AMERICA ISSUES FRESH IRAN-RELATED SANCTIONS
BRUSSELS, Jan 24, (Agencies): The European Union (EU) Thursday expressed optimism that the much-delayed launch of a payment mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran could be ready soon.
“I have said several times that the SPV preparations have progressed. They are at an advanced stage and I hope we can announce the launch very soon,” Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, told a news conference in Brussels Thursday.
“That remains are position. We are working on it together with the (EU) member states responsible. So the situation hasn’t changed,” she added. The EU is trying to set up the so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to circumvent US sanctions on Iran, but analysts opine that EU member states are not willing to host the SPV for fear of being targeted by US sanctions against Iran. Last December, Mogherini had told reporters in Brussels that the SPV could be in place by the end of 2018.
“I would expect this instrument to be established in the coming weeks so before the end of the year as a way to protect and promote legitimate business with Iran,” Mogherini had then said. France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that he expected a European-backed system to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran and circumvent US sanctions would be established in the coming days.
Diplomats have told Reuters the European Union is set to officially launch the mechanism this month, but the socalled special purpose vehicle (SPV) will not operate for several months because technical details still need to be worked out. The vehicle, designed to bypass fresh US curbs imposed after Washington quit a landmark nuclear deal, will be registered in France, run by a German and likely to include France, Germany and Britain as shareholders. The SPV “should be implemented in the coming days”, Jean-Yves Le Drian told the French parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
“It will work as a sort of clearing house that will allow in euros for Iran to benefit from some of its oil resources and at the same time buy essential products from the main three main (European) partners,” Le Drian said. The United States on Thursday targeted two Iran-backed foreign fighter militias in Syria and an airline that helps ferry weapons to Syria in fresh sanctions as Washington prepares for a military withdrawal from the war-torn country.
Exploits “The brutal Iranian regime exploits refugee communities in Iran, deprives them of access to basic services such as education, and uses them as human shields for the Syrian confl ict,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“Treasury’s targeting of Iran-backed militias and other foreign proxies is part of our ongoing pressure campaign to shut down the illicit networks the regime uses to export terrorism and unrest across the globe,” he said in a statement.
The two Iranian-backed fighting units and two airlines, Iran-based Qeshm Fars Air and Armenia-based Flight Travel LLC, are linked to Iran’s Mahan Air and Iran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, both of which are already blacklisted, the US Treasury Department said in a statement.
The Fatemiyoun Division and Zaynabiyoun Brigade are being designated for providing material support to the IRGCQF, the statement said. Iran arrested more than 7,000 people last year, including dozens of journalists, in what Amnesty International on Thursday called a “shameless campaign of repression” as the US released an American anchorwoman for Iranian state television held for days as a material witness.
While Iranian officials and state media have widely condemned the arrest of Marzieh Hashemi of the broadcaster’s English-language channel Press TV, the figures released by Amnesty highlight the widespread campaign of arrest and harassment those in the media face in the Islamic Republic.
Even as Hashemi was released, Iran sentenced prominent whistleblower journalist Yashar Soltani to five years in prison after his series of exposes alleging massive corruption in land deals linked to Tehran’s former mayor.
Meanwhile, Iranian state TV continues to face criticism for airing statements from detainees made under duress, including two recent ones from labor activists Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian who allegedly faced torture. Authorities detained both of them again this week.
The Amnesty report said that among those arrested in 2018 were protesters, students, journalists, environmental activists, workers and human rights defenders. Some 50 detainees were media workers, of whom at least 20 “were sentenced to harsh prison or flogging sentences after unfair trials,” the report said.
An American-born anchor for Iran’s state-run Press TV was released after 10 days of detention in the United States as a material witness in an undisclosed US federal investigation, the English-language news channel reported on Thursday. There has been tension between Iran and the United States since US President Donald Trump’s decision last May to pull out of an international nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
“Marzieh Hashemi has been released from her detention without charge and is with her family in Washington DC,” state television said, quoting a statement issued by the family soon after she was freed on Wednesday. “They still have serious grievances and they want assurances that this won’t happen to any Muslim – or any other person – ever again.” Hashemi will stay in Washington DC for a protest on Friday and she urged protesters in cities across the world to stick to their plans for the protest, Press TV said in a statement.
Hashemi, 59, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at St Louis Lambert International Airport and transferred to a detention centre in Washington DC, where she was held for two days before managing to contact her family, Press TV said. US federal law allows the government to arrest and detain a witness if it can prove their testimony is material to a criminal proceeding and it cannot guarantee their presence through a subpoena.
Hashemi was born Melanie Franklin in the United States and changed her name after converting to Islam. She received Iranian citizenship after marrying an Iranian. She had traveled to the United States to visit her family, Press TV said. Several Iranian dual nationals from Austria, Britain, Canada, France and the United States have been detained in the past few years in Iran on charges such as espionage and collaborating with hostile governments.
The official IRNA news agency reports that an Iranian court has sentenced a prominent journalist to five years in prison. IRNA said Wednesday the court found Yashar Soltani guilty of false reporting and insulting entities. In recent years, Soltani has routinely published reports on corruption in Iranian public agencies. Authorities in recent months have also detained several other journalists and activists on security-related charges.
On Tuesday, authorities took three writers – Reza Mahabadi, Keivan Bajan and Bektash Abtin – into custody after they failed to provide sufficient bail following allegations of plotting against national security. Another court Tuesday sentenced two activists, Reza Khandan and Farhad Mesami, to six years in prison each. In December, a court sentenced journalist Hamed Aynehvand to six years. All the verdicts are subject to appeal.