EU to reaffirm Iran N-deal – Tehran could boost enrichment

BRUSSELS, Jan 10, (Agencies): European powers will reaffirm on Thursday their support for the Iran nuclear deal that Donald Trump has rejected, EU diplomats said, on the eve of a deadline for the US president to decide whether to reimpose oil sanctions lifted under the agreement. At a meeting with Iran, Britain, France, and Germany, convened by the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini, the European powers that helped negotiate the 2015 accord will reassure Tehran they remain committed to it. They will also urge Iran to continue to comply with international inspectors, the diplomats said. Tehran has always denied seeking nuclear arms.

“The aim is to send a message to Washington that Iran is complying and that it is better to have the nuclear agreement than to isolate Tehran,” one diplomat said. A second diplomat said: “The date of the meeting is not a coincidence … It’s a campaign that we have carried on since October,” referring to Trump’s decision not to certify that Tehran is meeting the terms of a pact to stop it developing nuclear weapons.

A spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy agency said on Wednesday that a reimposition of sanctions by the United States would be a violation of the nuclear deal and added that the Islamic Republic had the capacity to greatly increase its enrichment of uranium.

The foreign ministers of Britain, Germany, France as well as Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif, are expected to meet on Thursday morning with Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief. The Thursday meeting in Brussels is part of diplomacy on both sides of the Atlantic before deadlines related to the deal falling this month, including deciding whether to reimpose oil sanctions lifted under the deal. Trump must decide by mid-January whether to continue waiving US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports under the terms of the pact.

The State Department said on Tuesday the Trump administration was expected to decide on Friday. The decision comes as Iran’s government deals with protests over economic hardships and corruption that are linked to frustration among younger Iranians who hoped to see more benefits from the lifting of sanctions. Retired US military officers, members of the US Congress and former US ambassadors were among 52 US national security experts who signed a letter released on Monday urging Trump not to jeopardize the deal with Iran.

European countries including France and Italy have benefited from renewed trade with Iran, whose proven natural gas reserves are as vast as Russia’s, while Britain reopened its embassy in Tehran following the deal. If Trump reimposes sanctions on Tehran, European powers fear the deal would fall apart. The EU is adamant the deal cannot be renegotiated. Iran’s atomic energy agency said on Wednesday a reimposition of sanctions by the United States would be a violation of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, adding that the Islamic Republic had the capacity to greatly increase its enrichment of uranium.

US President Donald Trump must decide by mid-January whether to continue the suspension of US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports under the pact, which eased economic pressure on Tehran in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme. “If the suspension is not continued it’s a violation of the (nuclear deal) and the Islamic Republic of Iran will, of course, take the necessary actions,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in an interview with state TV. He did not specify what such actions might be. Later in the interview, he said: “The capacity exists within the atomic energy agency to speed up nuclear work in various fields, particularly in the field of enrichment, which can be increased several times more than in the period before the nuclear agreement.” Enrichment, a process which can produce weapons-grade uranium, is restricted under the terms of the deal. Supporters of the pact insist that strong international monitoring will prevent Iran from developing nuclear bombs. Iran has denied that it wants to acquire nuclear weapons. “The American government should think wisely,” Kamalvandi said in the interview. “Even though they have shown until now unfortunately that they are not thinking or acting wisely.”

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, said on Monday Tehran might reconsider its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) if the United States failed to respect its commitments in the deal. The IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It is scrutinising Iran’s compliance with the agreement. Majid Takht Ravanchi, a senior aide to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, said on Wednesday Trump’s unpredictable personality made it difficult to foresee whether sanctions would be renewed. “We are prepared for the worstcase scenario,” Takht Ravanchi said, according to state media.

“Not only in the political field but even on the economic front.” Meanwhile, Reza Pahlavi concentrates intently on the little cellphone in his hand, scrolling through clips of chanting Iranians and explaining why the protests unsettling his homeland are different this time. Even as the latest reports suggest the unrest may be ebbing, the scion of Persia’s 2,500-year-old monarchy believes Iran’s people are writing a new future for themselves, and perhaps for their exiled son. “We all know that regime change is the ultimate formula,” said Pahlavi, the son of the last shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and a harsh critic of the clerical rulers that have dominated Iran ever since. “But that’s what the Iranian people are asking. It’s not going to be because the US says so, or the British say so, or the Saudis say so, or the Israelis say so. It’s because it’s what the Iranian people want.”

More than want, he believes they may succeed. For Pahlavi, who advocates replacing Tehran’s theocracy with a pluralist, parliamentary democracy, the demonstrations that have rocked cities across Iran the last two weeks aren’t about egg prices, unemployment or economic opportunity. They’re about the nation’s greater grievance with its entire political system. In an interview with The Associated Press, Pahlavi cast the current discontent as more threatening to the Islamic Republic’s survival than the violence that followed disputed elections in 2009 — when Iranians clashed over the direction of a government that would in any scenario be undemocratic and corrupt, and opposed to human rights and the separation of state and religion. “The time has really come for a massive coalition,” Pahlavi told the AP in Washington, where he says he’s trying to help Iranian activists, human rights advocates, union leaders, journalists and students pull in a broader pool of citizens in defiance of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and the clerics and officials comprising the country’s ruling establishment. “These are usurpers that have invaded the country, taken us hostage and we shall get our country back. Today is the time,” he declared, describing his part — at least for now — as carrying the fl ag of the protesters’ cause with Western countries like the United States to intensify their responses and consider new sanctions on Iran’s leaders and their assets.

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