EU gears up for Iran sanctions relief despite Israel’s concern

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

PARIS. —  The European Union could lift some sanctions on Iran next month, France said yesterday, as world powers geared up to implement a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran while trying to placate a furious Israel. Iran and the major powers have hailed Sunday’s deal in Geneva under which Tehran agreed to curb a nuclear programme the West suspects aims to develop an atomic bomb, in return for an easing of crippling sanctions.

But Iran’s arch-foe Israel — an ally of many of the six countries who negotiated the accord, including France and the United States —  blasted the accord as a “historic mistake”. It reserved the right to defend itself against any threats made by Tehran.

In a radio interview, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said EU foreign ministers were to meet next month to discuss lifting some sanctions as part of the deal, a move he said could take place “in December”.

But a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sought to dampen expectations that a firm decision would be taken at the next foreign ministers’ gathering due on December 16.

“It could be in December, it could be in January, it depends on how long the process takes,” he said.

One senior Western diplomat, who refused to be named, told AFP the focus in the coming weeks would be “swift implementation”.

Concerned, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday decided to send his national security advisor to Washington for talks on Iran after warning the deal will convince Tehran it has a free hand to achieve a breakout nuclear capability.

US President Barack Obama has tried to reassure Netanyahu, calling him on Sunday to discuss the issue.

Fabius yesterday also sought to placate Israel about the agreement with Iran, whose supreme leader last week described the Jewish state as a “rabid dog” that was “doomed to collapse”.

Tehran has a long history of belligerent statements towards the Jewish state, and Israel — the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power —  has repeatedly warned that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat.

“We will work so that the security of all the countries in the region, including Israel, is better assured,” Fabius said.

Asked about the risk of Israeli strikes on Iran, he responded that he thought such as move was unlikely “because no one would understand it” at this point in time.

Speaking in Jerusalem, the EU ambassador-designate to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, echoed Fabius’s comments, telling a crowd of diplomats and the country’s intelligence minister that the 28-member bloc had “Israel’s security at heart”.

The so-called P5+1 world powers that negotiated the accord with Iran — the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany — say it is a key first step that wards off the threat of military escalation in the volatile Middle East.

Under the deal, which lasts for six months while a more long-lasting solution is negotiated, Tehran will limit uranium enrichment to low levels used only for civilian energy purposes.

It will also neutralise its existing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, which is close to weapons-grade and therefore an area of top concern.

In return, the Islamic state will get some US$7 billion in sanctions relief in access to frozen funds and in its petrochemical, gold and precious metals and auto sectors. — AFP.

Pin It