|Austrian president set to visit Iran||
TEHRAN – Austrian President Heinz Fischer has ‘in principle’ accepted an invitation to visit Iran, his office said on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
The visit would be the first trip for many years by a Western head of state to Iran.
Under President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who was elected last year, Iran has started to improve relations with the West by engaging with world powers over its disputed nuclear program.
It remains under sanctions, however, and a visit by Fischer, perhaps accompanied by business leaders, would be fraught with political significance as the United States presses Western countries to limit commerce with Tehran.
“The invitation from the Iranian side has been accepted in principle but no date has been set,” Fischer’s spokesman said, declining to give any more details given the delicate diplomacy at stake.
No Western head of state visited Iran under Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was president from 2005 to 2013. However then-Austrian President Thomas Klestil visited in 1999 and 2004 when reformist Mohammad Khatami was in office.
Austria, a neutral European Union member, was for centuries a bridgehead for Iran to Europe. Lately it has been hosting talks between Tehran and six world powers that seek to expand on an interim deal last year in which Iran agreed to freeze parts of its nuclear program in return for limited relief from sanctions.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz will also travel this month to Iran, his ministry said.
A spokesman for Kurz’s ministry said the program for the Iran trip was still under discussion. “Austria will in any case discuss the human rights situation as well as its nuclear program,” he said, adding that Kurz would not be accompanied by a business delegation.
A senior U.S. official visited Vienna in January to voice concern that Austrian companies, hoping to win post-sanctions business in Iran, had visited Tehran in December.
One diplomatic source said Fischer could visit Iran by mid-year “but this depends on a lot of things”, including the status of the nuclear talks, which are aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement by late July.
Iran last month warned the Austrian embassy in Tehran after it hosted a meeting between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian political activists during her first visit to Iran.
But the flap appears not to have derailed ties severely.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif later in March spent more than an hour and a half meeting members of Austria’s parliament to discuss Iranian relations with the West, its nuclear program, human rights and the situation in Syria, participants said.
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