Can EU make decisions independently of US, asks Iran's vice president Jahangiri

Can EU make decisions independently of US, asks Iran's vice president Jahangiri
By Javad MontazeriRichard Good
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Nuclear deal will test whether Europe can deliver more than words, says senior Iranian politician.

Can Iran’s nuclear deal survive US President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the agreement?

Much depends on the position of the European Union. European leaders have committed to maintaining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with or without Washington’s support. But Tehran accuses Europe of failing to match its words with concrete action.

It is in this context that, Javad Montazeri, Euronews correspondent in Tehran, spoke with Eshaq Jahangiri, senior Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: Mr. Jahangiri, welcome to Euronews's “Global Conversation". The first question I’d like to ask you is, where are we on the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? It feels as though the Iranian people have grown tired of endless arguments about the Plan. How can you defend it?

Eshaq Jahangiri: The Plan of Action has been one of the important measures taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran. This agreement was concluded to answer an allegation that had resulted in pressures being imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian people.

Whether it’s been during the course of negotiations or now, we’ve always tried to share the issue honestly with our people. Unfortunately, US sanctions were reinstated - and in a more damaging way - following Washington's decision to pull out of the deal unilaterally. With this new round of sanctions, the US has used every possible means, incentivising and threatening other countries and companies to impede them from working with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In response, we’ve adopted some measures in a number of areas. For one, we’ve stated that so long as other JCPOA signatories keep their sides of the bargain, and in particular as long as the European Union takes concrete measures in this regard, we are prepared to see the deal remain in place and will continue to honour it.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: Take for example three countries from the EU: Germany, France and the UK. What have these countries done to salvage the JCPOA?

Eshaq Jahangiri: The three countries you mention are among the countries that agreed to implement their commitments and obligations under the deal if Iran kept its side of the bargain. They, as well as Russia and China and the other remaining five parties to the deal, are expected to keep to all their commitments. So far, the EU in general and Germany, France and the UK in particular have behaved well and in a timely fashion when it comes to the politics and adopting diplomatic stances and we are satisfied with them. However, in terms of practical, concrete measures, we are yet to see any concrete measures from these three countries that would enable us to implement this deal to serve the interests of our people and our economy. I think that since World War II, Europe has faced a crucial test. Can it make decisions independent of the US government, in particular when an administration like Trump's is in office? Can it defend its interests and its international commitments? In reality, we haven’t seen any effective performance from the EU.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: Do you think the EU has the necessary willpower or capability to stand up against Trump?

Eshaq Jahangiri: We had assumed the EU has such a capability. Theoretically, and in terms of its approach, it’s done well so far. However, when it comes to practice, the EU financial structure and in particular the EU banking system has revealed that this Union isn’t capable of standing up for itself as an independent decision-maker... a powerful entity that can conserve what it has achieved and fulfil its commitments. However, we’re still hopeful it will keep its end of the deal.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: What's your red line?

Eshaq Jahangiri: When it comes to making any international decision, we take the costs and our national interests into account. Where the benefits outweigh the costs, we stand by our decisions. Although we have been largely disappointed with the EU's efficiency in taking concrete measures, there is still hope that the EU could do something so we can reap the benefits of the Plan of Action. Inside the country, the government has been under massive pressure from those who believed all along the EU would not fulfil its commitments and is not to be trusted. As a matter of fact, this pressure has been mounting given the EU's failure to fulfil its commitments. However, we believe that the Plan of Action should remain in place so long as the interests of the Iranian people require it.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: Could the Iranian government take other voluntary steps in exchange for promises from the EU?

Eshaq Jahangiri: The JCPOA is a deal in which everything has been defined. The measures Iran has to adopt or steps it must take have been specified in the deal.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: I mean commitments beyond the scope of the Plan of Action.

Eshaq Jahangiri: No, we won't make any commitments beyond the scope of the Plan of Action. The Plan of Action is our situation now. Under the Plan of Action, all parties to the deal who have negotiated and signed it must keep their sides of the bargain.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: EU parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in May and it’s possible Mrs. Mogherini and her team may leave their posts after this election. How do you see the perspective of Tehran-Brussels relations with the departure of Mrs. Mogherini?

Eshaq Jahangiri: Governments come and go. Even commitments undertaken by figures like Mrs. Mogherini who is affiliated with the whole EU are not individual commitments. This is a commitment of an entity called the EU and from Germany, France and the UK. Who is in office and holds power is not the main determinant. We expect the EU to fulfil all its commitments under the Plan of Action regardless of any change that may happen.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: The question of the EU opening an office in Tehran is still on the agenda. What is the latest on this?

Eshaq Jahangiri: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran is following up the issue. I hope the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the EU will come to some sort of arrangement as soon as possible.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: Recently, there’s been a movement in France called the Yellow Vests. I am sure you’ve heard about it and followed the news. Do you see any point of convergence and similarity between the demands made by the Yellow Vests and the events recently witnessed involving Iranian workers in Tehran?

Eshaq Jahangiri: These two don't share any similarities. The Islamic Revolution emerged victorious 40 years ago and now we are about to celebrate the anniversary of this victory. The most important objective of the Islamic Revolution has been to address the needs of the underprivileged, protect and contribute to the development of deprived regions and create the freedom and justice that the public demands. During the last 40 years, we’ve witnessed peaceful rallies and gatherings in big cities across the country such as Tehran. The slogans voiced during these gatherings were in line with the slogans of the Revolution and the public demands are a far cry from what is happening now in France and some other European countries.

These are classified as labour union demands. Opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran outside the country and detractors of this government inside have attempted to misrepresent these demands as politically motivated. Of course workers can have some political demands. However, there’s no way you can interpret these demands as a public protest triggering a movement like that of the Yellow Vests in France.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: How do you assess the latest Syrian developments and the withdrawal of US troops from that country? It looks like Iran will be playing a less significant role in the future of Syria. Would you agree Russia and Turkey are trying to limit Iran's role in Syria?

Eshaq Jahangiri: The only country that’s always had a consistent, stable stance regarding the Syrian issue has been the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some countries, even some of our friends currently engaged in negotiations with us, were insistent on the overthrow of the Syrian government and the dismissal of President Assad. It seems that with the support it’s received, the Assad government along with the Syrian people and the Syrian army have managed to emerge victorious in their struggle against the groups and the extremists who had plans to overthrow them and install their own government. The US presence in Syria was always an illegal one. The Syrian government never invited the US, even to combat ISIS. It’s on record that ISIS and other terrorist groups operating in Iraq and Syria came to life through the activity and sponsorship of the United States, some western countries as well as some regional ones, notably Saudi Arabia and the Zionist regime. Once they saw the Syrian government and its supporters had weathered the crisis, they realised their presence in Syria was in vain and had to leave. I believe the US withdrawal means the Americans finally realised that they had a costly presence in Syria that wouldn’t serve their interests. No, it’s not in this way that others can restrict Iran's presence in Syria. Iran will help the Syrian government as long as the Syrian government needs our help.

Javad Montazeri, Euronews: Thank you for giving this interview.

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