EU suspends Iran sanctions, but mistrust remains
EU countries have agreed to immediately suspend some Iran sanctions, but plenty of mistrust remains.
Officials said the move will be enshrined in the Union’s Official Journal later on Monday (20 January), allowing it to enter into life without the normal lag of 24 to 48 hours.
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The suspension, to last six months, means European insurance firms will be free to cover shipments of Iranian crude oil.
EU firms will also be able to trade Iranian petrochemcial products, gems and gold, and there will be fewer restrictions on wire transfers to cover trade in food and medicine.
But dozens of Iranian shipping firms, banks, officials and businessmen will remain on the EU’s blacklist for now.
The decision comes after the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA in Vienna, in a report earlier the same day confirmed that Iran has stopped enriching uranium to near weapons-grade in line with an agreement last November.
“This is an important day in our pursuit of ensuring that Iran has an exclusively peaceful nuclear programme,” EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton said.
She added that talks on a permanent accord will start in "the next few weeks."
The EU sanctions move is a symbolic end to Iran’s isolation on the world stage.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon earlier on Monday said Iran is welcome at the so-called Geneva II peace talks on Syria in Switzerland on Wednesday.
His invitation stands in contrast to Geneva I, in June 2012, when Iran was kept out.
But the US has said the UN chief was wrong because Iran has not publicly agreed that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, its ally, must step down in any peace deal, in line with Geneva I accords.
The UK on Monday voiced similar concerns.
Foreign secretary William Hague told press in the EU capital: “It’s very importnat that they [Iran] publicly confirm that [Geneva I on al-Assad] … I think the whole world, especially the Syrian National Council [SNC, a rebel faction] will be waiting to hear from them.”
Ashton also noted that all Geneva II participants must adhere to Geneva I.
With the SNC threatening to pull out of the talks over Iran, Belgium’s foreign minister Didier Reynders said he is “very pessimistic” on prospects for peace.
The Danish foreign minister, Holder Nielsen, described the conflict, now in its third year, as “the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the millennium, and it’s still going on.”
In this context, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier noted that developments in Iran were "the only positive signal" in the region.
Meanwhile, Syria's al-Assad, in a rare interview with French press agency AFP on Sunday, said he plans to stand in future elections.
He noted that the civil war is likely to last “a lot of time.”
He gave the interview from his presidential palace in Damascus, adding that his day-to-day life remains normal: "I go to work as usual, and we live in the same house as before.”
The fighting has so far caused at least 120,000 deaths and created 4 million refugees.