Iran’s nuclear chief talks peace in Oslo

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He played a major role in the Iran nuclear agreement that Norway helped negotiate four years ago and now he’s the country’s vice president. Ali Akbar Salehi was in Norway this week to take part in the Oslo Forum at the historic Losby farm, now a hotel and golf course northeast of the capital, and talk about how the agreement might be salvaged after US President Donald Trump pulled out of it.

Ali Akbar Salehi is at least as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else after US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement. He hopes it can be salvaged. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Marta B Haga

If the other partners to the deal (France, Russia, China, the UK, Germany and the EU) manage to make up for the US’ pullout in terms of economic and trade support for Iran, there’s hope the entire agreement won’t collapse, he said. “If not,” he told Oslo newspaper Aftenposten, we’ll be heading into a dark tunnel with only losers.” No one would win, he said: “An end to the agreement is not in Iran’s interests, not in the region’s interests and not in the interests of the international community.”

Trump pulled out to the dismay and frustration of Russia, China and many of the US’ own most important allies, claiming it was “a bad deal” and that Iran wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain with its “aggressive” foreign policy in the Middle East. Trump seems much more keen on making Saudi Arabia and Israel happy, both bitter enemies of Iran, than all the other partners in the Iran deal.

Iran and the US were getting along earlier, until Trump came along. Here’s Salehi (far right) in 2015 as head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran with, from left, former US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, former US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Russia, China and all the European partners want to keep the agreement alive and move forward with trade and investments in Iran. The US now intends to make that difficult, with Trump threatening to slap the same sanctions it will renew against Iran on any other country doing business with Iran. That includes Norway.

Iran, meanwhile is insisting that the other partners to the deal stick with it. “So far the Europeans have expressed their support, but it must yield tangible results for our people,” Salehi said. “There’s no point for us to abide by all the obligations of the deal (to end its nuclear development program) if we don’t get anything back from it.”

Salehi is a nuclear physicist himself, with a doctorate from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. He was actively involved in forming and negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, which Iran has abided by since. Iran accepted limits on its nuclear program in return for all the other countries dropping their economic sanctions against Iran. Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the deal has thrown years of hard work and hopes into disarray.

Salehi also had talks at the Oslo Forum with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide. PHOTO: UD/Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue/Ilja C Hendel

Aftenposten reported that Salehi held conversations in Oslo this week with, among others, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, all of whom want the Iran deal to continue. Asked whether Iran would speak with Trump, who has recently met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to rein in its nuclear program, Salehi said “No, no, no. We have already put lots of effort into the nuclear agreement. There is no reason to go into it all over again.”

He also said he thinks Trump is “totalitarian: He wants everything for himself and says ‘nothing for you,'” Salehi told Aftenposten.

Salehi said there was no definitive time frame for trying to salvage the Iran deal, but he thinks the new problems need to be resolved in a matter of weeks. “Time is running out,” he said, as Iran faces new sanctions again by the US. Asked whether Iran has ambitions of developing nuclear weapons, though, Salehi said “no,” pointing to a fatwa (religious decree) issued by Iran’s religious leader that forbids the development, production and use of all weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund