Iran detained 2 Europeans; EU envoy in Tehran for nuclear deal

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Shortly before meeting with Iran’s nuclear negotiator in Tehran on Wednesday, the country’s Intelligence Ministry officials announced that officials from the country’s Intelligence Department had detained two Europeans in a final attempt to save Iran’s atomic deal with world powers. .

Photographs have emerged of Enrique Mora, the EU coordinator of nuclear talks, with a stern stance as he awkwardly shakes hands with Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani.

The Intelligence Ministry gave few details about the detained Europeans, only saying they shared the same unidentified nationality and were trying to “take advantage” of the protests unfolding in various Iranian provinces as workers and teachers pressured for better wages.

Officials said the two Europeans were being held on vague charges of plotting to cause “chaos, social disorder and instability”.

The provocation came when Tehran pledged to execute an imprisoned Swedish researcher later this month – the case coinciding with a key war crimes trial by an Iranian official in Sweden.

And in yet another escalation, Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards reportedly bombarded Kurdish targets in northern Iraq. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry condemned the attack on “several points” in the region and blamed Iran. A local official said there were no casualties in the shelling.

The events of Wednesday recalled June 13, 2019 – the day when Guard forces allegedly attacked a Japanese oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, at the same time that the Japanese prime minister visited Iran for a diplomatic dialogue between Tehran and Washington.

Iran’s moves could have prevented negotiations with the visiting EU coordinator. Nevertheless, the program continued. No details were forthcoming from Kani’s meeting with Mora, who has been trying to break the stalemate that has prevailed since the nuclear deal revival talks were stalled in late March.

Four years ago, former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal that eased Tehran sanctions in exchange for tighter restrictions on its nuclear program. Negotiations in Vienna to revive the agreement have apparently stalled after Iran’s request that Washington remove its terrorist designation from the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.

Despite the stalemate, officials say the urgency of closing the deal is growing. Iran’s nuclear program has advanced rapidly with nearly 3,200 kilograms (7,055 pounds) of enriched uranium stockpiles earlier this year, compared with 300 kilograms (661 pounds) under the nuclear deal.

Some of this uranium has been enriched to 60% purity – a short technical leap from weapon-grade levels. Iran has stopped the International Atomic Energy Agency from accessing its security camera footage, further worrying nuclear nonproliferation experts.

Meanwhile, Russia’s war against Ukraine has fueled European interest in sanctioned Iranian crude. Criminal sanctions against Moscow are pushing the continent to seek alternatives to Russian oil to curb rising energy prices. Iran said it sold its crude oil despite the sanctions and took advantage of the unexpected drop.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabdollahian supported the ongoing negotiations.

Negotiations for lifting sanctions will be carried out in the right direction, with the aim of reaching a good, strong and lasting agreement and observing Iran’s red lines. However, Iran’s conservatives have criticized any concessions regarding the appointment of the Guard.

Despite repeated Iranian claims that a separate but closely linked deal would freeze billions of dollars abroad and result in prisoner swaps with the United States, the State Department has repeatedly said such a deal is not imminent.

The two Europeans’ jail sentences, reported on Wednesday, have rekindled long-standing accusations by human rights groups that Iran is using foreigners and dual citizens as diplomatic pawns to gain an advantage in its negotiations with the West. Tehran denies this.

While Swedish prosecutors reported that Hamid Nouri would be sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged Iranian war crimes during the final phase of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, Iran announced plans to execute imprisoned Swedish researcher Ahmed Reza Jalali, and separate reports emerged. . Authorities arrested a Swedish tourist in the country.

It was not immediately clear whether the Swedish tourist was one of the two Europeans detained on Wednesday.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said the two Europeans were “expert” foreign agents recruited by an unnamed European country, adding that Iranian officials had followed them “from the moment they arrived” and followed their attempts to mobilize teacher protests and aid illegal unions.

The Iranian Guard, meanwhile, said it had hit a “terrorist base” near Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency. A local official told the Erbil-based Rudaw news agency that shells hit desolate areas in northern Iraq that are home to Iranian Kurdish opposition parties İhsan Çelebi. No damage or injury was reported in the attack.

The guards have in the past fired missiles at Kurdish opposition groups in northern Iraq, fueling regional tensions.

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Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Jon Gambrell from Lviv, Ukraine, and Samya Kullab from Baghdad contributed to this report.

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