European Union’s coordinator in Iran nuclear talks met with Tehran’s chief negotiator on Wednesday, as Iran said it arrested two European citizens.
Enrique Mora who arrived in Tehran on Tuesday met with Ali Bagheri-Kani and photos published showed a somewhat somber-faced Mora shaking hands with the smiling Iranian diplomat, but with no news about the results of the meeting until late evening in Iran.
In a tweet before the meeting, Iran’s foreign ministry emphasized both circumventing United States’ sanctions and removing them through an agreement. But it warned that Tehran’s “red lines” must be respected in any “lasting and good agreement.”
Fars news website, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, in a long article Wednesday morning, listed all the “violations” and “lack of commitment” by Europeans to the 2015 nuclear agreement, JCPOA, when they failed to honor its economic benefits for Iran.
The article coincided with the announcement that Iran’s intelligence ministry has arrested to “European nationals” for visiting the country to foment unrest, especially among disgruntled teachers. Hardline news websites publishing the news provided no details.
Mora, before departing for Tehran on Tuesday, tweeted that he would be discussing both the revival of the nuclear talks and “other issues”. Iran has been threatening Sweden for the long trial of a former judicial official who was arrested in Stockholm for his alleged role in the killing of thousands of political prisoners in Iran in 1988. A verdict is expected in the case in July and Swedish prosecutors have demanded the maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
There is also the case of a former Iranian diplomat who is serving a 20-year prison term in Belgium for organizing a plot to bomb an opposition rally in France. Iran also demands his release.
On Tuesday Tehran ruled out any prisoner exchange with Europe as it says it will execute Hamidreza Djalali, a Swedish Iranian dual citizen, who was arrested in 2016 on a visit to an Iranian university and convicted on alleged “espionage for Israel.”
Therefore, Mora’s visit to Tehran could be as much about prisoners as to find a common ground to jump start the JCPOA talks stalled since mid-March.
However, Iran is facing a worsening economic crisis, as food price inflation accelerated this month and market chaos threatens political instability. To what extent Tehran is willing to risk survival with US sanctions in the absence of a nuclear agreement, is not clear.
Meanwhile, Fars published another article arguing that three foreign visits, starting with the trip of the Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau last Saturday, Mora’s visit on Wednesday and the upcoming visit of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, all had a common thread.
Fars argued that Europe needs natural gas in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the main purpose of these dignitaries is to find ways for Iran to export gas to Europe. The theory however has one problem. Iran does not have enough natural gas for its own domestic consumption, and it would take years to inject capital and technology to tap into its vast reserves and achieve a significant volume of exports.