• Sotoudeh and Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi won the EU's Sakharov prize for human rights in 2012 (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Member states want EU embassy in Iran, MEP says

27.12.13 @ 12:04

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU countries have informally told the European Parliament they want the Union's foreign service to open an embassy in Iran.

Tarja Cronberg, a Finnish Green MEP who chairs the parliament's Iran delegation, said member states' ambassadors in Tehran backed the idea when she met them in the Iranian capital on an official trip earlier this month.

"We held a meeting with all the [EU] ambassadors and they really stressed the importance of more open exchange … They said the best tool for this would be an EU embassy or maybe the creation of an EU special representative [for Iran] as a first step," she told EUobserver.

She noted that: "The Iranians are also open to the idea … We mentioned it to the foreign minister and the Iranian President's chief of staff and they were generally positive."

She added that Iranian officials told her "the EU plays a positive role in the world, but it is not visible enough in the Middle East."

Twenty four EU states have embassies or consulates in the Islamic republic.

The new climate in relations comes after UN Security Council veto powers and Iran agreed an interim deal on its nuclear programme in Geneva in November.

Italy's foreign minister Emma Bonino also went to Iran this month. She said in a statement that: "Italy intends to open a new season of dialogue with Iran, and to bring other European countries along."

A Polish official told this website on Thursday (27 December) that Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski is likely to go to Tehran in January or February.

The EU already has embassies in other pariah states, such as Belarus.

But Iran and the EU remain wary of each other despite the Geneva breakthrough.

Iran has also invited Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt to visit. But a Swedish spokesman said on Thursday "there is no decision" if he will go.

Polish and Swedish officials added that there is no formal EU consensus on the embassy idea, no matter what their envoys told Cronberg in Tehran.

The EU foreign service could not be reached for a comment.

But Cronberg noted that her contacts in the service are "not very positive" about a new embassy, in part due to the financial cost of opening another mission.

Meanwhile, Iran also told Cronberg it is happy to host the EU's special representative on human rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, with a view to launching a new EU-Iran "human rights dialogue."

Iran hangs hundreds of people a year, mostly for drug-related offences.

Cronberg told this website that Iranian MPs and officials "are seriously thinking about diminishing the number of executions for drug crimes."

But they are less open to change in other areas.

Iran has also jailed dozens of journalists and human rights defenders. It has the death penalty for "sodomy" and it flogs people who drink wine.

The Finnish MEP said the Iranian parliament contains a "majority" of hardliners who mistrust the West. She added that the regime disagrees with the EU on what the Union calls "universal" values, because some EU values contradict its Islamic code.

Cronberg has in the past attracted criticism for her Iran-friendly politics.

The AJC, a Jewish lobby group in Brussels, has said the EU parliament visit to Iran is a PR gift for the regime.

But Cronberg noted that Iranian dissidents, such as human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was recently freed from prison, also want more EU-Iran contacts.

"She [Sotoudeh] told me she is very happy that we are here, that she feels energised by our visit … but she urged us to ask tough questions," the MEP told this website.

She added that ordinary Iranian people have "high expectations" that the Geneva process will end their country's isolation.

"People were very happy that our delegation came. They greeted us in the street and welcomed us," she said, recalling her walkabout in Tehran.

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