Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, January 2022
Iran's Foreign Minister Says Vienna Talks About Sanctions Are Positive, South Korean-Iranian Talks About Frozen Assets
January 10, 2022
Iran’s Top Diplomat: Vienna Talks Positive, Good Agreement Needs Seriousness
January 10, 2022
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that talks between Tehran and the world powers in Vienna on removal of the US sanctions have been positive so far, stressing that an agreement is possible in the shortest time if the other side shows seriousness.
“If there is serious will, we will be able to reach a good agreement in the shortest time, and as of today, we believe that negotiations are positive and moving forward,” Amir Abdollahian said in an interview with the state TV on Sunday.
“Our proposals are transparent and clearly on the table. Our opposite sides, especially the Western parties, must show goodwill,” he added.
Amir Abdollahian stated that during the ongoing round of talks on the revival of the 2015 deal, Americans sought a host of concessions from Iran in return for giving one simple concession.
“The negotiations [in Vienna] are not easy, but the initiatives taken by the Iranian side ... have put us on the right track. We are close to a good agreement. Whether we would be able to clinch this good agreement in the short term depends on the opposite side... If all parties returned to their obligations under the JCPOA – specially the United States, which withdrew from the JCPOA and violated it, and three European signatories that followed suit with the US – then we would certainly return to [full compliance with] the JCPOA,” he said.
Amir Abdollahian expressed the hope that a good agreement would be reached by the Vienna talks participants in the shortest possible time, emphasizing that Iran does not seek protracted talks.
"We are not willing to give 10 concessions and get one ... If there is serious determination, it is possible to reach a good agreement in the shortest time," Amir Abdollahian said.
Iran’s foreign minister added that the Iranian economic team, which is present at the Vienna talks, is tasked with working to neutralize the sanctions imposed on the country, adding, "This means that we are not going to wait for the (outcome of) Vienna talks for years."
“The mission of the economic team in the Iranian delegation in Vienna is removing the sanctions. I mean, we are not supposed to wait many years till the Vienna negotiations will lead to an agreement. In the cabinet sessions, too, I told my colleagues to pursue their responsibilities supposing that the sanctions will be in place, as they are today. The president, too, emphasizes that the economic team’s looks should not be focused on Vienna, and the country’s fate should not be tied to the negotiations,” he added.
Amir Abdollahian said that the Foreign Ministry’s top responsibility is assisting the country to gain more hard currency and strengthen the stand of the government’s economic team.
“The other responsibility of the Foreign Ministry is having the diplomatic art at the negotiation table, as the innate responsibility of the Foreign Ministry. There, we pursue the negotiations with strong logic that makes good sense in encountering the other side. President Rayeesi’s government is pragmatist, and therefore in the negotiations we are determined with a pragmatist behavior based on securing national interests, which is the 13th government’s approach; so that we can lead the negotiations toward a satisfactory agreement,” he added.
Amir Abdollahian said that Iran’s proposals are clear and unblemished on the negotiation table. The other side, particularly the westerners need to show their good will. "In my visit of New York some personalities who are close to the US president were trying to arrange for a negotiation in New York. I told them behave in a way to prove your policies towards Iran have changed. If you are truthful in negotiations, release our blocked money abroad (10 billion dollars) as a sign of your good will for us to return to the JCPOA."
“Reaching a shared literature was difficult during the first two rounds of the negotiations. The entire past six rounds of negotiations are before us, and meanwhile, we too, have presented some proposals. I mean, there is no doubt that it is the right of the new government to review the agreements reached by the previous government. The former government’s approach was hastiness at the end of the negotiations. We have not time for making mistake, and will pursue our responsibilities carefully at the negotiation table,” he said.
Amir Abdollahian said that even in these negotiations in exchange of the “Non-Paper” documents between Iran and the US, the American side demands 10 points for itself, and intends to give only one point to Iran, and even that point, is not cash. Naturally, the negotiating table work is not simple, but the Iranian side’s initiatives and the done negotiations have put us on the right and appropriate path.
"We have got very close to a good agreement, but weather this good agreement can be reached in a short while, or not, is up to the other side. We declared that if they have good will and serious determination, everything is clear. If every side will return to acting in accordance with their commitments, and those who initially breached the JCPOA terms, specially the Americans, and the Europeans who followed suit, then we too, will return to observing out JCPAO commitments,” the foreign minister said.
Iran’s lead negotiator Ali Baqeri Kani said on Saturday that talks on removal of sanctions against his country in Vienna are advancing and the two sides are now trying to resolve outstanding issues.
Iran and the five remaining signatories to the 2015 nuclear agreement are resolving the outstanding issues, Baqeri Kani told reporters in Vienna after meetings with representatives of the G4+1 group of countries (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China).
He added that the talks aimed at removing the US sanctions are advancing and moving forward.
Following talks with the Iranian lead negotiator, diplomats of the G4+1 countries reportedly held a meeting with the US representative and discussed the latest developments pertaining to the Vienna talks.
Tehran’s chief negotiator told reporters on Wednesday that the Vienna talks are “positive and forward-moving” and emphasized that efforts were underway to achieve results from the talks.
Also, last Monday, Amir Abdollahian said during sanctions removal talks in Vienna, Tehran seeks guarantees that no further sanctions will be imposed on the country once they are removed.
“We seek removal of sanctions that were imposed on Iran by (former US President Donald) Trump, especially those sanctions that are at odds with the (2015) nuclear deal," Iran’s foreign minister said.
“We also want guarantees that no new sanctions are imposed and that the existing sanctions would not be reimposed once they are removed,” he added.
Also, Russian chief negotiator to the Vienna talks Mikhail Ulyanov said in a tweet that the talks between Iran and the five countries are moving forward not fast but incrementally.
In another tweet, the Russian diplomat said the working group on sanctions lifting also held talks earlier in the day to assess the current state of affairs in the Vienna talks.
Iran and the G4+1 group of countries resumed talks in Vienna January 3 after the parties took a three-day break for the New Year. The US is not allowed to directly attend the talks due to its pullout in 2018 from the landmark deal with Iran.
The eighth round of the Vienna talks began on December 27 with a focus on the removal of all US sanctions. The US is not allowed to directly attend the talks due to its pullout in 2018 from the landmark deal with Iran.
During the previous round of the talks, the first under Iran’s new President Seyed Ebrahim Rayeesi, Iran presented new proposals at the negotiating table to help the talks move forward and later criticized the European signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for failing to follow suit and remaining passive.
Senior South Korean, Iranian officials discuss frozen assets
Koreqa Herald, January 7, 2022
Senior diplomats of South Korea and Iran had discussions on Iranian
assets frozen here under US sanctions, the foreign ministry said Friday,
with the thorny bilateral issue on the table for the talks in Vienna
aimed at restoring the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.
South Korean minister heads to Vienna for talks on Iranian frozen assets
Reuters, January 4, 2022
PARIS, January 4, 2022 (Reuters) -
A senior South Korean diplomat will hold talks in Vienna this week with Iran and world powers over how to resolve the issue of frozen Iranian assets held in the Asian country, the South Korean foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed on Monday.
Diplomats from all sides have indicated they are hoping to have a breakthrough by the end of January or early February, but sharp differences remain with the toughest issues still unresolved.
However, the arrival of South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun could be a positive signal. Iran has repeatedly demanded the release of its frozen assets in several countries because of U.S. sanctions, including $7 billion in South Korea. Any release would need to be approved by Washington.
The ministry said in a statement the delegation "would explore ways to resolve the issue of frozen Iranian assets in Korea" through consultations on the sidelines of the nuclear negotiations with Iran and in coordination with the United States, France, Germany and Britain.
The eighth round of talks, the first under Iran's new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, resumed on Monday after adding some new Iranian demands to a working text. Western powers have said progress was too slow and negotiators had "weeks not months" left before the 2015 deal becomes meaningless.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson again warned Iran on Tuesday that time was running out to salvage the deal.
Little remains of that deal, which lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its atomic activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of it in 2018, re-imposing U.S. sanctions, and Iran later breached many of the deal's nuclear restrictions and kept pushing well beyond them.
Iran refuses to meet directly with U.S. officials, meaning that other parties, which also include Russia and China, must shuttle between the two sides.
The United States has repeatedly expressed frustration at this format, saying it slows down the process, and Western officials still suspect Iran is simply playing for time.
Reporting by John Irish Editing by Alexandra Hudson
South Korea presses Iran over seized oil tanker as Gulf tensions rise
WD, January 7, 2021
Iran's seizure of a South Korean-flagged oil tanker comes after Tehran urged Seoul to release billions of dollars of Iranian assets frozen in South Korea under US sanctions.
A South Korean delegation left for Iran on Thursday to negotiate the early release of an oil tanker and its crew seized in strategic Gulf waters this week.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps troops on Monday stormed the South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi as it navigated the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and forced the vessel to a nearby Iranian port.
Iranian officials said the vessel was seized for violating maritime environmental laws as it was carrying 7,200 tons of "oil chemical products."
The Guards said the arrested crew were from South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
"I plan to meet my counterpart at the Iranian Foreign Ministry and will meet others through various routes if it will help efforts to resolve the issue of the ship's seizure," Koh Kyung-sok, the chief delegate and the director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's Middle Eastern affairs department, was quoted as saying before boarding the plane to Tehran.
The strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman
Tensions spiral in the Gulf
Iran's seizure of the tanker came after Tehran had urged Seoul to release the $7 billion (€5.7 billion) of Iranian assets frozen in South Korea under US sanctions.
The money was frozen in South Korean banks after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from a multilateral agreement which limited Tehran's nuclear enrichment activities in exchange for a relaxation of international economic and financial sanctions.
President Trump then slapped unilateral trade and financial sanctions on Iran.
The US had initially provided South Korea with a waiver to avoid implementing the new sanctions, but those lapsed, essentially forcing Seoul to freeze the Iranian assets.
Iran's move to seize the vessel also coincides with Tehran's announcement that it will increase the level of uranium enrichment at its Fordo nuclear facility to 20%, well above that agreed to with several countries, including the US, until Trump's withdrawal from the deal in 2018. Uranium enriched to 90% is required to fuel nuclear weapons. Iran claims its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.
Meanwhile, January 2 marked the one-year anniversary of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force, in a US drone attack.
Tension between the Islamic Republic and the United States has been running high in recent weeks, as Tehran marked the assassination, and Washington deployed military assets to the region, including the return of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and repeated sorties of pairs of strategic B-52 bombers over the Persian Gulf.
Concerns over the potential for a military confrontation between the US and Iran have been voiced from several quarters over the past few weeks. President Trump threatened Iran over a rocket attack by Tehran-backed Iraqi militants near the US Embassy in Baghdad on Christmas Eve.
Iran has responded to the US military moves, with its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accusing Trump of manufacturing a pretext to attack Iran in the waning hours of his administration.
The crisis also follows the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 27, an attack still shrouded in mystery.
Washington has deployed more military assets to the Persian Gulf, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz
Lots of uncertainty
All this adds up to a lot of moving parts and a lot of uncertainty, says Cheong Wook-sik of the South Korean NGO PeaceNetwork. Like most observers, Cheong places little credence on the validity of Iran's "pollution" justification for seizing the oil tanker.
He suggests the move is more likely designed to generate leverage over the US in terms of a potential return to the Iranian nuclear agreement (formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), initially negotiated when incoming US President Joe Biden was vice president, and a supporter of the deal concluded under President Barack Obama.
"For South Korea to release the $7 billion in Iranian funds held in South Korean banks it would require some type of waiver from implementing the US sanctions, or for the US to return to the JCPOA," Cheong told DW, adding: "The Iranian government also hopes the South Korean government will ask the new incoming Biden administration to lift the economic sanctions against Iran."
Although there is significant concern frequently voiced in the public sphere over the potential for Trump to initiate a crisis in his last days in office, the incoming Biden administration provides hope for a significant drawdown of tension, said Cheong.
Changes in US policy will be required, he pointed out.
"In order to revive the Iranian nuclear deal, the United States, especially the new administration, should lift economic sanctions and return to the Iranian nuclear deal. At the same time, Iran should stop the enrichment of uranium fuel to 20% at the Fordo facilities," he said. "These two things should be done simultaneously. If so, the Iranian frozen assets issue can be resolved, and the seized South Korean ship returned."
A mediating role for South Korea?
South Korea may represent a perfect intermediary between the US and Iran. South Korea had imported a significant portion of its oil from Iran prior to United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed before negotiating the JCPOA deal. Also, historically, Seoul has had good diplomatic relations with Tehran for decades. Cheong views the ship seizure very much through the lens of geopolitical strategy.
"The Iranian government wants to send a message to the United States, that if the United States does not lift economic sanctions, the Iranian government can exact revenge on US allies such as South Korea. At the same time, South Korea can play some kind of mediating role between Iran and the United States on these issues."
Still, the risk of a military flare-up is there. The seizure, the enrichment and the anniversary, says Cheong, "can trigger reactions from Israel and the United States."
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has argued for a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, suggesting the increase in enrichment provides evidence Iran is seeking nukes, and not nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes.
Although South Korea said it is committed to resolving the ship seizure issue diplomatically, that resolution will likely require the involvement of Washington and the next US administration.
"I hope that the Biden team sends some message — officially or unofficially — after its inauguration on January 20 … to seek dialogue with the Iranian government for resolving the current issues peacefully, such a message would weaken the hardliners in Iran, Israel and the United States and strengthen the doves," said the PeaceNetwork director.
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