Photo Credit: Jlhervàs via Flickr CC 2.0
President Joe Biden, November 2, 2020.

US President Joe Biden took another swing on Friday at the previous Trump Administration, lifting sanctions against two top officials at the International Criminal Court at The Hague as well as several other Court personnel.

Biden announced he is revoking Executive Order 13928 on “Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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Blinken, Ashkenazi Discuss Iran, Palestinian Authority ‘Active Involvement’ in ICC Probe

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the move in a statement explaining that sanctions and visa restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump against ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda – whose term at the Court has since ended – and Phakiso Mochochoko, head of jurisdiction at the ICC Prosecutor’s Office as well as other personnel were lifted because “the measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective.”

“We continue to disagree strongly with the ICC’s actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations,” Blinken said in his statement on Friday.

“We maintain our longstanding objection to the Court’s efforts to assert jurisdiction over personnel of non-States Parties such as the United States and Israel.

“We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions.”

The Biden Administration also announced Friday the start of indirect talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran next week in Vienna.

US Returns to Indirect Talks with Iran
European, Russian and Chinese partners in the JCPOA nuclear deal signed by Iran with world powers in 2015 will be joining the talks, scheduled for Tuesday in Austria.

Iran ruled out any step by step lifting of sanctions proposed for the upcoming meeting.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet that talks scheduled after Thursday’s “virtual JCPOA JC meeting” with the former members of the 2015 agreement should “rapidly finalize sanction-lifting and nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures.

“No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary,” Zarif added.

Tehran’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday rejected the US “step by step” proposal to phase out sanctions in exchange for its withdrawal from its recent progress in the nuclear field. “The United States must lift all sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said Iran Foreign Ministry spokesperson Said Khatib-Zada.

State Dept. spokesperson Ned Price called the upcoming meeting in Vienna “a healthy step forward” but added, “These remain early days and don’t anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead.”

The central issues on the agenda include the nuclear steps Iran would be required to take to return to the nuclear deal and the sanction relief steps the US would need to take to re-enter the agreement.

The JCPOA was signed at the time between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, UK, France, China and Russia – plus Germany.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the pact on May 8, 2018, saying the JCPOA was “defective to its core.” He also ordered the re-imposition of primary and secondary sanctions that were waived in accordance with the deal.

In prior remarks Trump had noted the deal only limited Iran’s nuclear activities for a fixed period, failed to stop Tehran’s development of ballistic missiles and had provided the Islamic Republic with a $100 billion windfall it then used as a “slush fund for weapons, terror and oppression” across the Middle East.

At the same time, France, Germany and the UK called on Iran to continue implementing the deal.

Russia’s Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, representing Moscow to international organizations in Vienna, said in response, “The impression is that we are on the right track, but the way ahead will not be easy and will require intensive efforts. The stakeholders seem to be ready for that,” he commented.

Iran has been violating the agreement for years; in addition to intelligence evidence of its violations provided to the UN Security Council by the State of Israel, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also acknowledged repeated violations over the past two years.

Iran last month refused to share with the agency surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities; however, Tehran promised to hand over the tapes, rather than erase them, if sanctions relief was granted — within a three-month window.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.