DUBAI/LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrived in Tehran on Monday for the first time since taking office to hold talks with Iranian authorities on issues including the future of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iranian media reported.
In May, US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, negotiated with five other world powers during Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration. The United States also restored sanctions targeting Iran’s oil, banking and transportation sectors earlier this month.
“He will meet (Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad) Zarif today and the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani,” state TV reported.
Shamkhani is an ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters, including nuclear issues.
Hunt’s office said in a statement that, during his meeting with Zarif, he would stress that the UK is committed to the nuclear deal as long as Iran sticks to its terms. He will also discuss European efforts to maintain nuclear-related sanctions relief.
Other signatories of the deal, the European Union, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, have been searching for ways to salvage the pact.
“The Iran nuclear deal remains a vital component of stability in the Middle East by eliminating the threat of a nuclearized Iran. It needs 100 percent compliance though to survive,” Hunt said in a statement ahead of the visit.
“We will stick to our side of the bargain as long as Iran does. But we also need to see an end to destabilizing activity by Iran in the rest of the region if we are going to tackle the root causes of the challenges the region faces,” Hunt added.
Under the deal, Iran restricted its disputed nuclear program, widely seen in the West as a disguised effort to develop the means to make atomic bombs, in exchange for an end to international sanctions.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said Iran is still hopeful that Europe can save the nuclear deal, which it previously warned of scrapping if the EU fails to preserve its economic benefits against US pressure.
“There are some ambiguities on implementation of EU’s mechanism to protect trade with Iran from America’s sanctions ... But we remain hopeful that the Europeans can save the deal,” Qasemi said at a news conference on the day of Hunt’s arrival in Iran.
The European Union has been trying to establish a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for non-dollar trade with Iran to save the deal.
The SPV was conceived as a clearing house that could be used to help match Iranian oil and gas exports against purchases of EU goods, circumventing US sanctions based on the global use of the dollar for oil sales.
The EU has tried to have the SPV set up by this month, but no country has offered to host it, six diplomats told Reuters last week.
“We expect EU to implement the SPV as soon as possible,” Qasemi said. “Iran adheres to its commitments as long as other signatories honor theirs.”
Hunt will also discuss Iran’s role in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, his office said, and press Iran on its human rights record, calling for the immediate release of detained British-Iranian dual nationals where there are humanitarian grounds to do so.
“I arrive in Iran with a clear message for the country’s leaders: putting innocent people in prison cannot and must not be used as a tool of diplomatic leverage,” he said.