Human rights activists holding a tribunal in London to investigate Iran's deadly suppression of protests in 2019 say they have learned that Tehran is threatening to partially suspend upcoming nuclear talks with world powers if the tribunal continues.
A Persian-language tweet posted Friday by the tribunal organizers cited unnamed European sources as saying Iran's deputy foreign minister and lead nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani made the threat Thursday during a meeting with British officials in London.
The 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."
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.
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.
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.
VOA cannot independently confirm any threat by Iran to step back from its stated intention to return to Vienna on Nov. 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 Nov. 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.
Jason Brodsky, policy director of U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, said in a VOA interview that if confirmed, Bagheri Kani's threat would be unsurprising.
"This fits into Iran's playbook of using threats, extortion and unreasonable demands to try to dominate the contours of Iran's engagement with the international community," Brodsky said. He cited as an example a threat by Raisi in September to suspend Iranian participation in JCPOA talks if the U.N. nuclear agency were to pass a resolution criticizing Iran's lack of cooperation with U.N. nuclear inspectors.
"My hope is that the British diplomatic corps would have made it clear to Bagheri Kani that they are not moved by his threats and that he has no standing to make demands on what happens on British soil," Brodsky said.
The British Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a VOA request for comment on whether Bagheri Kani made any threat in his talks with British officials.
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.