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

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.

Yazidi ‘ex-sex slave’ trapped both in Iraq and in German exile

Updated 3 min 4 sec ago

Yazidi ‘ex-sex slave’ trapped both in Iraq and in German exile

LALISH: A young Yazidi woman who fled to Germany but returned home to northern Iraq says she cannot escape her Daesh captor who held her as a sex slave for three months.
Ashwaq Hajji, 19, says she ran into the man in a German supermarket in February. Traumatized by the encounter, she returned to Iraq the following month. Like many other Yazidis, she was kidnapped by Daesh when the extremists seized swaths of Iraq in the summer of 2014.
In their ancestral region of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, thousands of Yazidi women were killed or sold off as sex slaves.
The teenager was held from Aug. 3 until Oct. 22 of 2014, when she managed to escape from the home of an Iraqi extremist using the name Abu Humam who had bought her for $100, she told AFP in the Yazidi shrine of Lalish, north of second city Mosul.
The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority that was brutally persecuted by the terrorists who despise them as heretics.
Under a German government program for Iraqi refugees, Ashwaq, her mother and a younger brother were resettled in 2015 in Schwaebisch Gmuend, a town near Stuttgart.
Her refuge in Germany, where she took language lessons, was cut short on Feb. 21 when a man called out her name in a supermarket and started talking to her in German.
“He told me he was Abu Humam. I told him I didn’t know him, and then he started talking to me in Arabic,” she said.
“He told me: ‘Don’t lie, I know very well that you’re Ashwaq’,” she said, adding that he gave her home address and other details of her life in Germany.
After that experience, she immediately phoned the local police, who told her to contact a specialized department.
The judicial police in the Baden-Wuerttemberg region of southwestern Germany said an inquiry was opened on March 13 but that Ashwaq was not present to answer questions.
A spokesman for the German federal prosecutor’s office said that so far the man’s identity could not be confirmed “with certainty.”
Germany says it has opened several investigations over terrorism charges or crimes against humanity involving asylum seekers linked to extremist groups in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.
Ashwaq said she had viewed surveillance videos filmed in the supermarket together with German police and was ready to keep them informed of her whereabouts.
But she said that she was not willing to return to Germany for fear of seeing her captor again.
She is back in northern Iraq with her mother and brother, but living in fear because she says Abu Humam has family in Baghdad.
She wears black in a sign of mourning for five brothers and a sister still missing since their own capture by IS.
At a camp for the displaced in nearby Iraqi Kurdistan where he has been resettled, her father, Hajji Hamid, 53, admits returning was not an easy decision, even though the government proclaimed victory over IS at the end of last year.
“When her mother told me that she’d seen that jihadist... I told them to come back because Germany was obviously no longer a safe place for them,” he said.
Life in Iraq is also not easy for Ashwaq or for the 3,315 other Yazidis who escaped from the jihadists. A similar number are still being held or have gone missing, according to official figures.
“All the survivors have volcanos inside them, ready to explode,” warned Sara Samouqi, a psychologist who works with several Yazidis.
“Ashwaq and her family are going through terrible times.”