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Iran’s Rouhani Starts Key Trip to Europe amid US Threats

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is starting an official visit to neutral European neighbors Switzerland and Austria on Monday amid looming US economic sanctions on Tehran.

After President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran nuclear deal, he said he would reimpose harsh sanctions on Tehran and its business partners by November.

The Iranian president has since enhanced political contact with foreign leaders in an attempt to save the 2015 landmark deal.

Why Switzerland and Austria?

Both Switzerland and Austria have adhered to a policy of armed neutrality in global affairs with non-interventionist stances.

Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, has served as the backdrop for many of the negotiation sessions over Iran’s nuclear program between 2013 and 2015.

In 2016, following the implementation of the JCPOA with P5+1, Switzerland lifted all unilateral sanctions against Iran pertaining to its nuclear program.

Johann Schneider-Ammann became the first ever Swiss president to visit Iran in 2016 and the two countries adopted a roadmap to enhance bilateral ties during his visit.

The Austrian capital, Vienna is home to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN body that monitors Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

It also hosted the main negotiations that led to the signing of 2015 nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, it should also be noted that Austria starts to take over presidency of the council of the EU from Sunday (July 1) for a period of six months.

Austria’s Oberbank is the first western financial institution to enter Iran’s financial system as a result of the JCPOA, although it announced the end of its business transactions in Iran in March due to US sanctions.

Rouhani’s agenda

Heading a high-ranking politico-economic delegation, President Rouhani will arrive in the Swiss capital of Bern on Monday and will stay for two days before heading to Vienna.

Tasnim News Agency reported Rouhani will hold talks with his Swiss counterpart Alain Berset, attend a meeting with Iranian expatriates in Switzerland and sign a number of agreements in various areas.

The Swiss government said the talks will explore how bilateral relations can develop in the face of US sanctions.

“Discussions will focus on the latest developments regarding the Iran nuclear agreement,” it added. “The aim is to find ways of preserving the progress made as a result of the agreement and of ensuring the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region despite the decision of the USA to withdraw from it.”

For the trip to Austria, the Austrian Press Agency (APA) said Vienna and Tehran will sign several documents of cooperation and memorandums of understanding.

Rouhani is scheduled to have talks with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, who is believed to emphasize Vienna’s position and the EU’s stance on the need to protect 2015 nuclear deal.

The Austrian Der Standard newspaper also said Rouhani will address the Austrian Economic Chamber on bilateral economic cooperation.

Stay or quit?

Iran has been holding talks with European Union leaders and other officials seeking ways to keep the deal alive, as well as economic guarantees.

Following the US decision to pull out of the deal in May, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif embarked on a tour to Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, the remaining signatories to the deal.

Last week, President Rouhani wrote letters to his counterparts in France, Germany and Britain expressing his country’s wish for its partners to stay in the nuclear deal.

Although the EU has pledged to salvage the nuclear deal without US’ participation, some European firms doing business in Iran have begun to pack up and leave since the US’ exit, while the Iranian rial has lost more than 47 percent of its value against the dollar since September.

The US president also said on Sunday that he would not exempt European companies from Iran-related sanctions – suggesting that EU’s wishes for waivers would be ignored.

Rouhani has also threatened to quit if Tehran cannot ensure it benefits from staying in the deal during a phone call with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in middle June.

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