23rd Oct 2020


Iran: Election is chance for EU reset

  • Market in Esfahan, Iran (Photo: Sergi Hill)

Iran's ambassador to the EU has said it should relax sanctions in order to grasp a new "opportunity" to mend ties.

The diplomat, Mahmoud Barimani, spoke to EUobserver following the recent election of a moderate cleric, Hassan Rohani, to the Iranian presidency.

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Rohani won after campaigning, among other policies, for better relations with the West.

Iran's religious leaders let just eight candidates compete. But Western diplomats in Tehran say the vote itself was free and fair, with people endorsing Rohani in a landslide victory.

Barimani said: "The election has provided this opportunity from our side and now it's up to the European Union to grasp it."

He added: "We enjoyed a very good relationship for decades, even centuries, so we want the EU and its member states to ... end what we call this 'transitory period' and to restore co-operation."

The EU last year banned Iranian oil sales and blacklisted its banks in a campaign to stop its alleged nuclear weapons programme. It has also damned Iran over military aid to the Syrian regime and over human rights abuses at home.

It is currently waiting for Rohani's inauguration, in August, before restarting nuclear talks.

But France already reacted to Rohani's election by recently inviting Iran to the so-called Geneva II peace talks on Syria.

Asked if Iran is ready to suspend uranium enrichment, Barimani said that as a signatory to the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) his country has a "right" to produce atomic energy.

He added: "We are ready to show more transparency [on nuclear activities], but I think the relaxation or lifting of sanctions would be a very good sign from the European side."

On the Geneva II invitation, he noted: "We do appreciate this statement and we think it's in the interests of Syria."

In a sign of what Iran might advocate in Geneva II, Barimani said a "political solution" is the only way to stop the war.

He noted that both sides should declare a ceasefire, that rebel groups should disband and that Syria should hold democratic elections in 2014.

He denied Iran has sent troops or arms to Syria.

Asked if the war could escalate into a wider conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, he said Iran's main concern is that Syria is becoming a haven for Sunni "extremists," such as Al-Qaeda.

Asked if Rohani will free opposition leaders in Iran, Barimani said only that the president-elect is "a pragmatic person" who will "deal with each issue based on the realities on the ground and in accordance with the constitution."

Meanwhile, the ambassador urged the EU to be more independent of the US on foreign policy.

He said: "The EU is a global player and it should act in that capacity … We believe the EU can do more. But in some cases, it is following the unreasonable acts of others."

Iran thinks Europe is giving US allies in the region, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, a free ride on nuclear arms and human rights.

Both enjoy strong EU relations.

But unlike Iran, Israel is not a signatory to the NPT, while Saudi Arabia has never held elections. Israel also flouts international law on Palestine.

Russia: Iran must be at Geneva II

For his part, Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, took a wary line on Iran's nuclear programme.

He told this website that Russia supports UN efforts to "clarify remaining issues" on uranium enrichment.

But he endorsed Iran's presence at Geneva II, saying: "It would certainly be in the interest of the international community to engage, not isolate, Iran in efforts aimed at reaching a political settlement of the crisis."

The EU and the US deny they practice "double standards" in the Middle East.

A spokesman for the EU's External Action Service said it published "at least four statements recently" on Saudi Arabia executions.

A US diplomat said: "We have urged all states that have not yet joined that treaty [NPT] to do so … the US supports a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction."

There is no sign that Israel, which declines to say if it has nuclear weapons, is ready to abide by NPT rules, however.

An Israeli diplomat told EUobsever: "Iran's case proves that being a signatory to the NPT does not ensure that a country respects it."

He added that the Arab-Israeli conflict "does not provide Iran with a 'carte blanche' to endanger the entire region's stability."

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