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Ashton Defends Meeting With Iran Rights Activists

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures toward EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton at a joint press conference in Tehran on March 9.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has defended her meetings with human rights activists during a recent visit to Iran.

Ashton's spokesman, Michael Mann, said meeting with civil society representatives is a central part of Ashton's foreign travels.

Mann spoke on the sidelines of nuclear talks now under way in Vienna between Iran and world powers.

On March 17, Iranian media reported that Tehran had canceled a dinner between Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Vienna to protest what the Iranian government considered to be Ashton's "undiplomatic" behavior.

The Vienna gathering is the second in a series of negotiations aimed at reaching a long-term settlement over Western allegations that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Iran denies any such weapons program.

The discussions are expected to continue through Wednesday.

Based on reporting by Reuters and ISNA