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Iran/EU: Brussels Spurns Tehran’s Efforts To Restart Trade Talks

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was in Brussels yesterday as part of a European tour aimed at reviving EU trade talks that were suspended last year. Union officials say, however, that there is widespread "disappointment" in Brussels and member-state capitals over Iran's recent elections and continued doubts about the country's nuclear program.

Brussels, 4 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- EU officials did little to hide their frustration with Iran during a visit to Brussels yesterday by the country's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi.

Officials said Kharrazi is touring Europe in the hope of persuading the EU to revive stalled trade talks. However, EU capitals and the European Commission in Brussels are still stung by the exclusion of hundreds of reformist candidates from recent elections in the Islamic Republic. Iran's apparent attempts to conceal parts of its nuclear program are also an issue.

Reijo Kemppinen, a spokesman for European Commission President Romano Prodi, was unusually tight-lipped following yesterday's meeting between Prodi and Kharrazi -- saying only that the dialogue would continue in a follow-up meeting between Kharrazi and External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten.

"With the president they discussed the relationship between the European Union and Iran. They concentrated on the possibilities of recommencing, restarting the dialogue. They did not, with the president, go into any detail on that issue. That remains to be done with Commissioner Patten," Kemppinen said.

But the meeting with Patten brought no results either.

The EU has indicated that, in contrast to the United States, it is not against a civilian nuclear program in Iran. But EU officials say Tehran must show full transparency.
A commission official said the EU had made clear its "disappointment" with Iran in failing to do more to improve ties between Tehran and Brussels. The official said the EU had "invested heavily" in the relationship and considers Iran a very important partner.

This refers to the EU's preference for what is known as "positive engagement." Rejecting U.S. charges that Iran is part of the "axis of evil" supporting terrorism, the EU adopted a different strategy, offering Tehran a lucrative trade deal in exchange for a commitment to political reform. But those talks broke down in June after revelations about Iran's nuclear program came to light.

The EU official said yesterday that nearly a year later, little has changed about Iran's human rights record. But more significantly, the commission's policy of offering rewards for progress has been seen as reaching a dead end after this spring's legislative elections in Iran, where hundreds of reformers were banned from running. The official said this had drastically "changed the atmosphere" of the talks.

The official said the EU also regrets that it was not told about some elements of Iran's nuclear program. Recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports have shown that even as Iran put a pause on some uranium-enrichment projects, it continued to buy centrifuges needed for the process.

Last autumn, the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, Germany, and France negotiated a deal with Iran offering aid to the country's civilian nuclear projects in exchange for allowing IAEA inspectors access to Iran's nuclear facilities.

However, EU sources say the deal has been interpreted differently in Brussels and Tehran. Iran's government appeared to think that signing an IAEA nuclear inspections protocol and announcing a moratorium on enrichment activities would be enough to restart talks with the EU.

Some member states in the EU, however, were insistent that the moratorium must be a long-term commitment. One source said yesterday these difference have given rise to a "period of frustration" on both sides, but especially in Iran.

The EU has indicated that, in contrast to the United States, it is not against a civilian nuclear program in Iran. But EU officials say Iran must show full transparency.

The EU is now awaiting another report on the issue, scheduled for June, from the head of the IAEA, Muhammad el-Baradei.

This means EU foreign ministers are unlikely to be able to consider a resumption of talks before July.

One EU official said yesterday it would be "very surprising" if the bloc decided to move ahead on the issue while questions remain about the content of el-Baradei's report.