US expansion of sanctions is a ‘major obstacle’ – says Iranian Foreign Minister

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Protesters outside the US Treasury in Washington DC demanding the lifting of US sanctions on Iran

IRANIAN Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian says the United States expanding sanctions against Iran, is a major obstacle to the Vienna talks aimed at putting the accord back on track.

In a telephone conversation with his Swiss counterpart, Ignazio Cassis, on Tuesday, Amir-Abdollahian said Iran was ‘ready and serious to reach a good and immediate agreement’ in the talks that would start in Vienna, Austria on November 29, ‘but at the same time it is distrustful of US behaviour’.

‘On the one hand, the US pretends to be interested in returning to the JCPOA, but on the other, it has imposed sanctions on Iranian individuals and companies in two stages over the past few weeks.

‘America’s contradictory behaviour is one of the main obstacles to the negotiations,’ he added, referring to nuclear deal by the acronym of its official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The top Iranian diplomat also emphasised that the Islamic Republic would judge the US based on its behaviour.

Envoys from Iran and the P4+1 group of countries – Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany – are expected to hold the seventh round of discussions in Vienna on November 29.

The negotiations were paused in June, when Iran held a presidential election. Since then, the new Iranian administration has been reviewing the details of the six rounds of talks held under the previous administration.

Former US president Donald Trump left the JCPOA in May 2018 and re-imposed the anti-Iran sanctions that the deal had lifted. He also placed additional sanctions on Iran under other pretexts not related to the nuclear case as part of his ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.

Following a year of strategic patience, Iran resorted to its legal rights under the JCPOA, which grants a party the right to suspend its contractual commitments in case of non-compliance by other signatories, and let go of some of the restrictions imposed on its nuclear energy programme.

The US administration of President Joe Biden has said it is willing to compensate for Trump’s mistake and rejoin the deal, but it has shown an overriding propensity for maintaining some of the sanctions as a tool of pressure.

Tehran insists that all sanctions must first be removed in a verifiable manner before it reverses its remedial measures.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Amir-Abdollahian said that Tehran-Bern relations were on the right track and that a recent visit by Switzerland’s President of the National Council Andreas Aebi to Iran marked a turning point in bilateral parliamentary ties.

Referring to the efforts underway to resolve problems on the way of the activities of Swiss companies in Iran, he stressed the need to boost relations between the two countries in various sectors, including science, education, agriculture, transportation, health and banking.

The Swiss foreign minister, for his part, pointed to the importance of relations with Iran and explained the status of a trade channel between the two states.

The two chief diplomats also discussed the crisis in Afghanistan.

Amir-Abdollahian said Iran continued to encourage the ruling administration in Afghanistan to form an inclusive government, expressing concern over the humanitarian situation in the South Asian country amid the winter season.

His Swiss counterpart also announced his country’s readiness to cooperate in the transfer of aid to Afghanistan through Iran.

Bern agrees with Tehran on the need to form an inclusive government in Afghanistan, he said, praising Tehran for attempting to find a diplomatic solution to the Afghan crisis as well as hosting refugees.

With the next round of talks focusing on removal of US anti-Iran sanctions just around the corner, Washington and its Western allies have gone out of their way to exert more pressure on Tehran, from imposing sanctions and issuing warlike statements to now threatening to look at ‘all options’ against the country, all of which risk a backlash ahead of the negotiations.

Since late October, the US and its main Western allies – France, Britain, and Germany – have ramped up bad faith measures that could endanger the prospects of fruitful talks in Vienna, aimed primarily at removal of US sanctions, which could subsequently set the stage for the US return to the 2015 nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The US has imposed different rounds of sanctions targeting Iran, prompting criticism from the Islamic Republic, which says the US, under the Joe Biden administration, has continued former US President Donald Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy, despite having promised to repeal the anti-Iran policy and rejoin the deal.

The four countries have also issued several statements decrying Iran’s nuclear advancements and putting pressure on Tehran, without bearing responsibility for their actions, which brought the nuclear deal to the brink of ruin.

Meanwhile, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says the UN nuclear watchdog believes everyone should sign the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and that the Israeli regime is no exception.

On Tuesday, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi was asked about the Agency’s stance on Israel, which has long been in possession of undeclared nuclear arms, refusing to join the NPT, and attempts to pile pressure on NPT signatory Iran.

Grossi replied: ‘What I can say is that we believe that every country should subscribe to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. This is something which is very important. The General Conference of the IAEA has approved several resolutions insisting that every state in the world adheres to this treaty, which we believe is very important.’

He said the IAEA General Conference had ‘repeatedly approved resolutions exhorting’ Israel, among others, to be part of the NPT.

Elsewhere, Grossi said he has held ‘very constructive’ talks with Iranian officials as part of ‘a long day of discussions, talks, and negotiations’ during a visit to the Islamic Republic.

He met with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, Mohammad Eslami during his stay so far.

He said he was paying the visit after the two sides agreed during a trip by Grossi to Tehran in September that he should travel to the country soon to sit down with officials from Iran’s new administration.

‘The relation between the agency and Iran is a permanent one … is a continuous one,’ the IAEA chief also said.

Through its latest quarterly report, the agency affirmed conducting its routine regulatory checks of Iran’s nuclear energy program.

The United States and its Western allies, however, regularly come up with unfounded accusations concerning the quality of the bilateral cooperation between Iran and the IAEA. Tehran routinely refutes the allegations, citing technical facts to the contrary and reasserting its constant intention of working transparently with the international body.

The report cited only one instance of difference arising from Iran’s inability to allow the agency access to one location owing to underway legal and security investigation into a ‘terrorist action’ targeting the facility.

The Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities and scientists have come under repeated, and often deadly, terrorist attacks. The Israeli regime has either admitted to conducting the incidents or is the prime suspect in all of them.

Iran has asked the agency to help it complete the investigations.

Asked about the agency’s stance on such atrocities, Grossi said: ‘The use of violence is absolutely condemnable.’

The IAEA chief was then questioned about its position on the Israeli regime’s possession of a nuclear arsenal and the regime’s simultaneous refusal to subscribe to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Asked whether the agency was subjecting Iran to ‘prejudicial treatment’ by consistently turning up the heat on the Islamic Republic, but refusing to adopt the same approach towards the Israeli regime, he denied that the agency had ever taken a political stance towards the Islamic Republic.

Grossi, however, condemned refusal by certain parties across the world to accede to the NPT, calling participation in the treaty ‘very important’.

The director-general was also asked about the issue of the United States’ own nuclear weapons programme as well as Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear agreement between Iran and others, and its re-introduction of its sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The IAEA’s mandate is a ‘non-proliferation mandate not a disarmament mandate’, he said, and considered holding the US responsible for its violations of the nuclear accord to be outside the agency’s jurisdiction.

‘The agency does not have or did not have the competence in terms of the political decision of a country to remain or to withdraw from the agreement,’ he said.

‘So, in that regard, what we continued to do was to verify compliance or lack thereof of the provisions of the nuclear aspects of the JCPOA. And this is what we continue to do,’ he added.

‘The IAEA cannot be a party to solution of the sanctions problem. This is a political issue that needs to be solved between the United States and Iran, and I hope they would be able to do that.’