Iran's Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazzi, began a European tour on May 3 by pledging that the Tehran would be a "good partner" for the European Union. Kharazzi's chief aim during his tour is to prevent the EU from joining the United States in exerting pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. The United States has long pressed for tougher anti-proliferation action against Iran, charging that Tehran is activity seeking to produce nuclear weapons.
EU officials have been far more willing than the Bush administration to give dialogue a chance in trying to promote greater Iranian cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring efforts. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Of late, however, the perception has spread in Europe that Iran is stonewalling the IAEA. Accordingly, EU patience with Iran seems to be waning and Tehran's relations with some key member states appear to be fraying.
In late March, the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany issued a statement expressing displeasure over Iran's decision to restart research work at its Isfahan nuclear facility. Then, during late April discussions with Kharazzi, French President Jacques Chirac reportedly took Tehran to task over the nuclear issue. The French president is said to have demanded Iran's full cooperation with international monitoring efforts, and to have insisted that Tehran make all pertinent documentation available to the IAEA in advance of the agency's next board meeting in June.
Meanwhile, an Iranian-German diplomatic row erupted in late April, spurred by the unveiling of a plaque in Berlin that accuses Iran of involvement in the assassination of four Iranian Kurds in 1992. In response, the Tehran city council has approved a plan to build a monument near the German Embassy that criticizes Germany for supplying chemical weapons to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war
The IAEA criticized Iran in late 2003 for not being completely forthcoming on its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is solely for peaceful, power-generating purposes. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Iran has been stung by recent reports, however, that it has been carrying out an atomic weapons program in secret. On May 2, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi strongly denied that Iran was developing nuclear weapons, calling such reports "fabricated," the official IRNA news agency reported. Asefi added that Tehran would seek to resolve "ambiguities" in its relations with the IAEA by June.
IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei visited Tehran in early April in an effort to work out a schedule for the resolution of questions that continue to cloud the Iranian nuclear program. Iranian officials have indicated they will present an updated report to the IAEA on the country's nuclear program as soon as mid May.
Washington has repeatedly called on the international community to approve action that would compel Iranian compliance with IAEA monitoring initiatives. On April 21, US President George W. Bush said that Iran's development of a nuclear weapon would be "intolerable," and indicated that the United States would expand efforts to get the United Nations to toughen the existing anti-nuclear proliferation framework. At a UN conference on non-proliferation issues on April 28, US Undersecretary of State John Bolton accused Iran of engaging in deceptive practices. "It is clear that the primary role of Iran's nuclear power program is to serve as cover ... to support nuclear weapons development," Bolton said.
Iranian diplomacy in recent weeks has sought to keep in place the wedge that separates the EU from the United States on the Iranian nuclear question. The lack of US-EU consensus is seen by many in Tehran as the key to keeping the Iranian nuclear issue out of the UN Security Council.
Kharazzi's appearance in Brussels on May 3 marked the start of his second European tour in the past two weeks. In late April, Kharazzi visited Britain and France the EU powers that have taken the lead on attempts to broker an IAEA-Iran deal. On May 3, Kharazzi told EU Commission President Romano Prodi that Tehran would respond favorably to the continuation of strong EU support for Iran. "I told the president [Prodi] that if Europe is serious [about cooperation], it will find Iran a good partner for Europe to work together to resolve different issues," IRNA quoted Kharazzi as saying. After his talks with EU officials, Kharazzi planned to visit Germany and Denmark.
Some observers say recent Iranian moves to improve its human rights image could make it easier for the EU to maintain its current position on the nuclear issue. On April 28, the head of Iran's conservative-dominated judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, issued a directive that formally prohibited the use of torture against imprisoned Iranians. Shahrudi's directive also upheld the presumption of innocence for all Iranian suspects. On May 2, the Iranian judiciary followed up on the anti-torture directive by granting furloughs to seven prominent dissidents.
Other political analysts in Tehran believe domestic factors provided the main impetus for Shahrudi's move. Conservatives are set to take control of the Iranian parliament later in May, after sweeping disputed elections last February. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The anti-torture directive may be part of a drive to improve the conservatives' domestic image, striving to reassure the population that hardliners do not intend to crack down once they regain legislative authority.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard has reported from Afghanistan and Iran for EurasiaNet.