Iran media misreports EU foreign policy chief’s criticism of its missile tests

Parts of the Iranian media on Saturday misrepresented comments made by the European Union’s top diplomat during a press conference, claiming Federica Mogherini said the West was not concerned about Iran’s recent missile tests when, in fact, she said the opposite.

Mogherini was in Tehran to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Saturday, after which the two gave a joint press conference.

Speaking in English, the top EU diplomat said that while Iran’s recent missile tests were not in breach of the nuclear deal signed with Tehran last year, the world powers were concerned and were urging Iran to refrain from further such actions.

“We do not see the missiles tests as a breach of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). This does not mean that we are not concerned, on the contrary. We see this as a worrying step… Any step that could pass different messages in the region, that could escalate tensions is not welcomed from our side… We are encouraging to abstain from further steps,” Mogherini said in her statement.

The semi-official Fars News Agency, however, quoted her as saying: “We have several times said in Brussels that these (missile) tests do not violate the nuclear agreement and we are not so much concerned about it.”

Similarly, the Tasnim news agency misreported: “The EU foreign policy chief added that the tests do not contravene the JCPOA and that the EU is not worried about the issue.”

Iran’s Press TV, by contrast, did accurately quote Mogherini saying of the tests, “This doesn’t mean that we are not concerned.”

The missile tests, including one on March 9 with the words “Israel must be wiped off the earth” in Hebrew and Persian reportedly emblazoned on one rocket, raised hackles in the US and Israel. An Iranian official said after the March 9 test that the rockets were meant to show that Tehran can hit Israel.

Iran has maintained that its ballistic missile system is unrelated to the nuclear accord.

A missile launched from the Alborz mountains in Iran on March 9, 2016, reportedly inscribed in Hebrew, ‘Israel must be wiped out.’ (Fars News)

Earlier this month, the US, France, Britain and Germany called on the UN Security Council to formulate an “appropriate response” to the ballistic missile tests which they say were carried out in defiance of a UN resolution.

The Obama administration, under pressure to react to the missile tests, sanctioned two entities involved in launching the missiles, an industrial group and the Revolutionary Guard Corps missile command.

at the press conference in Tehran on Saturday, Mogherini also admitted to difficulties in implementing the nuclear accord, but maintained that the agreement was on track.

Her comments underscored tension in Tehran over the accord, which has been in force for three months.

Under the deal, all nuclear-related sanctions were lifted but Iranian officials have accused the West, particularly the United States, of failing to honor its side of the bargain.

Among their grievances is the contention that US government officials are scaring off European banks from investing in Iran for fear of falling foul of regulations that saw massive fines imposed in recent years.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini give a joint press conference after a meeting on April 16, 2016 in the capital Tehran. (AFP / ATTA KENARE)

Mogherini, on her first trip to Iran since the nuclear deal came into force in January, said the diplomatic gains of the agreement must now be turned into “benefits in Iranians’ daily lives.”

But Zarif echoed remarks from other Iranian officials about the deal not producing discernible benefits.

“It is necessary that the other side’s cooperation, especially the United States, is made good in practice, not only on paper,” Zarif said, alluding to Seif’s comments.

“We warned the US and we will put some pressure on them, to pave the way for cooperation between non-US banks and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Mogherini sought to play down concern, saying that three months of “challenges” on the deal’s implementation was nothing compared to the 12 years of diplomacy it had taken to produce the nuclear agreement.

“We obviously have not finished the work on implementing the JCPOA,” Mogherini said, describing it as “an ongoing task”.

Put to her by a reporter that the banking issues were obstacles, Mogherini countered: “There are challenges in implementation, it is true.”

She cited 50 pages of guidelines that have been issued to European financial institutions that detail how business can now be conducted with Iran.

“We are doing all that we can to reassure our financial and banking system that all the new information on the new system is provided.”

Mogherini pointed to other evidence of cooperation, saying the EU has agreed to support Iran’s bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) for example, and Iran will take part on a joint dialogue on human rights.

Mogherini, who personally helped negotiate the nuclear deal between Iran and Britain, China, France, Russia and the US plus Germany, was accompanied by other top EU officials.

The six powers led by the United States agreed in July last year to lift sanctions that had locked down much of the Iran’s economy for years in exchange for limits on Tehran’s nuclear program.

The move allowed Iran to resume a higher level of oil exports when the deal was implemented, as well as opening up more trade opportunities.

But with the US still maintaining some sanctions, including on what it says is Iran’s sponsorship of designated terror organisations, Iran’s access to global finance remains limited.

Mogherini said the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, where the West has been looking for Iran’s cooperation with peace efforts, as well as Iran-EU cooperation on energy production and technology were also discussed.

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