Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, Britain’s junior Europe minister, Douglas Alexander, said Iran’s insistence on the right to convert and process uranium could "overshadow Tehran's relationship with the entire international community.”
The EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have said they are not convinced Iran is developing its nuclear program solely for peaceful purposes.
Last month, the IAEA board of governors warned Iran it could be referred to the UN Security Council in November. A referral could lead to international sanctions.
Alexander -- who spoke on behalf of the current EU presidency -- said that to avoid sanctions, Iran must stop the nuclear conversion work it resumed in August. It must also restart talks with the EU-3, which were broken off at the same time.
“The resolution passed by the IAEA board of governors on 24 September makes clear the depth of international concern at Iran’s decision," Alexander said. "It remains to be seen how Iran will respond. Iran has an opportunity now to come into line with requests made by the IAEA board; we hope it would choose that constructive path.”
News agencies reported that Iran’s Foreign Ministry yesterday issued a statement saying it is ready to resume negotiations with Europe. But the statement, as quoted, says Tehran is prepared to conduct talks not only with the EU-3, but with all IAEA members.
This appears to be a fresh attempt by Iran to broaden its pool of negotiation partners -- and therefore its negotiating leverage.
Ending Conversion Work
But the EU says it wants any resumption of talks to be based on the so-called Paris accord, agreed by Tehran and the EU-3 a year ago. The EU says that accord commits Iran to suspending indefinitely all activity related to uranium enrichment. This includes the conversion of uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride, a gas that can be used in uranium enrichment, which in turn would be a key step toward building a nuclear weapon.
Iran resumed production of uranium hexafluoride in August, but says uranium enrichment work is still suspended. However, the Foreign Ministry statement yesterday said Iran wants to return to talks "without preconditions" -- suggesting Tehran is not prepared to end uranium conversion.
Iran says it has a right to a full “nuclear cycle” -- that is, processing its own nuclear fuel -- under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The EU and the United States say that suspicions that Tehran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon overrule any such right.
In August, the EU offered to supply Iran’s nuclear reactors with ready-made nuclear fuel. The EU also held out the prospect of closer political ties and economic assistance in return for a permanent suspension of nuclear work by Iran. Iran rejected the offer.
Human Rights Issue
Yesterday’s debate at the European Parliament also highlighted growing unease within the EU over the repressive policies of Iran's new president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who took office in August.
Douglas Alexander sharply criticized Iran’s practice of allowing children under the age of 18 to be sentenced to death for certain crimes. Some sentences have allegedly been carried out. Alexander said capital punishment for juveniles is a "clear violation" of Iran's obligation under international law. He warned that Iran’s increasingly hard-line stance on human rights will reduce the country’s international standing.
“The EU-Iran human rights dialogue enables the European Union to work to improve the human rights situation in Iran. We would like to see much greater commitment from Iran to the dialogue and to ensuring that the dialogue results in real progress achieved on the ground. We are frankly disappointed that Iran has not yet agreed dates for the next round, and [we] will continue to press them. Iran’s attitude to human rights is damaging its reputation in the international community,” Alexander said.
EU officials and many deputies also demanded the release of the journalist and human rights activist Ahmad Ganji, imprisoned since 2000.
EU Commissioner Jan Figel said the EU has other a number of other concerns as well. “There are other serious issues of concern which have emerged recently: the juvenile death-penalty cases, despite the existence of a moratorium on the death penalty; the arrest of members of the Baha’i faith; the excessive use of force to suppress unrest in the provinces of Khuzestan and Kurdistan; [the] continued suppression of press freedom. Each is a matter of deep concern,” Figel said.
Figel said the EU would not sign a trade-and-cooperation treaty with Iran before these issues are addressed. Trade talks between the two sides were broken off in August when Iran restarted nuclear activities.
The European Parliament will adopt a nonbinding resolution on Iran today.
For RFE/RL's coverage of Iran's controversial nuclear program, see "Iran's Nuclear Program".