Decades later, hostage crisis still haunts US-Iranian relations

(By Deutsche Welle) The White House has refused to grant a visa to Iran’s new UN ambassador due to his involvement in the 1979 hostage crisis. The diplomatic clash comes at a delicate time in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Responding to a groundswell of domestic pressure, the Obama administration has denied a visa to Iran’s new UN ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi. The White House decision goes against normal diplomatic protocol, raising questions about Washington’s ability to unilaterally veto another country’s choice of representation at the world body.

Aboutalebi was a member of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line. The student group seized the US embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the 1979 Islamic revolution, which ousted the US-backed Shah dictatorship and brought Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic regime to power. Aboutalebi says he worked for the student group only as a translator and negotiator.

“Given his role in the events of 1979, which clearly matter profoundly to the American people, it would be unacceptable for the United States to grant this visa,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington last Tuesday.

Although Tehran’s decision to choose Aboutalebi may not have been politically wise in hindsight, the Islamic Republic did not intend to provoke the US by selecting him as UN ambassador, according to Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iran expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“They had sent this person to the European Union before; he had served as an ambassador in other countries,” Geranmayeh told DW. “His previous background has never been an issue in the same way that it has come up in the US context.”

“I do think that there was genuinely never an intention on the Iranian side to provoke, because if they really wanted to do that there were other applicants that have probably more difficult backgrounds to sell to the US than Hamid’s one,” she said.

Continue reading

Iranian banks fight sanctions in European court

(By Deutsche Welle) The West has sought to impose a watertight sanctions regime against Iran over its nuclear program. But a European court has ruled against targeted sanctions in several cases, ordering some banks removed from blacklists.

Following Washington’s lead, the European Union has sought to impose tough sanctions against Iran over the years, targeting 180 Iranian entities with asset freezes and travel bans. But Iranian financial institutions are increasingly fighting back, filing – and winning – lawsuits in European court to be removed from blacklists.

The British Supreme Court overturned sanctions in June against Bank Mellat, Iran’s largest private bank. In 2009, the UK Treasury used counterterrorism laws to ban Mellat from the British financial system, alleging that the bank had helped finance Iran’s nuclear program.

But Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Sumption ruled that the British sanctions were “arbitrary,” “irrational,” and “disproportionate.” Bank Mellat could seek damages to the tune of 500 million pounds (574 million euros, $761 million), according to a bank spokesman quoted by Reuters news agency.

The ruling by Britain’s top court came after two similar decisions by the European General Court, the second highest judicial body in the EU. In January, the General Court had moved to overturn EU sanctions against Bank Mellat. A week later, the court ruled against sanctions imposed on Saderat Bank. Currently, both Mellat and Saderat remain blacklisted pending appeal by Brussels.

“The main reason that is given [for sanctions] is that they [banks] support nuclear proliferation,” Nigel Kushner, who represents Iranian clients in sanctions cases, told DW. “It’s not enough to say that we think they support proliferation, the EU must check the relevance and validity of that evidence.”

Continue reading

Western allies running out of options to stop Iran nuke program

(By Deutsche Welle) Although newly released evidence suggests Iran may be researching a nuclear weapon, Western allies have few policy options to stop the program during a period of economic crisis and war weariness.

The United Nation’s atomic watchdog has accused Iran of making designs for a nuclear weapon in clear violation of international conventions, provoking renewed calls for tighter economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic and stirring up rumors of Israeli plans to launch a military strike against one of the largest and most populous nations in the Middle East.

In its most unequivocal judgment to date on Iran’s nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on Wednesday that it has obtained evidence indicating Tehran has tried to source uranium destined for use in the warhead of a missile re-entry vehicle, the Shahab 3. The Agency also indicated that Iran has developed detonators and built a facility at the Parchin military complex consistent with nuclear-related explosives testing.

Although Iran reportedly issued a halt on weapons-related research in 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq, the IAEA indicated that some aspects of the research continued afterward and may be on-going. This does not mean, however, that Tehran has made a definitive political decision to actually construct an atomic bomb. Iran claims that its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes.

“The whole point of this report was to show Iran’s intentions,” Dina Esfandiary, with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, told Deutsche Welle. “It’s hard now for somebody to claim that Iran’s weapons program is solely for civilian purposes, because there’s no point in weaponizing if it’s solely for civilian purposes.”

Continue reading