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10th Dec 2022

Setbacks for EU diplomacy on Iran and Syria

  • Schmid (l), Ashton (c) and US secretary of state Hilary Clinton at the G8 meeting in Camp David, in the US in May (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Leaked letters show that EU mediation on Iran's nuclear programme is being bedevilled by time-wasting.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton is trying to organise a new round of talks on Iran in Moscow in her role as envoy for the "E3+3" group - France, Germany and the UK plus China, Russia and the US.

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But a letter by Ashton deputy Helga Schmid to Iranian diplomat Ali Bagheri dated 4 June indicates that Iran is only open to talks on protocol for the meeting instead of details on UN monitoring.

"Unfortunately, in [the previous talks in] Baghdad, Iran was not prepared to take up our suggestion to enter into discussions on the substance of the proposal," Schmid said in her note, leaked in The Guardian newspaper on Thursday (7 June).

"You and I had numerous phonecalls and long meetings toward this end. Now there is a need to engage seriously on issues of substance," she added.

For its part, Iran on Wednesday leaked a letter to the Mehr news agency accusing the EU of wasting time.

"The other side's delay in holding meetings between deputies and experts put into question their determination to hold positive negotiations in Moscow," Iran nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said in his note to Ashton.

A breakdown in the E3+3 talks raises the risk of an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities in what could propel the region to war.

The Iranian problem is linked to Syria because Syrian President Bashar Assad is Iran's main ally against Israel and Western-backed Sunni Muslim powers such as Saudi Arabia.

An EU and UN-backed ceasefire crafted by UN envoy Kofi Annan unravelled on Thursday when Syrian soldiers fired at UN monitors trying to verify reports that Assad militia murdered 80 civilians in the village of Qubeir.

UN chiefs in New York on Thursday admitted the ceasefire is dead.

"I must be frank and confirm that the plan is not being implemented," Annan said.

Annan is trying to muster a new Syria "contact group" - involving China, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UK and the US as well as Iran - to persuade Assad to step down in return for immunity.

The idea was welcomed by Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

But the US and EU powers France, Germany and the UK want Russia and China instead to drop their veto on UN-level sanctions on Syria.

"I think that Iran is part of the problem in Syria at the present. There is no question that it is actively engaged in supporting the government in perpetrating the violence on the ground," the US envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, said.

The French foreign ministry on Thursday said Iran will not be invited to a Friends of Syria meeting - involving some 50 anti-Assad countries - in the French capital on 6 July.

"The Iranian regime until now has without fail supported Bashar Assad and the bloody repression of his people," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told press.

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