Tehran wary as Europe presents measures to save nuclear deal

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey May 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 20 May 2018
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Tehran wary as Europe presents measures to save nuclear deal

  • Since Trump’s announcement on May 8 about the US exit, European countries have said they will try to keep Iran’s oil and investment flowing.
  • Iran, which has the world’s fourth-biggest oil reserves, produces some 3.8 million barrels of oil per day.

TEHRAN: Iran said on Saturday it would wait to see whether Europe produces tangible results in overcoming US sanctions before deciding whether to stay in the nuclear deal, as a top EU official visited Tehran to present plans to maintain trade ties.

“The ball is in the court of the EU. They have presented different proposals, we will see if they materialize,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters.

It threatened to resume industrial uranium enrichment “without limit” unless its interests are preserved.

Salehi was speaking after a meeting with EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, the first high-level Western official to visit Iran since the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal earlier this month.

Since Trump’s announcement on May 8 about the US exit, European countries have said they will try to keep Iran’s oil and investment flowing, but have also admitted they will struggle to provide the guarantees Tehran seeks.

Canete called the nuclear deal “fundamental for peace in the region” as he outlined EU plans to continue oil and gas purchases and protect European companies, despite renewed US sanctions on Iran that are set to be phased in over the next six months.

“For sure there are clear difficulties with the sanctions,” Canete said at a press conference alongside Salehi.

“We will have to ask for waivers, for carve-outs for the companies that make investments.”

Salehi acknowledged Europe’s efforts but said: “We want tangible results, otherwise we take our own decisions. I personally don’t want to see such decisions being taken.”

‘All kinds of possibilities’

Salehi said Iran had several options, including resuming its 20 percent uranium enrichment, if the European countries failed to keep the pact alive. He said the EU had only a few weeks to deliver on their promises.

“If the other side keeps itself committed to its promises we also will be keeping ourselves to our promises ... We hope the situation will not arise to the point that we will have to go back to the worst option,” Salehi told reporters in English.

“There are all kind of possibilities, we can ... start the 20 percent enrichment.”

Trust deficit

Salehi said the Iranian people had lost trust in the nuclear agreement, and if trade benefits were not protected “they will lose more confidence... and we will be forced to leave.”

“We hope their efforts materialize ... America’s actions ... show that it is not a trustworthy country in international dealings,” Salehi told the joint news conference in Tehran.

European leaders have outlined measures to protect EU firms from US sanctions.

But several of their companies — including France’s Total and Holland’s Maersk — have already said it will be impossible to stay in Iran once US sanctions are reimposed unless they receive explicit exemptions from Washington.

Iran’s trade with the EU is around €20 billion, evenly split between imports and exports.

The vast majority of EU purchases from Iran — 90 percent — are oil purchases, going primarily to Spain, France, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and Germany.

Iran, which has the world’s fourth-biggest oil reserves, produces some 3.8 million barrels of oil per day, 70 percent of which goes to China and other Asian countries, and 20 percent to Europe.

It also has the second-biggest gas reserves in the world, but limited infrastructure means little is exported.

Russia and China — the other parties to the nuclear deal — have also vowed to maintain trade with Iran and are less vulnerable to economic pressure from Washington.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran’s level of enrichment must remain at around 3.6 percent. Iran stopped producing 20 percent enriched uranium and gave up the majority of its stockpile as part of the agreement.

Uranium refined to 20 percent fissile purity is well beyond the 5 percent normally required to fuel civilian nuclear power plants, although still well short of the highly enriched, or 80 to 90 percent, purity needed for a nuclear bomb.

Canete was set to meet Iran’s Environment Minister Isa Kalantari and Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh later on Saturday, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday.


UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

Updated 19 October 2018
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UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

  • An estimated 50,000 women, children and men are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border
  • Jordan has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed

DAMASCUS, Syria: The UN said it was organizing a joint aid convoy with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to tens of thousands of Syrians stranded in the desert near the Jordanian border.

The world body said the convoy would deliver “humanitarian assistance to an estimated 50,000 women, children and men who are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border.”

“The overall humanitarian situation inside the Rukban camp is at a critical stage,” said Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN’s top official in Damascus.

Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, OCHA, said the world body was “deeply concerned over the deteriorating humanitarian situation” at the camp.

A suicide bombing claimed by Daesh in June 2016 killed seven Jordanian soldiers in no-man’s land near the nearby Rukban crossing.

Soon afterwards, the army declared Jordan’s desert regions that stretch northeast to Syria and east to Iraq “closed military zones.”

The kingdom, part of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh, has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed. 

The camp, home to displaced people from across Syria, also lies close to the Al-Tanf base used by the US-led coalition fighting IS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the camp suffers from a severe lack of food and medicines, compounded by its remote desert location, the closure of the Jordanian border and regime forces cutting off all roads to it.

The last delivery of UN aid to Rukban took place in January 2018 through Jordan.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF last week urged warring parties in Syria to allow basic health service deliveries to the camp, saying two babies without access to hospitals had died there within 48 hours.

On Thursday, UN humanitarian aid expert Jan Egeland confirmed the regime had agreed to allow convoys of aid to the Rukban area.

He said Russian officials had told him Syria’s regime had withdrawn a controversial law that allowed for authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled fighting in the country’s civil war.

Egeland of the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura also confirmed he will leave his post in November. 

He spoke a day after de Mistura told the UN Security Council that he is leaving for “personal” reasons.

The envoy said that he will make a final effort before stepping down next month to advance toward a new constitution for Syria — a key step in ending the country’s civil war.

De Mistura announced at the end of a Security Council briefing that he is leaving the job in late November for “purely, purely personal reasons” related to his family after four years and four months in one of the toughest UN jobs.

He told council members that objections by the Syrian government are still holding up the launch of the committee meant to draft a new constitution.

While there is agreement on the 50-member government and opposition delegations for the drafting committee, de Mistura said the government objects to a third 50-member delegation that the UN put together representing Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

De Mistura said he has been invited to Damascus next week to discuss the committee’s formation.

He said he also intends to invite senior officials from Russia, Turkey and Iran — the guarantor states in the so-called “Astana process” aimed at ending the violence in Syria — to meet him in Geneva, and to talk to a group of key countries comprising Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Britain and the US.