Britain is denying a report by human rights activists that Iran’s nuclear negotiator threatened to curtail his involvement in upcoming talks with world powers unless British officials shut down the independent Iran Atrocities Tribunal hearings in London that are investigating Tehran’s deadly crackdown on 2019 protests.
“We do not recognize the report of recent meetings between representatives of the U.K. and Iran. No threat was made to the U.K. with regard to the events organized by human rights groups this week in London,” a British embassy spokesperson in Washington said in a statement emailed to VOA on Saturday.
The tribunal — which has no legal standing and was launched by three rights groups — had posted a Persian-language tweet Friday, citing unnamed European sources claiming that Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator and Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani made the purported threat to downgrade his upcoming talks with world powers a day earlier in meetings with British officials in London.
In a phone call with VOA, the British embassy spokesperson said the assertion that Bagheri Kani made such a threat is “100% not true.”
The tribunal’s tweet said the European sources quoted Bagheri Kani as telling the British officials: "You want us to negotiate with you about the [2015 Iran nuclear deal], but instead of showing us goodwill, you have allowed terrorists to put us on trial here [in London]."
Bagheri Kani's reference to "terrorists" appeared to be aimed at the human rights groups staging the tribunal, which opened Wednesday and is set to conclude Sunday.
Iran Atrocities Tribunal
The event, known as an international people's tribunal, is organized by rights groups based in London, Paris and Oslo, Norway, and is aimed at investigating alleged atrocities related to Iran's suppression of nationwide protests in November 2019. Rights activists have accused Iranian security forces of killing hundreds of protesters and wounding and detaining thousands more in the crackdown.
The event also has been named the Aban Tribunal in reference to the Persian month in which the protests happened two years ago.
Tribunal organizer and freelance Iranian-Finnish journalist Kambiz Ghafouri, responding to the British statement denying that Bagheri Kani made the alleged threat, told VOA Persian on Saturday that he sees the denial as “playing with words.”
“Politicians tend to say that they don’t recognize leaked reports [of off-the-record discussions]. So, we, the reporters, should retort that we are responsible for the facts that we receive, and we do not recognize the official accounts made by politicians that are based on expediency,” Ghafouri said.
In a Friday interview with VOA Persian TV, tribunal co-counsel Regina Paulose declined to provide more information about Bagheri Kani's alleged use of threats to pressure British officials into stopping the hearings. She said his purported threat to scale back Iranian involvement in future nuclear talks with world powers "will have no impact" on the tribunal, whose work, she said, is needed to give voice to victims of an oppressive Iranian government that has enjoyed impunity for rights abuses for a long time.
On Friday, the tribunal's third day of hearings, international legal experts heard testimony from witnesses, including human rights researchers, former Iranian detainees, relatives of those killed in the 2019 crackdown, and an Iranian police officer. Some of the witnesses who provided video testimony from inside Iran had their faces covered to avoid potential identification and punishment by Iranian authorities.
Iran has said it intends to return to Vienna on November 29 for indirect talks with the United States about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran and the U.S. held several rounds of indirect talks in the Austrian capital from April to June, until Iran suspended them ahead of its June 18 presidential election.
The Vienna talks, in which other world powers have mediated between the U.S. and Iran, are intended to secure a mutual return to JCPOA compliance by the two longtime rivals. Under the deal, Iran promised world powers that it would curb nuclear activities that could be weaponized in return for international sanctions relief.
The prior U.S. administration of President Donald Trump quit the JCPOA in 2018, saying it was not tough enough on Iran, and reimposed U.S. sanctions. Iran retaliated a year later by starting to publicly exceed JCPOA limits on its nuclear activities.
President Joe Biden, who succeeded Trump in January, has said he wants to revive the JCPOA through diplomacy, calling it the best way to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear-armed, a goal Tehran denies seeking. Biden has offered to remove some U.S. sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran resuming full compliance with JCPOA restrictions on its nuclear program.
The government of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who took office in August, agreed earlier this month to resume the JCPOA talks on November 29.
But Bagheri Kani told Iranian state-run network Press TV Thursday that Iran will not discuss its nuclear activities at the upcoming talks. He said the Iranian side instead will focus on securing "the termination of illegal (U.S.) sanctions" against Tehran.
The Aban Tribunal's tweet cited the European sources as saying Bagheri Kani threatened to suspend "part" of the upcoming JCPOA talks. It was not immediately clear what that meant.
Bagheri Kani made no mention of any threat when he posted a Friday tweet summarizing his meetings with British and other European officials in recent days.
In its first response to the tribunal, the U.S. State Department on Friday sent a statement to VOA saying it is following the event. Asked if the U.S. will consider tightening human rights-related sanctions on Iran in light of witnesses testifying at the tribunal about alleged Iranian rights abuses, a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. "cannot comment on internal sanctions deliberations."
The U.S. spokesperson accused the Iranian government of "continuing to deny Iranians their human rights, including through severe restrictions on the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression."
The spokesperson also said the U.S. "condemns the use of violence against peaceful protesters. We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and express themselves, without fear of violence and detention by security forces."
This article originated in VOA's Persian Service.