|Iranian ambassador calls for better relations with EU||
TEHRAN – Iran’s ambassador to the EU has said the bloc should relax sanctions on Tehran in order to grasp a new “opportunity” to mend ties.
The diplomat, Mahmoud Barimani, spoke to EUobserver in an interview published on Monday following the recent election of a moderate cleric, Hassan Rohani, to the Iranian presidency.
Rohani won after campaigning for better ties with the West.
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 cooperation.”
The EU last year banned Iranian oil sales and blacklisted its banks to curb its nuclear program, which Iran says is solely for peaceful purposes but the West suspects may have military dimensions.
Iran is currently waiting for Rohani’s inauguration, in early August, before trying to restart nuclear talks.
But France, with tacit U.S. approval, already reacted to Rohani’s election by inviting Iran to the so-called Geneva II peace talks on Syria.
Asked if Iran is ready to suspend uranium enrichment, Barimani said, “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 say in Geneva, Barimani called for a “political solution” to the conflict.
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 in Syria 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 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) while Saudi Arabia has never even held elections. Israel also flouts international law on Palestine.
For his part, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, took a wary line on Iran’s nuclear program.
He said Russia supports UN efforts to “clarify remaining issues” on 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 U.S. 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 U.S. diplomat said, “We have urged all states that have not yet joined that treaty [the NPT] to do so… the U.S. supports a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.”
There is no sign Israel, which refuses to admit that it has nuclear weapons, is ready to give them up, however.
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