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Iranian press review: Iran's negotiating team faces calls to quit nuclear talks

Meanwhile, concerns raised over the wealthy Iranians' VIP access to Covid-19 vaccine amid jab shortage, and Tehran's 'garbage mafia' moves against city council's waste management plan
Delegation members from the parties to the Iran nuclear deal attend a meeting at the Grand Hotel of Vienna as they try to restore the accord, on 20 April 2021. (Handout)

Iran should leave Vienna nuclear talks, say conservatives

The conservative Kayhan daily, whose editor-in-chief is directly appointed by Iran's supreme leader, urged Iran's negotiating team to immediately withdraw from ongoing talks in Vienna over Tehran and Washington's return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

"The US will not remove sanctions, so why is the Iranian team wasting its time in Vienna?" Kayhan asked on its front page on Monday. 

"The government and foreign ministry must leave the negotiations. They must announce that Iran's precondition for any new agreement is the permanent removal of all US sanctions at once," the daily added.

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On 7 April, Tehran began a new round of nuclear talks with France, Germany, the UK, China and Russia – known as 4+1 - in Vienna to revive the 2015 deal, by which the US removed sanctions on Iran in exchange for limitations on Iran's nuclear programme.

Following the US's unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018, the subsequent imposition of more than 1,500 sanctions on Iran's economy, and the other signatories' failure to assist Iran to sell its oil and stay in the global market, Tehran has gradually reduced its compliance with the deal.

Last week, Tehran said it would increase uranium enrichment levels to 60 percent purity in response to a suspected Israeli attack on Iran's Natanz nuclear facility. The highest level of enrichment Iran had reached before the attack was 20 percent.

Since the beginning of the new round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stressed that Tehran will only return to full compliance with the 2015 agreement if Washington removes all sanctions imposed after its 2018 withdrawal.

But conservatives in Tehran are doubtful of Washington's motives.

"The main goal of the US and Europe is to make the negotiations over the nuclear deal exhaustive and then to return to the accord without lifting the sanctions," Kayhan wrote. "In a second phase, they would add permanent limitations on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes."

Iran permits private sector to import Covid-19 vaccine

Following months of failed attempts to bypass US sanctions and import the Covid-19 vaccine, Iran's health ministry permitted three private pharmaceutical companies to import the urgently needed jabs.

Iran is the worst-hit country by the virus in the Middle East - its official death toll passed 67,500 on Wednesday, with real mortality likely to be higher. Tehran has imported only 1,195,000 doses of the vaccine for its 83 million population, official figures show.

According to Iran's foreign and health ministries, Washington's sanctions have blocked their path to using frozen assets in Korea and Japan to purchase the vaccine and transfer money to Covax, a global programme to provide the vaccine to poorer countries.

An Iranian health worker prepares an injection of the locally-made COVID-19 vaccine during the start of the second phase of trials in the capital Tehran on March 15, 2021.
An Iranian health worker prepares an injection of the locally-made Covid-19 vaccine during the start of the second phase of trials in the capital Tehran on 15 March (AFP)

The health ministry's new plan to allow private companies to import the vaccine has raised concerns, however, that doses would be sold to wealthy Iranians.

These were amplified when Alireza Raeisi, a spokesman for the national coronavirus task force, said: "Those who can't wait for their turn to receive the free vaccine can pay for the jab and receive it before their turn comes."

On Wednesday, the Aftab daily slammed the new plan as a way of giving priority to affluent Iranians and creating "massive discrimination... with irreversible impacts".

Iranian Academy of Medical Sciences director, Alireza Marandi, has also warned against using private companies in the national vaccination drive.

In a letter to Iran's health minister, Marandi warned that their involvement would lead to the "creation of a black market and other abuses".

Tehran's 'garbage mafia' hindering waste management plan

In an opinion piece for the Hamshahri daily, Tehran's city council chairman Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani revealed that a mafia in control of recycling has been exerting pressure on the city council to abandon a comprehensive plan to organise waste management in the Iranian capital.

According to Rafsanjani, the "garbage mafia" is the main obstacle to managing Tehran's rubbish. He did not elaborate on who controls this mafia, but said that it illegally hires children, migrants, drug addicts and deprived labourers to collect the city's recyclable waste.

This is the first time that a high-ranking Iranian official has publicly talked about the garbage mafia in Iran, despite ten years of warnings from experts about social and environmental damages in Tehran caused by unauthorised waste disposal and treatment.

On Saturday, Sabzineh reported that about 4,000 children work for the mafia as garbage "scavengers" in Tehran. The daily added that most children working for the gang are migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

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According to Sabzineh, the garbage mafia has monopolised waste management across Iran, making millions of dollars in the process.

"The annual income from Tehran's waste management is over 2,000bn Iranian rials (about $82m on the open market)," a report by the paper read.

"Tehran municipality's share from that income is only 200m rial (roughly $8.2m), and 300m rial (around $12.3m) is the mafia's cost to pay the scavengers and manage the recycling process. All the rest directly goes into the mafia's pocket," the daily added.

Meanwhile, a former member of Tehran's city council, Mohammad Haghani, warned that officials in Tehran municipality cooperate with the gang.

"I can confidently say that the mafia you are looking for is inside the official system of city management," he was quoted by Sabzineh as saying.

*Iranian press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.