Fears over Russian action may focus minds on Iran deal, Coveney says

Despite trust issues Minister hopes tensions around Ukraine will propel nuclear accord

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has expressed cautious optimism that the growing threat of war in Europe could help focus minds on striking a deal with Iran over its nuclear capability.

After visiting Tehran last week, Mr Coveney attended the Munich Security Conference where he held talks and participated in a panel discussion with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir Abdollahian.

“I think they want a deal. They are, in their own way, signalling that,” said Mr Coveney. “I am hopeful that at some point in the next week to 10 days we could conclude successfully some issues that allow a compromise.”

Mr Coveney said he sensed growing global tensions could impact on the prospect of any final deal, but that trust issues still remained and Iran’s nuclear programme continued to move ahead.


‘Beyond your control’

“There are moments when it is time to cut a deal and if you don’t take those moments, that sweet spot can move away from you, often because of things beyond your control,” he told The Irish Times.

Ireland's membership of the United Nations Security Council means it is closely involved in ongoing talks with Iran which – if concluded successfully in Geneva – would see Tehran drop its nuclear programme in exchange for an end to sanctions.

On joining the Security Council, Ireland was assigned as facilitator of Resolution 2231, which relates to the Iranian nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA was agreed in 2005 between Iran and France, Germany, the UK, the US, China and Russia. The Trump administration took the US out of the agreement in 2018 but President Joe Biden's officials are willing to re-engage with the JCPOA if Iran comes back into compliance with its terms.

Ethiopian upset

After Munich, Mr Coveney said his Iranian counterpart signalled his government wanted a deal with benefits for Iran, but Trump-era interventions had left many Iranian MPs mistrustful.

Mr Coveney also held talks with the Ethiopian foreign minister and deputy foreign minister in a bid to ease tensions that saw Addis Ababa order four of Ireland's six diplomats to leave the country last year.

That move was in protest at Ireland’s outspoken stance on the country’s ongoing conflict, including at the UN Security Council.

In Munich the Irish Minister told his Ethiopian counterpart, Demeke Mekonnen, that Ireland’s remarks on the Ethiopian conflict were in line with EU positions, humanitarian standards and backed by events on the ground.

Ireland has a long historical relationship with Ethiopia, he added, noting its contribution of €35 million last year to the country.

“I hope we will be able to rebuild that relationship,” said Mr Coveney. “We have always maintained that Ireland supports overall the sovereignty of Ethiopia, that we have never wanted or encouraged the break-up of the country.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin