by Staff Writers
Vienna (AFP) March 29, 2016
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has postponed for security reasons a planned visit to Austria this week, only his second to Europe since last year's nuclear deal, Austria's presidency said Tuesday.
"The visit for March 30-31 by President Hassan Rouhani and his delegation has been postponed by the Iranian side for security reasons," it said in a statement, without giving further details.
The Iranian government's official website confirmed the postponement, made "by mutual agreement", but said nothing about security concerns. Neither Vienna nor Tehran gave a new date for a visit.
A spokesman for the Austrian interior ministry, Karl-Heinz Grundboeck, said there were "no concrete indications of any security threats" in Vienna.
Rouhani had been due to meet Austrian President Heinz Fischer on Wednesday in Vienna and Chancellor Werner Faymann the following day, as well as attend an Austro-Iranian economic forum.
He visited Rome and Paris in January.
The 2013 election of Rouhani, a relative moderate, led to something of a rapprochement with the West which in turn helped Iran and major powers reach the mammoth nuclear deal in Vienna last July.
Entering into force in January, Iran substantially scaled down its nuclear programme in order to put an atomic bomb out of reach. In return nuclear-related sanctions -- but not others -- were lifted.
Ructions with the West remain, however, including over Tehran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the conflict in Yemen, Iran's ballistic missile programme and computer hacking.
With Rouhani having been elected on a promise to improve the economy, Tehran is also frustrated at what it sees as an incomplete lifting of sanctions, in particular on its banks.
Austria, like other European countries, and having hosted numerous rounds of talks that led to the nuclear deal, is keen to see its firms profit from the opening up of the Iranian economy.
Iran sanctions removal duration unclear: Austrian president
Iran's historic agreement with world powers went into force on January 16, ending a 13-year standoff over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme and lifting punishing sanctions on its economy.
But more than two months later Iran is still struggling to make business with the West and banks are facing restrictions in the United States on handling transactions involving the Islamic republic.
"Austria alone cannot lift the sanctions. The EU cannot do it alone too, but it's the international community that should do it," Fischer said, in comments published late Monday by IRIB.
"The US also plays a role in this regard," said the Austrian president.
He was replying to a question about problems facing Iranian banks who wish to use the international payments system SWIFT allowing the resumption of foreign transfers.
Some banks in Iran have been able to reconnect to SWIFT since the lifting of sanctions was announced in January.
But banks accused of links to the country's elite Revolutionary Guards remain under US sanctions.
Last week a senior US State Department official said foreign banks looking to deal with Iran following the lifting of sanctions must avoid engaging with entities that remain subject to a US embargo.
Fischer, speaking ahead of a two-day state visit to Austria by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that begins on Wednesday, said the process of lifting sanctions on Iran had "started".
He added however: "I cannot make any predictions on how much longer it will take" before all sanctions are lifted.
"But I hope that all sides will remain committed to the nuclear deal so that all of Iran's sanctions are lifted in due and scheduled time," Fischer added.
Last week Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States of failing to respect the nuclear deal and that Washington's allies are afraid of dealing with Iran.
Washington has lifted sanctions "on paper", Khamenei said on March 20, "but they are using roundabout paths to prevent the Islamic republic from achieving its targets".
In Western countries which are under the "influence" of Washington, "banking transactions come up against problems," he added.
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