Iran withdraws from nuclear talks after US expands sanctions blacklist
TEHRAN // Iran quit nuclear talks with world powers on Friday in protest against an expanded sanctions blacklist issued by the United States that targets a dozen of Iranian companies and individuals.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator accused the US of undermining the agreement reached in Geneva last month, under which Tehran agreed to curb parts of its nuclear programme for six months in return for limited sanctions relief.
“America’s move is against the spirit of the Geneva deal,” Abbas Araqchi told the Fars news agency as his team headed back to Tehran from Vienna.
“We are evaluating the situation and will make the appropriate response.
“Such a measure is by no means constructive and we are seriously critical of it,” Mr Araqchi said
Under the Geneva deal, Iran agreed to reduce its uranium enrichment, while the West promised about US$7 billion in relief from sanctions.
Western powers accuse Iran of seeking a weapons capability through its nuclear programme — a charge denied by Tehran.
Gulf Arab leaders have caustiously welcomed the deal as an initial step to addressing concerns over the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. The issue was on the agenda of this week’s Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Kuwait City.
Adullatif Al Zayani, the secretary general of the GCC, said after the summit that the bloc welcomed the “new stand of the Iranian leadership towards the GCC, hoping that such tangible steps will reflect positively on peace, security and stability” in the region.
Since the interim Geneva accord was signed on November 24, the Iranian government of President Hassan Rouhani has taken steps to establish more cordial ties with Arabian Gulf nations.
Senior US officials argued that Thursday’s blacklistings were carried out within the framework of the existing sanctions regime, which had forced Tehran to the negotiating table and did not constitute new measures.
The blacklisting of a dozen additional foreign firms and individuals for evading US sanctions was widely seen as a way to head off moves in Congress to impose additional sanctions that would be in clear breach of the Geneva agreement.
“We’re making progress, but I think we’re at a point in those talks where folks feel a need to consult, take a moment,” US secretary of state John Kerry told reporters in Tel Aviv.
“There is every expectation that talks are going to continue in the next few days,” he said
A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the major powers in the talks, said on Friday Iranian and western negotiators had headed home for consultations and that she expected the talks to resume soon.
“After four days of lengthy and detailed talks, reflecting the complexity of the technical issues discussed, it became clear that further work is needed,” Ms Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann said.
“There will now be consultations in capitals, in the expectation that technical talks will continue soon,” he added.
Iranian negotiators quit the implementation talks late on Thursday after Washington blacklisted 12 companies and individuals for evading US sanctions.
An Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, quoted by state news IRNA, said: “The consequences of this unstudied move is completely on the American government.”
The Mehr news agency quoted informed sources as saying that the “new American sanctions” were the reason for the interruption.
“The negotiations were halted by Iranian delegation because of new American sanctions. The Iranian negotiating team has halted the talks at this stage and are headed back to the capital due to America’s lack of commitment to the agreement,” Mehr reported.
Under Iran’s deal struck with the P5+1 of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany, Washington agreed to refrain from imposing new sanctions on Iran.
Administration officials insisted the timing was entirely coincidental.
But just hours afterwards, Senate banking committee chairman Tim Johnson and the committee’s top Republican Michael Crapo agreed with the White House that Washington should not introduce new sanctions, warning they could “rupture” international unity against Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The comments virtually assured that no new sanctions legislation would pass Congress before the year-end break, although lawmakers could controversially introduce a new sanctions bill within the next week.
Those blacklisted on Thursday included the Singapore-based Mid Oil Asia and Singa Tankers, both companies accused of helping Iran transfer badly needed funds to a foreign bank on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Company.
Ukrainian national Vitaly Sokolenko and his Odessa-based firm Ferland Company Limited were cited for helping to broker the sales of Iranian oil and transfer the crude from ship to ship.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: December 13, 2013 04:00 AM