Russia accused the EU of undermining efforts to revive an international nuclear deal with Iran by imposing sanctions on Tehran officials for alleged serious human rights violations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday denounced as “worse than a crime” an EU move to slap travel bans and asset freezes of eight Iranian security force commanders as a result of a murderous crackdown on protesters in 2019.
Lavrov’s statement highlights the delicate state of talks on restoring the nuclear deal, which have already been complicated by a suspected foreign attack at Iran’s largest uranium enrichment facility last weekend. Russia and the EU powers had worked together to preserve the deal after former US President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, a rare area of cooperation between Moscow and the European bloc as their relations at large have fallen to an all-time low.
Lavrov told reporters at a press conference in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif that he was “astonished” to hear about the EU sanctions. The steps were taken as negotiators from the remaining signatories to the deal – Iran, the EU, Germany, France, the UK, Russia and China – were ready to resume talks in Vienna on the future of the agreement.
“If there is no coordination in the European Union and the right hand does not know what the left is doing, it is a disaster,” Lavrov said. “But if this decision was taken deliberately in the middle of the negotiations. . .[then]it is a mistake – which, as you know, is worse than a crime.
“I hope that our European colleagues will realize that this type of action is unacceptable and take measures to prevent the failure of the negotiations,” he added.
The EU on Monday imposed sanctions on eight Iranian militia and police commanders, including the leader of the elite Revolutionary Guards, as part of the first human rights countermeasures imposed to the Islamic Republic since 2013. The European bloc has previously accused Iranian authorities of using force against non-violent protesters ”during the 2019 protests.
Lavrov also warned that negotiators “don’t have much time” to save the nuclear deal. As part of the deal, Iran agreed to curb its atomic program in exchange for the lifting of numerous international sanctions.
The United States sent officials to negotiations in Vienna last week, after President Joe Biden indicated Washington was ready to join the case if Iran returned to it. The Trump administration has imposed tough sanctions on Iran, while Tehran has retaliated with a series of growing violations of the agreement’s boundaries in areas such as uranium enrichment.
Diplomats say talks progressed last week, but point out that many obstacles remain, including the sequence of actions by Washington and Tehran. The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also faces political constraints from extremists in both capitals and impending presidential elections in Iran in June.
“Precisely because these time constraints exist, those who want to disrupt and bury the JCPOA are engaged in known provocations,” Lavrov said, without naming a country.
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif also attacked the EU for imposing sanctions following Sunday’s blackout at the Natanz underground site, which Tehran said was due to Israeli sabotage. The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which opposes resuming the nuclear deal, has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.
In response to EU sanctions, Iran immediately announced that it would stop talks with European states on human rights issues, drug trafficking through Iran to Europe and the status of refugees in Iran. Zarif said the EU lacked “credibility” and had become “progressively irrelevant” on the international stage after the bloc “was unable to honor its commitments under the JCPOA”.