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EU: Brussels Continues Human Rights Talks With Iran, Despite Lingering Nuclear Concerns

European Union officials say they will hold another round of low-level human rights talks with Iran next week. Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers meeting next week are likely to put off deciding whether to resume trade talks with the country. Officials say the bloc wants to give the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors time to discuss the latest report on Iran prepared by its director-general, Muhammad el-Baradei.

Brussels, 8 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Despite intense lobbying, Iran's government will in all likelihood face another disappointment when European Union foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg next Monday.

Officials say the ministers are likely to defer discussions on whether to relaunch trade talks with Iran. The negotiations were suspended a year ago in the wake of allegations of clandestine nuclear activity in the country.

Sources in Brussels say EU ministers want to wait until after the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) next board of governors meeting, which takes place from 14-18 June in Vienna. The meeting will debate the latest findings on Iran's nuclear program by the head of the IAEA, Muhammad el-Baradei.
EU officials say the recent parliamentary elections in Iran -- in which scores of reformists were not allowed to run -- seriously damaged goodwill toward the country.

Meanwhile, however, the EU has sanctioned another meeting within the framework of the low-level human rights dialogue being conducted with Iran. The meeting will take place in Tehran, also next week. European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin told RFE/RL that the bloc values the dialogue as a means of keeping lines of communication open to the country's reformist forces.

"We still believe that the human rights dialogue that we have with Iran is valuable, even though the concrete results have been disappointing. Why? Because it keeps a channel of communication open in which individual cases can be raised, but also because it is in the structure of this particular dialogue that it brings together representatives of civil society on both sides -- sometimes members of the judiciary on both sides. It provides for an exchange of views and experience and helps support those who are interested in improving the human rights situation in Iran," Udwin said.

More than the human rights dialogue, however, EU member states are interested in securing Iran's full compliance with all IAEA requests.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that many member states were encouraged by the latest el-Baradei report, which was released earlier this month. The official said the report contained "a lot of recognition" of the steps taken by Iran so far to allay international concerns.

On the other hand, the official acknowledged that Britain, Germany, and France -- which last year brokered a deal between Iran and the IAEA -- are becoming impatient with Tehran's patchy record in cooperating with the agency.

However, the source noted that although the three appear to be preparing a draft resolution for the IAEA's board of governors, this does not compare to taking the matter before the UN Security Council, as requested by the United States. The official said that although the latest el-Baradei report contains criticism, the EU as a whole wants to maintain dialogue with Tehran to obtain "leverage to push Iran in a good direction."

But EU officials say the recent parliamentary elections in Iran -- in which scores of reformists were not allowed to run -- seriously damaged goodwill toward the country. One official said yesterday that, before the elections, the European Commission had supported setting a date for the resumption of trade talks, to reward Tehran for signing up to an IAEA nuclear-inspections protocol. Now, the official said, "no one is in a hurry." He said the elections "changed the atmospherics of the talks" -- but hastened to add that no one in the EU favors the tough U.S. line, either.

Officials say the human rights situation in Iran is far from perfect either. Commission spokeswoman Udwin said: "It is an area where we would have liked to see more, even though we do acknowledge that there have been some modest steps in the direction that we've suggested. For example, with a moratorium [on] sentences of stoning for women accused of adultery. So, I'm not saying there's been no movement at all. We're saying that we would've liked to have seen more movement."

Commission officials also cited a highly critical Human Rights Watch report on Iran that was released earlier this week.

Yet, EU representatives will go to Tehran next week in the hope that they can make a difference by discussing human rights issues face-to-face with Iranian officials and representatives of civil society.