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26th Aug 2019

EU members want more openness from Solana on Iran

A number of EU member states are growing impatient with the secretive handling of the Iran issue by foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the EU's "big three," with most foreign ministers not having seen a key Iranian paper at a meeting in Finland.

The Iran nuclear dispute dominated the second day of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Finland on Saturday (2 September) and saw ministers agree to mandate Mr Solana to seek further "clarifications" from Tehran despite its failure to meet Thursday's UN deadline to suspend uranium enrichment.

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But 22 out of the 25 ministers were not allowed to see a "top secret" 21-page report which Tehran produced last week explaining its position – a document only seen by Mr Solana and the so-called EU-3 countries the UK, France and Germany.

The EU-3 and Mr Solana handle the thorny Iranian nuclear file on behalf of the bloc's 25 member states, with Tehran requesting maximum confidentiality.

The "big three plus Solana" construction used by the EU in the Iran dispute is seen by many experts and diplomats as having produced a rare success story for EU foreign policy.

Not only has the EU so far largely spoken with one voice on Iran – as opposed to for example on the Middle East – but the bloc has also taken up a leading international role on the issue, with UN veto powers, the US, Russia and China, allowing Mr Solana to talk to Tehran on their behalf.

Unity has a price

But the EU's unity and assertiveness on Iran has a price it emerged over this Finnish meeting.

Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot said that "a couple of countries" - including the Netherlands – have demanded to know what is in the Iranian document before 15 September, when foreign ministers meet in formal session to discuss Iran.

"You can only make decisions when you know what you should take decisions on," he said.

"We have said that when we want to decide, we should know what is in the document."

"There is an answer from Iran, but only the EU 3 and Solana know that answer," said Mr Bot adding however that he had "full confidence" in Mr Solana.

Italian foreign minister Massimo D'Alema said, without complaining about the matter directly, "We don't have the Iranian document. It is confidential, so in a certain way this mandate [to Mr Solana] is based on good faith. He has the document, [member states] don't have it."

Italy, Iran's biggest trading partner in the EU, is said to be one of the member states that is uneasy with the way it is being kept out of the talks.

"Several member states want a fuller briefing on Iran," said one source close to the EU-Iran talks adding that the "big three" are being perceived by some capitals as a "quasi directorate" in EU foreign policy.

Little appetite for sanctions

The fresh mandate that Mr Solana received on Saturday consists of holding face-to-face talks with Tehran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani at the beginning of next week - also on behalf of the US, China and Russia.

The EU's top diplomat will seek clarifications on the secret Iranian document which is "long, repetitive, and sometimes contradictory," according to one EU diplomat.

Only after the Solana-Larijani talks will the UN veto powers consider sanctions against Iran, but most EU ministers at the meeting showed little appetite for the idea.

Spain's foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos stated "for the moment we should keep talking."

Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed that "the most important thing is that the international community does not let itself be divided," with Russia and China disliking the sanctions option.

Also stressing international unity, Danish foreign minister Per Stig Moller said however that if Iran continues to be defiant, "we could impose sanctions" under UN Security Council resolution 1696.

International powers suspect that with Iran's uranium enrichment scheme is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, something which Tehran has denied.

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