ISSN 2330-717X

Ashton: The EU’s Approach To Iran


By Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission

Mr President,

This is an important opportunity to debate the European Union’s approach to Iran. This has been the subject of an own-initiative report with Mr Belder as rapporteur.

Mr Belder’s report, touches on a broad range of issues and reflects the views of many different interests but will concentrate on two issues: the nuclear programme and the human rights situation in Iran, both of which the Belder report deals with extensively.

Nuclear issue

As this House knows, Iran’s nuclear programme remains a serious concern for the EU and the international community as a whole.

Both the UN Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna have adopted a series of Resolutions requiring Iran to take the steps necessary to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.

Regrettably, the latest IAEA report, issued on 25 February, confirmed Iran’s failure to comply with its international obligations.

On the EU side, we remain determined to work towards a diplomatic solution on the basis of our double-track approach, which combines pressure with dialogue. The objective remains to engage Iran in a phased approach of confidence building, leading to meaningful negotiations on the nuclear programme.

At the second meeting I led on behalf of the E3 plus 3 – China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States, in Istanbul, I presented to Iran our proposals for concrete confidence building measures, including an updated fuel supply arrangement for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), as well as, other transparency measures.

These proposals would bring immediate benefit for both sides and could pave the way for a process to address the existing concerns and gradually build mutual confidence. And building confidence is what our efforts are all about.

Iran’s response in Istanbul was disappointing. It was not ready to discuss our proposals unless we first recognised Iran’s “right to enrich uranium”. It also spoke about the removal of sanctions.

I understand Iran’s wish to see sanctions removed. We would also like to see our talks come to a successful conclusion in which – in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions – all sanctions would disappear. The removal of sanctions is something which would accompany the gradual re-establishment of confidence. And that was the path we were trying to go down.

As for the “right to enrich”, the non-proliferation Treaty is careful balance of rights and of obligations and I don’t see any virtue in re-writing or interpreting it in a selective way. The first step is for Iran to put itself into full compliance with its obligations.

We will continue our efforts engaging Iran but, at the same time, also our efforts to increase the pressure, first of all through a strengthening of the implementation of existing sanctions.

I have since met with the new Foreign Minister of Iran, Dr Salehi, in Geneva – a meeting which gave me the opportunity to explain to him the efforts we had put into the Istanbul talks and our strong desire for Iran to respond – for the greater security of all of us.

I have also written to Dr Jalili – who led the talks on behalf of Iran – to restate our offer and to invite him to respond. Dr Salehi said they are considering their response. I urge them to be positive.

Human rights

I share the views of this Parliament on the issue of Human Rights in Iran The continued and systematic oppression, arrests and harassment of lawyers, journalists and others who are exercising their rights is totally unacceptable.

We have seen very long prison sentences and restrictions on the right to work and travel for up to 20 years for some of the people convicted. When Iranian people wished to demonstrate peacefully on 14 February in support of the situation in Egypt and Tunisia, the demonstrations were forbidden. Moreover, Mr. Moussavi and Mr. Karoubi, the two opposition leaders who had expressed their support for such demonstrations, were held in house arrest and apparently later detained.

I have seen the statement by Socialists and Democrats of the Parliament that was made on 1 March, and I fully support that. I remain very concerned about the treatment of Mr Karroubi and Mr Moussavi and I issued a statement on 4 March to this effect. Despite our efforts to secure verifiable information it remains unclear whether they are under house arrest or otherwise imprisoned. I urge the authorities of Iran simply to grant them the freedom of movement to which they are entitled.

The report also underlines the seriousness of the increase in executions in Iran. The information we have suggest there have been around 100 executions since the beginning of this year.

In line with the EU’s long-standing and firm position on abolition of the death penalty, I have called for a halt to all pending death penalty cases, I want the death penalty abolished – whatever the method: stoning and public hangings are barbaric.

It is important to note that international efforts can and do make a difference. I was glad to see that in the case of Ms Ashtiani her execution has – at least temporarily – been stayed.

But as the report points out Zahra Bahrami- a dutch /Iranian national was executed in Iran on 29 January without prior notice. Both the execution and the process leading up to it were shocking. I have made this clear publicly, expressing my dismay over the lack of transparency in the case and that Dutch authorities were refused consular access.

Let me finish my intervention by mentioning that my services, together with EU Member States, are discussing how we can be more effective on human rights issues in Iran.. – Using public and private messages. Working bilaterally and through multilateral organisations. Working with our Member States and with international parties. All with a single purpose: to ensure the Iranian people, like others, have their basic rights respected.

Thank you.

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