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European Contacts With Tehran Continue As Iran Demands A Trade Arrangement

Iran's Secretary of Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani and UK FM Jeremy Hunt in Tehran, November 19.
Iran's Secretary of Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani and UK FM Jeremy Hunt in Tehran, November 19.

As British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt travelled to Tehran this week and met with senior Iranian officials, a French diplomat also visited the county in what Iran claimed to be a new European initiative to assure the Islamic Republic of their intention to help in trade despite U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister for the first time has hinted at a new European initiative that might save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

Since Washington withdrew from JCPOA in May and restored sanctions on the Islamic Republic, European signatories of the deal, France, Germany and the U.K., have been trying to find a way to save the agreement, without risking a confrontation with the U.S.

Deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi said on Wednesday that the Europeans are working on new initiatives in relation to the previously promised trade mechanism, adding that Iranian experts are negotiating with them in that regard.

The Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) is a kind of clearinghouse that could be used to help match Iranian oil and gas exports against purchases of EU goods in an effective barter arrangement circumventing U.S. sanctions, which bar the use of the dollar for most trade with Iran.

"Yesterday and today, I had good meetings with political directors and nuclear negotiators of the UK and France in Tehran. The political will of the European Union and the three European countries to preserve the JCPOA is still strong,” Araqchi twitted on Wednesday.

Araqchi insisted that the European Union as well as the UK, France and Germany had “serious political will” to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Political Director of the French Foreign Ministry Nicolas de Riviere, who visited Tehran, held talks with Araqchi on Wednesday.

According to the official website of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, during the meeting, the two sides conferred on the latest situation of the Iran nuclear deal and the commitment of Paris and other European parties to normalizing economic relations with Iran and offsetting the negative impact of the US’ sanctions.

De Riviere briefed the Iranian side on the final stages of establishing the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), the European payment mechanism aimed at facilitating trade with Iran, local news outlets reported.

It is not clear who initiated the diplomatic trips to Tehran and the ensuing discussions. European capitals have not revealed any new breakthroughs, while Iran has been sounding anxious to overcome its predicament in face of sanctions.

However, no country has yet come forward as a potential host. Their reluctance arises from fears that reliance of any mechanism on local banks to smooth trade with Iran may incur U.S. penalties, severing the lenders' access to U.S. markets, diplomats said.

Earlier on Monday, Araqchi had warned, “Nobody in Iran is going to give in to the sanctions. We will find our way, as we have done in the past,” adding, "If Europeans give in [to US pressures] they will call into question their sovereignty, credibility, and security,” Araqchi noted, adding without elaboration, “If Europe thinks that the West Asia region is safe without the JCPOA, it can wait and see.”

Meanwhile, the secretary of the influential Supreme National Security Council of Iran, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani also warned on Monday that Tehran has made the necessary decisions amid lack of action on the part of JCPOA signatories to counter US pressures.

Tehran-EU negotiations have been dragging on for months, while the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly insisted that Iran should not count on Europe’s proposed package to preserve the nuclear deal.