Iran Ends Cooperation with EU on ‘Terrorism, Drugs, and Refugees’ over New Sanctions

Iran Ends Cooperation with EU on ‘Terrorism, Drugs, and Refugees’ over New Sanctions

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh has announced an end to cooperation with the EU in key areas in the wake of the first new European Union sanctions against Iranian officials in 8 years. Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry

After the EU slapped sanctions on key Iranian officials for the first time since 2013, Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Monday announced it was suspending cooperation with the European Union in a wide range of areas such as human rights, “terrorism, drugs, and refugees.”

The EU has added eight Iranian security officials and three prisons to its sanctions blacklist of Iranian entities over the November 2019 government crackdown on fuel price protests in Iran, which is estimated to have killed hundreds of people.

The newly sanctioned Iranian officials include the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Gorps Hossein Salami, the head of the Basij paramilitary force, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ ground forces and Iran’s police chief.

According to the EU, Salami “bears responsiblity for serious human rights violations”.

In retaliation to the EU actions, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh “strongly condemned” the sanctions and said Iran was “suspending all human rights talks and cooperation resulting from these talks with the EU, especially in (the fields of) terrorism, drugs and refugees”.

Khatibzadeh accused the bloc of having “stayed silent in the face of” Washington’s sanctions and only “expressing regret”, while “cooperating” with the US.

“Such acts [the imposition of EU sanctions] are committed by those who claim to be supporters of, and falsely preach [respect for] human rights with political motives, but they have not only remained silent in the face of violations of Iranian people’s rights due to the United States’ inhuman and illegal sanctions, but also approved of such violations,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

“In reaction to this move by the European Union, the Islamic Republic of Iran is considering [imposing] reciprocal sanctions, which will be announced in due time,” he added.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has threatened a number of times to cease all cooperation with Europe on drug trafficking and refugee flows if the Union did not help the Islamic republic circumvent US sanctions, reimposed under the Trump Administration.

An EU facility championed in particular by the UK, France, and Germany for circumventing the US sanctions through barter trade called INSTEX has failed to offer tangible benefits from Tehran’s point of view.

The United Nations has praised Iran for hosting millions of refugees fleeing conflict in Afghanistan. Iran regularly announces large-scale seizures of shipments of drugs originating in Afghanistan.

The new EU – Iranian spat over the imposing of the first European Union sanctions on Iran since 2013 will likely affect negatively present efforts for a revival of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.

With the new EU sanctions against 8 individuals and 3 entities, the EU now has sanctions against 89 individuals and four entities in Iran.

In November 2019, the Islamic Republic of Iran saw two weeks of street protests against a spike in fuel prices, which were ended with what has been described by observers as a brutal crackdown.

According to the UN, at least 304 people were killed in the suppressing of the protests in Iran. According to the Reuters news agency, which says its findings are based on reports from Iranian Interior Ministry officials, the actual figure is around 1,500. Some reports from Iranian authorities have mentioned 230 casualties of “riots”.

The new EU sanctions and Iran’s retaliation come against the backdrop of the Union’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, after Democrat Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump as President of the United States in January 2021.

In 2018, then US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the Iranian nuclear deal, deemed a landmark foreign policy achievement of the Obama Administration, despite cricism from the five other participating powers – the UK, France, Germany, Russian, and China.

Despite its willingness to rejoin the nuclear accord with Iran and the other five powers, the new US presidential administration of Joe Biden, Obama’s then Vice President, has made it clear that it has no intention to offer Tehran special incentives to lure it back into adhering to the 2015 agreement.

The EU had put on hold punitive measures against figures from the regime in Tehran in the wake of the signing of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal so the slapping of the new sanctions on officials such as the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Hossein Salami likely bodes badly for the prospects of reviving the deal.

The new sanctions had been in the pipeline for a long time, and the EU had decided to impose them despite the ongoing nuclear deal talks, according to an EU diplomatic source.

Back in 2015, the Union dropped other sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program as part of the JCPOA deal.



Ivan Dikov, the founder of, is the author of the book “Ugly Bargain: How the European Union and Bulgaria’s Post-Communist Oligarchy Fit Together“, among other books.