19th Mar 2018

EU minister shows sympathy for Iran grievances

  • Zarif in Munich: 'Iranians put more emphasis on respect and dignity than probably anything else' (Photo:

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has voiced sympathy for Iran’s historical grievances on the eve of his visit to Tehran.

He said at a security congress in Munich on Sunday (2 February) that Iran and the international community face “a gulf of mistrust.”

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“[The year] 1953: Every Iranian and every Persian around the world knows what that was about. And 1979: Nearly every American knows what that is about,” he noted.

He added that for things to normalise, Iran “must demonstrate the exclusively peaceful nature of its [nuclear] programme … and we have to demonstrate that that’s our agenda and no more than that.”

Bildt was referring to the Anglo-American Coup in 1953 and the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The UK and the US 61 years ago installed a puppet government under the Shah to get access to Iran’s oil. Iranians overthrew him in 1979 in events which led to the Iranian hostage crisis, where dozens of US diplomats were held for more than a year.

Noting that Iran and the US still do not have diplomatic relations, Bildt said the role of the EU “is to be at the forefront of efforts to reach a diplomatic solution” to the nuclear dispute.

The Swedish minister is not a formal EU spokesman, but he is due in the Iranian capital this week.

Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski is to go by the end of February, while EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton is to go “in the next few weeks.”

Meanwhile, UN Security Council powers, the so-called E3+3, and Iran are to meet again on the nuclear issue in Vienna on 18 February.

The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suspects it has “undeclared” facilities to which it wants access.

Questions also surround its nuclear plant in Parchin, which is closed to inspectors, and its work on polonium, which can be a trigger for atomic bombs.

Speaking at the same Munich event, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif welcomed Bildt’s approach.

He said: “Iranians put more emphasis on respect and dignity than probably anything else.”

He added that Iran sees world affairs differently to “the West.”

Referring to the US’ superpower status and Iran’s ancient history, he noted: “Iran sees empires not in terms of 50 or 60 years, but in terms of millennia, and it knows that empires vanish.”

“What you call 'the international community,' we call 'the West,' because I currently chair a group of 137 countries which we call 'the Non-Aligned Movement',” he said, referring to, mostly, developing countries which reject what they call Western neo-colonialism.

Nuclear diplomacy aside, Zarif noted that Iran is open to relaunching a “human rights dialogue” with the EU.

But he said “for the time being, our priority is the nuclear issue and the removal of nuclear-related [EU and US] sanctions.”

Zarif met US secretary of state John Kerry in Munich to fix the E3+3 meeting.

But for his part, US senator John McCain told the Munich event that many in Washington still see Iran as an enemy: “Beginning with holding captive American diplomats [in 1979], Iran has a clear record of sponsoring unrest and terrorism around the world.”

Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, accused Iran of crimes in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Asia and South America.

He noted the IAEA has no mandate to stop Iran’s production of ballistic missiles, which can already reach Europe.

“This is the Iranian regime: We shouldn’t delude ourselves … they are trying to gain hegemony in the region [the Middle East],” he said.

“Tehran will exploit this time [the E3+3 talks] to become, at the least, a nuclear threshold state … In one way or another, the military nuclear programme in Iran must be stopped,” he added, signalling Israel’s readiness for military strikes.

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