26th Jan 2021

EU holds nuclear talks in shadow of Iran hanging

  • UN monitors are meant to have access to Iran nuclear facilities under the JCPOA (Photo: iaea.org)

The EU has appealed for Iran to halt a second high-profile hanging, but said nuclear arms talks will go on regardless of human rights abuses or related blacklists.

"We're doing what we can, seeking clarification from our Iranian partners, doing outreach, and hoping that the execution will not proceed," an EU foreign service spokesman said in Brussels on Monday (14 December), referring to Ahmadreza Djalali, a dual Swedish-Iranian national sentenced to die for espionage.

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Iran, on Saturday, hanged Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist who had been living in exile in France, but whom it snatched when he visited Iraq, on charges of fomenting "riots" in 2017.

The execution prompted condemnation by France, which called it a "barbarous" act, and by Austria, Germany, and Italy.

It also led EU foreign service chief Josep Borrell and European firms to postpone a Europe-Iran business forum, due to have taken place by video-link on Monday.

And it could lead to new visa-bans and asset-freezes on Iranian officials, 82 of whom the EU already blacklisted in recent years for other human rights violations.

"It's up to member states to decide whether to apply them [EU sanctions] in this particular case [Zam], but anything is possible," the EU foreign service spokesman noted on Monday.

A senior EU diplomat was due to attend a virtual meeting of the signatories of an Iranian nuclear non-proliferation deal on Wednesday.

The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has seen France, Germany, the UK, China, and Russia lift economic sanctions on Iran in return for freezing its alleged nuclear arms programme.

And Wednesday's JCPOA talks, covering implementation details, will go ahead as planned despite Zam's killing, the EU foreign service said.

"I wouldn't mix the two issues," the EU spokesman said on Monday.

"You cannot connect it [the JCPOA], or link it, or even compare it with the objectives of the [postponed EU business] forum," he added.

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, took a similar line.

"A court has reviewed the [Zam] case and issued the verdict. We act in the framework of our regulations," Rouhani said in Tehran on Monday, according to the Reuters news agency.

"I see it as unlikely that the case will damage Iran and Europe relations," he said.

The US also signed the JCPOA back in 2015.

Outgoing US president Donald Trump later quit the accord and the State Department, echoing the EU, condemned Zam's execution on Monday.

But Rouhani indicated he was open to fresh cooperation with US president-elect Joe Biden, so long as America let Iran build ballistic missiles.

"The missile programme and regional issues have no link to the nuclear deal. These are not matters of discussion, at all," he said.

"The Americans were trying for months to add the missile issue [to the JCPOA] and this was rejected. Trump was uninformed and didn't know about the matter, but Mr. Biden is well aware of the details," Rouhani added.

EU decorum

Meanwhile, it remained to be seen when the EU-Iran business forum might be rescheduled, the EU foreign service said.

"The forum was not cancelled, it was postponed, because the circumstances are not right, exactly because of what happened on Saturday with the execution [of Zam]," the EU spokesman said.

And the event would not be held "until such time as we find it useful or appropriate," the spokesman added.

Iran executed 251 people last year.

China was believed to have killed thousands of prisoners in 2019 by international charity Amnesty International.

Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt also executed hundreds of people.

Djalali, the dual Swedish-Iranian national, was convicted by Iran of helping Israeli intelligence services to target Iranian nuclear scientists.

And Rouhani, on Monday, repeated accusations that Israel was behind the recent assassination of a top Iranian nuclear expert, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in remarks which boded ill for Djalali's safety.

"Waging instability and war in the final days of the Trump administration was the main aim of the Zionist regime [Israel] in the assassination [of Fakhrizadeh]," Rouhani said.

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