TEHRAN – Iran pulled out of expert-level talks with six world powers Friday to protest the expansion of U.S. sanctions, saying the blacklisting of more entities violates the spirit of a ground-breaking agreement over Tehran’s atomic program.
In the first major hurdle to the interim deal reached last month in Geneva, the United States on Thursday targeted more than a dozen companies and people for evading sanctions against Iran.
It was an effort by the Obama administration to show it will enforce existing laws even as it presses Congress to hold off on additional measures while world powers pursue a comprehensive nuclear deal with Tehran.
But the Iranians called the move “unconstructive and against good intentions,” and accused the U.S. of sending mixed signals.
“This is a game of double standards — it is not in accord with the talks we have had and it is against the spirit of the Geneva agreement,” senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi told the official news agency IRNA. “On the one hand they tried to halt sanctions in Congress, and on the other hand they made a new move and the Treasury added new companies to the list.”
The White House said the expansion did not violate the agreement and represented actions based on existing sanctions. Spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama is committed to refraining from any new nuclear-related sanctions.
Araghchi, who is also deputy foreign minister, said the Iranians are assessing the situation to determine the proper response.
IRNA also quoted an unnamed official as saying an Iranian team of experts had halted technical talks with the six world powers in Vienna because of the U.S. sanctions on new Iranian entities.
“Iran has ended the talks because of the addition of more individuals and companies to the sanctions list. It was against the path of agreements,” the official was quoted as saying.
The talks in Vienna are on the expert level, bringing representatives from the six powers and Iran together to discuss implementing parts of the Geneva deal. They started Monday and were originally set for two days.
A diplomat in Vienna who is familiar with the talks confirmed that the Iranian delegation left for Tehran for consultations but said the Iranians had not directly linked Friday’s departure to the U.S. moves. He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the closed consultations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the Vienna talks were making progress “but I think we’re at a point in those talks where folks feel a need to consult and take a moment.”
He said there is “every expectation” that the talks will resume in a few days.
The West suspects Iran’s nuclear program has a military dimension. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities have peaceful purposes like power generation and medical treatment.
As part of the deal, the U.S. agreed to no new nuclear-related financial penalties against Tehran for six months in return for a freeze on part of the Islamic republic’s uranium enrichment activities. Still, many Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for even tougher measures to raise the pressure further on Iran, despite the administration’s pleas for patience.
Thursday’s action freezes the U.S. assets of firms in Panama, Singapore, Ukraine and elsewhere for maintaining covert business with Iran’s national tanker company. Other companies involved directly in the proliferation of material useful for weapons of mass destruction also were blacklisted from the U.S. market. American citizens are banned from any transactions with the listed individuals and firms.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of Iran’s parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, said the U.S. move is an “obvious violation” of the interim deal and shows the Americans are “not trustworthy.”
He also was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as calling the decision to halt the Vienna talks “right and revolutionary.”