New Round of Iran-EU Top-Level Negotiations

The European Union has staunchly defended the nuclear deal in the face of US President Donald Trump’s antagonism and rebuffed the US demand for new Iran sanctions
Secretary-General of European External Action Service Helga Schmid (L) and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi are in charge of the high-level Iran-EU talks.
Secretary-General of European External Action Service Helga Schmid (L) and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi are in charge of the high-level Iran-EU talks.

Iran and the European Union are to meet today in a third round of high-level talks, part of an effort initiated in the wake of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to expand bilateral cooperation.

The Iranian cities of Tehran and Isfahan are consecutively hosting the consultations chaired by Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi and Secretary-General of European External Action Service Helga Schmid, IRNA reported.

This round of talks is focused on exploring prospects for nuclear cooperation between the two sides.

The plan for high-level talks was announced in a late-July 2015 press conference attended by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his EU counterpart, Federica Mogherini, who was on a visit to Tehran days after the conclusion of the historic nuclear accord involving Iran, six major powers and the bloc.

It went into effect six months later to subject Tehran's nuclear program to time-bound curbs in return for relief from international sanctions.

The second round was held in Brussels a year ago, mainly focusing on human rights and banking relations.

Among the lingering issues expected to come up during the discussions is the establishment of an EU office in Tehran.

Mogherini formally expressed the bloc's interest in opening a full diplomatic mission in a joint statement during a trip to Tehran in April 2016.

The joint statement said, "To facilitate the program of cooperation as set out [in the statement] and with a view to preparing the future opening of an EU delegation in Tehran, in accordance with rules and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, an EU liaison team will be sent to Tehran."

Talks for the establishment of EU's Tehran office drew sharp criticism from President Hassan Rouhani's conservative critics who fear the office might be used for pressuring the country by raising human rights issues.

***High Sensitivity

Former deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, who led Iran's delegation in the second round, said it was natural to see high sensitivity on the human rights issue, given the West's history of using it as a political tool.

During his weekly briefing last Monday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi dismissed Iranian media reports linking a visit by EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan with efforts to set up the EU office in Tehran.

The reports came out after a meeting on Nov. 11 between Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri and Hogan who was in Tehran at the head of a high-ranking 70-strong EU delegation.

Qasemi said the decision regarding the establishment of the EU mission is outside the purview of the Foreign Ministry and would be subject to the approval of the Supreme National Security Council.

Today's high-level meeting is going ahead amid US President Donald Trump's increasingly aggressive stance toward Iran and the landmark nuclear agreement, negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama.

Trump dealt a blow to the UN-endorsed pact last month by refusing to extend the certification of Tehran's compliance, effectively throwing its fate into the hands of the US Congress, which has until mid-December to decide whether to reinstate anti-Iran sanctions.

He has threatened to pull the US out of the international agreement, unless congress and Washington's European allies would work together to find a way to curb Tehran's missile power and regional influence.

EU has staunchly defended the deal in the face of Trump's antagonism and rebuffed the US demand for new Iran sanctions.

"First of all, let me say that we did not discuss today nor last week, nor do I foresee any discussion in the future about further sanctions from the European Union side on Iran," Mogherini said a week ago.

"This is not part of our current discussions. And, as you know, we have lifted all our nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in compliance with our own commitments with the JCPOA," she said, using the formal name of the accord, namely the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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