Secretary arrive for a meeting of EU/E3 with Iran at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Olivier Matthys)

A German newspaper reported on Sunday that diplomats from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia will meet in Vienna on Friday to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.

The Welt am Sonntag newspaper cited an unnamed senior EU official as saying that the diplomats would discuss a proposal for a new agreement between Iran and world powers that would be the same as the 2015 deal but with some additions to appease the United States.

These could include provisions to address U.S. concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and Tehran’s support of armed groups in the Middle East, the source said.

“We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the senior EU official told the paper.

Such an agreement could in the future include financial aid for Iran, the report said.

But three EU sources who were part of negotiations to keep U.S. President Donald Trump from quitting the nuclear deal told Reuters later on Sunday that this was incorrect.

“The Vienna meeting next Friday will address the implementation issues and details of the JCPOA,” one EU source said. “The meeting will not cover any other issues.”

No immediate comment was available from the German foreign ministry.

Iran said on Sunday it would take part on Friday in a meeting of a joint commission set up by the six world powers, Iran and the European Union to handle any complaints about the deal’s implementation.

“On Friday, the joint commission … will be held at Iran’s request, and without the United States, to discuss the consequences of America’s withdrawal, and how the remaining countries can continue their commitment to the deal,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on state television.

On Monday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will outline a “diplomatic road map” and call for broad support from European and other allies to apply pressure on Iran to force it back to the negotiating table, as well as their support to address “the totality of Iran’s threats”.

Iran and European powers have made a good start in talks over how to salvage the deal but much depends on what happens in the next few weeks, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said last week.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Editing by Andrew Bolton, Peter Graff and Raissa Kasolowsky

Reuters