EU to invite Iranian foreign minister for talks over protests

Iranian students clash with riot police during an anti-government protest around the University of Tehran, Iran, 30 December 2017. [EPA/EFE]

The European Union will invite Iran’s foreign minister for talks about the recent anti-government protests that have hit the country, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday (7 January).

“Together with the EU’s foreign policy chief [Federica Mogherini], we agreed to invite the Iranian foreign minister, if possible next week,” Gabriel told German public broadcaster ZDF, without giving further details.

Twenty-one people have died and hundreds arrested since 28 December as protests over economic woes turned against the Iranian regime as a whole, with attacks on government buildings and police stations.

“We very quickly affirmed that we support the freedom to demonstrate and that the state should support this,” Gabriel said.

At the same time, Gabriel said Berlin will not follow the lead of US President Donald Trump, who pledged to help Iranians “take back” their government.

Trump also seized on the recent unrest to again slam a multiparty nuclear deal with Iran as deeply flawed.

Germany, as well as France, has “warned against attempts at instrumentalising the domestic conflicts in Iran,” said Gabriel.

The US on Friday took the Iran protests to the UN Security Council, where deep divisions emerged over the issue, with Russia arguing the demonstrations posed no threat to international peace and security.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said yesterday the country’s people and security forces had put an end to unrest fomented by foreign enemies, as parliament and security officials met to discuss the boldest challenge to the clerical establishment since 2009.

“Iran’s revolutionary people along with tens of thousands of Basij forces, police and the Intelligence Ministry have broken down the chain (of unrest),” the Guards said in a statement on their Sepahnews website. The Guards said the unrest had been “created … by the United States, Britain, the Zionist regime (Israel), Saudi Arabia, the hypocrites (Mujahideen) and monarchists.”

Parliament met on Sunday to discuss the week of unrest with the ministers of interior and intelligence, Iran’s police chief and the deputy commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, state television said.

Late on Saturday, videos on social media showed a heavy police presence in cities, including Khorramabad in southwestern Iran where on Wednesday evening social media posts showed protesters throwing stones at riot police.

Social media role

As protests have ebbed, the government has lifted restrictions it imposed on Instagram, one of the social media tools used to mobilize protesters. But access to a more widely used messaging app, Telegram, was still blocked, suggesting authorities remained uneasy about the possibility of further protests.

Parliament spokesman Behrouz Nemati said MPs and security officials had decided that Telegram restrictions should be lifted only after the app committed to ban “hostile, anti-Iranian channels that promote unrest”, state television reported.

Telegram, with 40 million users in Iran, in late December shut down a channel that Iran had accused of encouraging violence, but declined to block other channels and this prompted Tehran to block access to the app.

Many Iranians access Telegram by using virtual private networks (VPNs) and other tools to bypass government filtering of the Internet, residents say.

The anti-government protests have attracted largely young people and workers as well as members of the educated middle-class that formed the backbone of a pro-reform revolt almost a decade ago.

A police spokesman said most of those arrested were “duped” into joining the unrest and had been freed on bail, the state news agency IRNA reported. “But, the leaders of the unrest are held by the judiciary in prison.”

Concerns about student arrests

Several parliament members and university officials have expressed concern over the fate of students arrested during the protests. Tehran University Vice-President Majid Sarsangi has said the university had set up a committee to track them.

Parliament spokesman Nemati said MPs had asked security officials for a report about the detained students during Sunday’s closed session.

“One of the issues addressed by deputies and the parliament speaker was that of detained students, and it was decided that the Intelligence Ministry would vigorously pursue this and submit a report by next week,” said Nemati, quoted by IRNA.

Slovenia rocked by Iran-related money laundering scandal

Slovenia’s state prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation into claims that the country’s biggest state-owned bank, Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB), may have laundered nearly €1bn from Iran between 2008 and 2010, breaking an international embargo and failing to enforce rules on the financing of terrorism.