EU refreshes diplomatic contacts with Iran

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The EU has reacted to Iran’s appeal for better ties with a series of informal meetings and friendly statements.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius met with Iran’s ambassador to France, Ali Ahani, in Paris while Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Lapo Pistelli, the same day went to Tehran for a two-day visit.

Fabius’ office said in a statement that: “Since the presidential elections have shown the Iranian people’s desire for change, the minister noted France’s wish to see [Iranian] President Rohani’s entry into office open a new chapter in its relations with Iran.”

Pistelli said his trip is designed to “encourage the new Iranian administration to take concrete steps to open a new era of dialogue.”

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who chairs international talks on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme, told Hassan Rohani in a memo also out on Tuesday that she wants a new round of negotiations “as soon as practicable.”

She added: “The European Union hopes that under your leadership there will be new opportunities to work together.”

British and German statements were more wary, saying Iran must put to rest fears it is making nuclear weapons before relations can improve.

The EU, in concert with the US, last year imposed sanctions on Iranian oil and banks.

It recently blacklisted one of Iran’s regional allies, Lebanese group Hezbollah, and it has said its second ally, the Syrian regime, must step down.

It also sent a low-level envoy, the Greek ambassador to Iran, in his capacity as the “local [EU] presidency,” to Rohani’s inauguration ceremony at the weekend.

But Ashton’s predecessor, former Spanish diplomat Javier Solana, also went along.

He wrote in an op-ed for Spain’s El Pais daily on Wednesday that the recent election of Rohani, a moderate cleric, means that: “Between rationality and unpredictability, the Iranian people and its leader [religious chief Ali Khamenei] have chosen the former.”

He added that during his 48 hours in Tehran he spoke with “various personalities” and that he “found in almost all of them the same feeling of … urgency” on improving ties with the West.

For his part, Rohani on Tuesday likewise appealed for change.

He told press that Iran will not give up its “right” to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and that it “will not yield” to sanctions.

But he added: “We are for negotiations [on the nuclear issue] and interaction. We are prepared, seriously and without wasting time, to enter negotiations which are serious and substantive with the other side.”

He also nominated Javad Zarif, a US-educated diplomat with close links to EU and US nuclear negotiators, as his foreign minister.

The US, like Britain and Germany, remains sceptical for now.

“If there’s a credible proposal [on the nuclear question] and actions that are taken … the United States will be a willing partner. But we’re not quite there yet,” state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told media in Washington on Tuesday.

Several US congressmen and Israel are currently pushing for further sanctions on Iran.

The sanctions approach was described by Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, in a tweet on Tuesday, as “counterproductive at this time.”

But even Solana himself, despite his sympathetic words, recalled in El Pais that when he was back in Ashton’s shoes Iran had a habit of making fine proclamations one day, but the next day sending “long … cumbersome, difficult to understand” proposals for a nuclear deal, which acted as a “clear signal” that the stalemate goes on.

 

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