Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi: EU, Iran relationship heats up/Arash Karami: Corruption on earth’ brings death penalty in Iran


EU, Iran relationship heats up
Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi/Al-Monitor/December 10/15
Since the July 14 signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), European institutions have been actively seeking ways to boost the union’s ties with Tehran.In 2003, when international concerns over the nature of the Iranian nuclear program emerged following leaks about two previously undisclosed nascent nuclear facilities — the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and the heavy water reactor at Arak — the EU decided to halt its “comprehensive dialogue” with Tehran. The E3 (France, Germany and the UK) soon took on a mediating role between Iran and the international community in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, remaining involved in the negotiating process for more than 12 years. During this time frame — and particularly after Iran’s nuclear dossier was referred to the UN Security Council in early 2006 — the nuclear issue was only matter on which cooperation and communication between Iran and Europe continued. Issues such as human rights, terrorism, trade and proliferation, which were previously discussed by the two sides, dropped out of the bilateral conversation. Now, as a result of the JCPOA, the EU has shown an inclination to reverse this path.
The union promptly welcomed the comprehensive agreement reached in July, and, following the approval of the UN Security Council, the EU Council officially endorsed the JCPOA. Shortly after, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini went on her first official visit to Tehran, accompanied by Deputy Secretary-General for the European External Action Service (EEAS) Helga Schmid. In a press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Mogherini stressed that the nuclear agreement was “going to open — as it is implemented — a new chapter in the relations between Iran and the European Union.” Indeed, in an op-ed published in The Guardian, Mogherini said she was charged by the EU’s 28 foreign ministers to explore “ways in which the EU could actively promote a more cooperative regional framework” with Tehran. She also pointed out the key role of the JCPOA in enabling the expansion of topics discussed bilaterally with Iran — a development made possible because of Europe’s “long tradition of cultural and economic relationship with Iran.”
In November, European Parliament President Martin Schulz also traveled to Tehran at the invitation of the country’s parliament. In what constituted the first visit of a head of the EU parliament to Iran, Schulz highlighted, similarly to Mogherini, the “key stage” of EU-Iran relations and the need to widen the range of topics discussed, including regional stability, terrorism, human rights, energy cooperation and economic relations.
In addition to organizing these high-level visits to Tehran, the EU has in the past few months taken other practical steps to enhance ties with Iran on issues other than the nuclear dossier. The establishment of an Iran Task Force at the EEAS, reporting directly to Schmid, constitutes the most important step in this direction. The Iran Task Force, set up in September, is composed of seven members and led by Hugo Sobral, a Portuguese diplomat and former diplomatic adviser to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. It has “the objective of coordinating the different strands of action of all Iran-related issues” and ensuring coordination with commission services as well as other institutions, third countries and civil society.
The Iran Task Force has three main duties. First, it will facilitate the implementation of the JCPOA. To this end, meetings will take place at the expert level to assist Mogherini in her role as coordinator of the joint commission overseeing the implementation of the deal. Second, it is to develop bilateral relations with Tehran. Since September, the union has, for instance, explored options for establishing a permanent diplomatic presence in Tehran, one of the few capitals in which the union does not yet have an embassy. The third and final goal is to explore ways to build a more cooperative regional framework. Some of the possible areas of cooperation with Iran identified by EEAS officials are trade, drug trafficking, environmental issues, human rights, terrorism, aviation safety and instability in the Middle East. As part of the third goal, three meetings have taken place between Mogherini and Zarif in the past four months, during which time issues such as “the need to bring the war in Syria, which has caused so much suffering, to an end” have taken center stage. The parties have also discussed the institutionalization of a dialogue at the deputy level between Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for European and American Affairs Majid Takht Ravanchi and Schmid. The first such meeting took place at Palais Coburg in the Austrian capital of Vienna on Dec. 6, while dialogue at the ministerial level will reprise once again in 2016.
It is evident that the announcement of the JCPOA played a crucial role in enabling the EU to exit its nuclear-exclusive engagement with Tehran and to take practical steps oriented toward the establishment of a bilateral dialogue on a wider range of issues of mutual concern. Though its establishment shows good premise, it remains to be seen whether the Iran Task Force will become a central actor in enhancing the union’s action on Iran-related matters. Besides increasing the chances of successful implementation of the JCPOA over the agreement’s extensive time span, the intensification of official contacts between Iran and the EU, in terms of both quality and quantity, is likely to further strengthen mutual confidence and establish a framework to address more contentious issues in the long run.


Corruption on earth’ brings death penalty in Iran
Arash Karami/Al-Monitor/December 10/15
Conservative Iranian parliamentarian Ahmad Tavakoli talked about the problems of corruption in the country at a Dec. 9 speech at Yasuj University
Tavakoli is skeptical about the optimistic comments made by the Hassan Rouhani administration regarding the state of the economy once international sanctions are removed. “Various factors shape the economy that result in the stagnation or the success of the economy,” he said, adding that corruption was “ruining the allocation of resources and distorting the direction of the economy.”Tavakoli said one of the types of corruption in the country was the “commerce of influence.” While he did not explain the term “commerce of influence” during his speech, as an example he talked about how in some instances children of Iranian officials are informed in advance of neighborhoods that will be developed or privatized. These children of officials, who in Iran are called “agha-zadehs,” or princelings, would purchase the land early at a discount and later sell the land at a premium. Tavakoli added that these privatization efforts that happened in the past, presumably referring to the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administration, “caused nothing but economic problems.”Tavakoli said that cronyism, nepotism and the commerce of influence are like tolls on a healthy economy. He also said that corruption can be found in Iran’s judiciary, police force and parliament. “Corruption is systematic,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t mean that the entire system is corrupt.” He also said there are recent efforts by the judiciary to confront corruption.
On the conviction of Ahmadinejad’s vice president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, for corruption, Tavakoli said that the higher the position the individual holds, the more severe his punishment should be. In the Fars transcript of the speech, Tavakoli did not mention other names of individuals or officials charged or accused of corruption. However, there have been a number of high-profile corruption cases in Iran. In June, there were conflicting reports about the arrest of the former police chief of Iran, Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, who was abruptly replaced in March by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmadi Moghaddam denied that he, his son and his son-in-law were arrested. Before the allegations of his arrest, Iran’s police department had been accused of selling Iranian oil, which had been sanctioned, and not returning the funds from the sale of the oil. This allegedly happened under Ahmadi Moghaddam’s tenure as police chief. Another high-profile case of corruption is that of Babak Zanjani, who has been accused of withholding $2 billion from oil sales in private accounts. During a Dec. 9 court session, one of the defendants in the corruption case, who was introduced only with the initials H.F.H., broke down in tears when he was told by the judge that he was accused of “corruption on Earth,” which carries the death penalty, and working against the government. The defendant said that he was a war veteran who was injured numerous times and that an accusation of deliberately taking action against the government “was one of the most painful accusations.”Zanjani has long maintained that he was tasked under the previous administration to sell Iran’s oil while the country was sanctioned and that he has been unable to return the money sitting in foreign banks due to sanctions.