Europe must put up, says Iran
BERLIN, Sept 15, (Agencies): Europe should take action to neutralise the consequences of the US decision to quit a 2015 Iran nuclear accord to ensure its own long-term economic interests, Iran’s foreign minister said in an interview published on Saturday.
Mohammed Javad Zarif told Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine that Iran could “reduce its implementation” of the agreement and possibly increase uranium enrichment activities if the nuclear agreement was jeopardised by “the actions of the Americans and the passivity of the Europeans.”
“The Europeans and other signatories must act to offset the consequences of the US sanctions,” Zarif told the magazine, calling a package of measures drafted by Europe an important step that should now be implemented.
“What is paramount: Europe should do so not for Iran, but for its own sovereign and longterm economic interests.”
European Union officials strongly oppose the May decision by the United States to withdraw from the nuclear agreement, and have sought to salvage the deal in some form.
Germany on Friday said it was considering setting up a payment system with its European partners that would allow continued business transactions with Iran once US sanctions kick in.
However, German officials concede privately that such a system would not prevent big companies that rely on US exports to escape US sanctions if they continue to sell to Iran.
Zarif said Tehran’s biggest priority was to continue to sell a reasonable amount oil worldwide and return the proceeds to Iran, as well encouraging investment and cooperation in areas such as technology and research.
“Europe said the nuclear agreement was in its security interest. Then Europe must be ready to pay for its security,” Zarif said. “Nothing is for free.”
He said Europe should be “ready to pay for its security” by implementing a European Union “blocking agreement” under which it can punish European firms for withdrawing from Iranian business deals to avoid US sanctions.
“The question is whether European wants its companies to follow European laws or American ones, or whether it will submit to the American dictates,” Zarif said.
He said Iran had options to act if Europe failed to act to compensate Iran for the US sanctions.
“We do not necessarily have to cancel (the agreement). Article 36 of the agreement and Security Resolution 2231 make it possible to reduce implementation, without cancelling it,” he said.
Asked if Iran could resume increased enrichment of uranium, he said, “That would be one of the possibilities.”
Zarif said Tehran would not “waste its time” on additional negotiations with the United States about Iran’s behaviour in the region unless Washington rescinded its decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.
“Only when Europe ensures that (the agreement) is implemented can Iran see if the attempt should be made to talk about other issues,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has unloaded on his Obama-era predecessor John Kerry for “actively undermining” US policy on Iran by meeting several times recently with the Iranian foreign minister, who was his main interlocutor in the Iran nuclear deal negotiations.
In unusually blunt and caustic language, Pompeo said Friday that Kerry’s meetings with Mohammad Javad Zarif were “unseemly and unprecedented” and “beyond inappropriate.” US President Donald Trump had late Thursday accused Kerry of holding “illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people.”
Pompeo said he would leave “legal determinations to others” but slammed Kerry as a former secretary of state for engaging with “the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror” and telling Iran to “wait out this administration.” He noted that just this week Iranianbacked militias had fired rockets at US diplomatic compounds in Iraq.
“You can’t find precedent for this in US history, and Secretary Kerry ought not to engage in that kind of behavior,” an agitated Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “It’s inconsistent with what foreign policy of the United States is as directed by this president, and it is beyond inappropriate for him to be engaged.”
Kerry, who is promoting his new book “Every Day is Extra,” tweeted a response to Trump that referred to the president’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who agreed on Friday to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“Mr President, you should be more worried about Paul Manafort meeting with Robert Mueller than me meeting with Iran’s FM. But if you want to learn something about the nuclear agreement that made the world safer, buy my new book,” said Kerry.
He has been harshly critical of the president and his decision in May to withdraw from the Iran deal but denies “coaching” Tehran.
In a statement, his spokesman, Matt Summers, said: “There’s nothing unusual, let alone unseemly or inappropriate, about former diplomats meeting with foreign counterparts. Secretary (Henry) Kissinger has done it for decades with Russia and China. What is unseemly and unprecedented is for the podium of the State Department to be hijacked for political theatrics.”
Pompeo also took to task former Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz and exIran deal negotiator Wendy Sherman for joining Kerry at a meeting with Zarif and other Iranian officials earlier this year at a security conference in Munich – though Sherman said Friday she wasn’t with Kerry and Moniz when she met Zarif there. Along with Kerry, Moniz and Sherman played key roles in negotiating the 2015 agreement between Iran and several world
powers that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
“I wasn’t in the meeting, but I am reasonably confident that he was not there in support of US policy with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said.
“Former secretaries of state – all of them, from either political party – ought not to be engaged in” this kind of activity, he said. “Actively undermining US policy as a former secretary of state is literally unheard of.”
Meetings between a private US citizen and foreign official are not against the law and not necessarily inappropriate or a violation of federal regulations, but Trump, Pompeo and several GOP lawmakers say they are evidence Kerry and former Obama administration officials are trying to subvert Trump’s hard line on Iran.
“John Kerry had illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people,” Trump tweeted late Thursday. “He told them to wait out the Trump Administration! Was he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act? BAD!”
The law Trump invoked – the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA – requires registration and transparency by people or companies acting on behalf of foreign governments, political parties or individuals.
But Josh Rosenstein, a partner with the Washington law firm Sandler Reiff and a specialist in lobbying compliance, said there are too many unanswered questions to know whether the law applies to Kerry’s interactions with Zarif. FARA’s provisions don’t extend to activities conducted entirely overseas, so where Kerry interacted with him matters. Also unclear is whether any Iranians specifically asked Kerry for advice.
“The devil’s always in the details,” Rosenstein said. “Simply offering advice to a foreign government doesn’t make you a foreign agent.”
When reports of Kerry’s ex-officio contacts with Zarif first surfaced in May, Trump tweeted similar thoughts. “John Kerry can’t get over the fact that he had his chance and blew it! Stay away from negotiations John, you are hurting your country!” he said on May 8. A day earlier, he tweeted: “The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal. He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!”
Trump and Pompeo’s criticism came after Kerry told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday that earlier reports of his meetings with Zarif were correct: They had met three or four times since Kerry left office but not since Pompeo took the job in April. One of those meetings took place in Oslo, Norway, and another in Munich, he said. A third is reported to have occurred at the United Nations headquarters, which is not technically on US soil.
Kerry told Hewitt that he was not coaching the Iranians on how to deal with the Trump administration.
“That’s not my job, and my coaching him would not, you know, that’s not how it works,” he said in the interview. “What I have done is tried to elicit from him (Zarif) what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better.”
The European Union Friday reiterated its commitment to the “full and effective implementation” of the Iranian nuclear deal as long as Iran continues to respect its related commitments.
“We believe it is crucial for the security of the region, for Europe and beyond,” Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, told a news conference.
She noted that in August the EU updated its blocking statute, as the EU does not recognize the extra-territorial application of re-imposed US sanctions on Iran.
“We continue to work with (EU) member states and other partners on other concrete measures aimed at sustaining the cooperation with Iran in key economic sectors, particularly in banking, finance, investment, trade, transport and oil,” said the spokesperson.
“Part of this ongoing effort is to make sure that the effects of the (US) sanctions are minimized for companies that want to continue to do legitimate business with and in Iran and they can
still have necessary access to finance,” she added.
Meanwhile, political consultations on regional issues between the EU and Iran were hosted in Brussels on Wednesday.
European External Action Service (EEAS) Secretary General Helga Schmid chaired the meeting attended by political directors of France, Germany, Italy and the UK.
Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, led the Iranian delegation.
The US government, meanwhile, on Friday imposed sanctions on a Thailand-based company it says provides services to an Iranian airline that Washington accuses of supporting terrorist activities directed by Iran’s government.
The US Treasury Department said in a statement that My Aviation Co Ltd, headquartered in Bangkok, “provides cargo services to Mahan Air, to include freight booking,” as well as passenger booking services. Mahan Air’s website lists six weekly flights to the Thai capital, Bangkok.
It said the privately owned Iranian airline “has routinely flown fighters and materiel to Syria to prop up the Assad regime, which has contributed to mass atrocities in the country and the displacement of millions of innocent civilians.”
The sanctions order blocks the Thai company’s assets in the United States and generally prohibits US citizens from doing business with it. The order was announced after working hours in Thailand, and no comment was immediately available from My Aviation.
“Mahan Air continues to fly into Syria every week, even as millions of innocent civilians in Idlib province are under threat of imminent attack from the murderous Assad regime and its backers in Iran and Russia. Treasury is cutting off yet another service provider acting on behalf of Mahan Air, a sanctioned airline that transports soldiers and supplies to Assad and fuels terrorist activities across the region,” the statement quoted Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as saying.
“This Thailand-based company has disregarded numerous US warnings, issued publicly and delivered bilaterally to the Thai government, to sever ties with Mahan Air,” Mnuchin said. “This action should serve as a warning that the US is intent on ensuring that the aviation industry ceases providing services to, and profiting from, this terrorist-affiliated airline.”
The United States has sanctioned Mahan Air for multiple instances of supporting groups it designated as terrorists, including transporting weapons and personnel for Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The sanctions order against My Aviation was applied under two Treasury Department programs, covering Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations and Iranian Financial Sanctions Regulations.
One other Thailand-based company has been sanctioned under the same programs.
“Asian Aviation Logistics also acts for or on behalf of Mahan Air and helps the airline evade sanctions by making payments on behalf of Mahan Air for the purchase of engines and other equipment,” the Treasury Department said in 2014. “Asian Aviation Logistics also employs at least one Mahan Air official.”
In other news, Iran said on Saturday that Kurdish activists attacked its embassy in Paris, breaking windows, and has accused French police of arriving late on the scene.
A spokeswoman for the police was unable to comment immediately.
Fars news agency reported that around 15 Kurdish activists burned the Iranian flag in front of the embassy during the incident on Friday, and smashed some windows with stones.
They also threw fire extinguishers and computers at the gate, according to Fars, but did not manage to enter the premises.
“The French government should take all necessary measures to protect Iranian diplomatic missions in that country,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA on Saturday.
“Unfortunately, the French police did not arrive as expected on the scene on time, although the assailants were members of a terrorist organisation,” he said.
Qasemi said some of the attackers were arrested.
Tehran has accused France of supporting opposition groups which seek the overthrow of the Islamic Republic and are classified by Tehran as terrorist organisations. France has rejected Iranian accusations.
Last week, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fired seven missiles at the headquarters in northern Iraq of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), an armed opposition group that fights for greater autonomy for Iran’s Kurdish community.