MEPs Debate the Situation in Iran with Javier Solana

European Parliament Press Service
January 30, 2008

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MEPs debate the situation in Iran with Javier Solana.

The EP debated the situation in Iran after hearing a statement from the High Representative Javier Solana and European Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The House will vote on a resolution on this topic on Thursday. In the draft proposed resolution, MEPs regret that Iran "has still not complied with its international obligations to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities." The House also expressed its deep concern about a whole range of human rights issues in the country.

The need for cautious engagement with Iran was the keynote of the opening speech by CFSP High Representative Javier SOLANA, who told the House that Iran was "one of the most important issues on the international community's agenda today" as well as "a key country in the Middle East. "The EU would therefore like a constructive relationship with Iran - but we have difficulty in achieving this", he acknowledged.

Politically, he said, Iran has "elements of democracy that are not visible in other Middle East countries". It is "an imperfect democracy" but this is better than nothing so "we should engage with its parliamentarians". However, Iran has high numbers of executions, reports of torture persist and "press freedom is one of the lowest in the world". Since 2004 Iran has been unwilling to participate in the human rights dialogue with the EU.

Energy, drug trafficking and counter-terrorism were areas on which the EU would like to cooperate with Iran but it was difficult to see the country as a constructive partner. On Palestine, Iran was "the only country in the Middle East not to accept the two-state solution" and was also sending arms to Hamas, as well as to Hezbollah in Lebanon and was also fuelling violence in Iraq. On Afghanistan, however, "cooperation has been fruitful".

Turning to the issue of Iran's nuclear programme, Mr Solana said "were it to develop a nuclear weapon, radical instability would result", which would "damage the whole non-proliferation system". He added "our objective is to remove suspicions, which can only be achieved through a negotiated solution". Iran must approve the additional protocol to the non-proliferation treaty.

On the question of uranium enrichment, when the Iranians are asked about their intentions, why they needed enriched uranium "the question is never answered", said the High Representative. He added "None of us have a problem with an Iranian civil programme, in fact, we are offering to help" but "we need to ensure that their intentions are purely peaceful". The aim of a new UN Security Council resolution was "not to punish Iran but to bring it to the negotiating table".

More broadly, said Mr Solana, "we need to find ways of reassuring countries that they can get nuclear fuel without developing their own enrichment capacities" and he proposed "a world fuel bank" for this purpose.

In conclusion, he said that he had tried for years to normalise relations with Iran and would continue to do so because this would "benefit the people of the EU and of Iran".

European Commission

External Relations Commissioner Benita FERRERO-WALDNER said that in the current climate it was inevitable that discussions on Iran would focus on the nuclear programme. "The international community is united on this," she said, united that is in supporting the efforts of the UN, IAEA and Javier Solana. "International unity is central and it was shown at last meeting in Berlin. When I received Jalili last week, I recalled the EU's principled position. No-one has denied Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, but was a serious need to rebuild trust." The EU, she said was showing it was willing to improve relations, but the political will was absent on the Iranian side. "Until it is there, we cannot enhance our relationship by restarting talks on a trade and cooperation agreement or on energy relations."

The Commissioner said she was confident Parliament shared her views and she praised the Parliament's delegation for its recent visit to Tehran which included meetings with high officials, but also various representatives of wider Iranian society. Such meetings were, she said, "an important testimony of importance EU attaches to fully free and pluralistic Iran, in accordance with international conventions it has freely signed up to."

Mrs Ferrero-Waldner added that people to people contacts are an excellent means to overcome misunderstandings and stereotypes. She was therefore particularly please that the first batch of Iranian students and academics were studying in Europe under the "external cooperation window" of the Erasmus Mundus scheme. She hope Europeans would also study in Iran.

She also mentioned the EU's grants programme which aimed to support non-state actors and local authorities in developing an inclusive and empowered society, and welcomed Parliament's approval for €3 million to fund a Farsi language TV news service with a strong European angle.

Finally, she turned to the central issue of human rights. "In front of this Parliament Mr Jalili last week insisted on the importance of human dignity. Of course I agree with that, but when I spoke to him, I could only relay my deep concern at deterioration of human rights situation." 297 executions had taken place in 2007, she said, a sharp increase on the previous year. This was without considering the cruel methods of killing people. She hoped that EU-Iran human rights dialogue could resume, and also called for a wider spectrum of candidates than in the past for the upcoming elections. "Without systematic improvement on human rights situation our relations with Iran cannot develop properly," she concluded.

Political group speakers

Michael GAHLER (DE) for the EPP-ED group, referred both to the nuclear issue and to human rights. He stressed the EP's longstanding firm stance against executions and torture, and named a number of Iranian activists facing death sentences, calling for executions not to be carried out.

"Mr Jaliili did not give us a clear statement last week on the nuclear issue. He gave only a cursory response to a series of detailed questions from MEPs. This did nothing to overcome the lack of confidence on this issue." He said such non-answers would only lead to greater resolution by the international community. Agreement at the UN on a new draft Security Council resolution was therefore welcome, all the more so for including Russia and China in the consensus. "We need dialogue, but we need to make a clear stand in favour of human rights, and in favour of more cooperation once trust is restored," he said.

For the Socialist group, Hannes SWOBODA (AT), agreed that human rights, nuclear weapons and free elections were the key issues. "I agree with the High Representative that we do not want nuclear weapons there or anywhere else in the region." He said it was scandalous that the United States had turned a blind eye to Pakistan's nuclear weapons, which had led to the technology leaking to other countries. "We need to ensure the controls on enrichment and production are multilateralised," he said.

Mr Swoboda added that democracy was only meaningful if there were genuinely free elections. If President Ahmadinejad had the broad based support he claimed, he should put this to the test in a free election. Free elections were needed across the whole region.

Speaking for the ALDE group, Annemie NEYTS-UYTTEBROECK (BE) said that the debate with Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili did not achieve good results. Ms Neyts stressed their was cross-party support on stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and conducting nuclear research that would lead to Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. However, development of nuclear power for civil use, she said, should be put under international control.

"The most important and pressing matter is that this country doesn't develop nuclear weapons," said Konrad SZYMANSKI (UEN, PL). On the basis of the National intelligence estimate, one could not be sure that the country is not pursuing them. "We need to continue putting pressure on Iran, and not rule out military intervention," he said.

"What we need now is a moratorium on the nuclear issue", said Tobias PFLÃœGER (GUE/NGL, DE). He continued that "I am against making the sanctions worse because that would be counter productive." He also opposes a war in Iran: "There is still a threat of war hanging over Iran, my group is clearly against any threat of war or planning of war."

It should be clear that today's debate "will be heard in Iran because it is a wide awake plural society eager to get hold of information," said Angelika BEER (Greens/EFA, DE). "Sanctions will weaken the civil society and bolster Ahmadinejad ... we won't have a political solution if we take that end." She continued that "we have to show our solidarity with society, women, trade unions, everybody under threat."

Bastiaan BELDER (IND/DEM, NL) said there was good news and bad news from Iran. The good news is that "Iran's opposition is not behind Ahmadinejad's statements on the Holocaust." The bad news is that Iran has said it would have serious consequences if the UN Security Council Resolution is passed. Mr Belder underlined that "we should be bolstering the role of the IAEA."

Philip CLAEYS (NI, BE) stressed that the regime in "Iran is and remains a threat to stability in the Middle East as a whole and for other parts of the world." Iran should be isolated in the region, including from Russia. Iran's involvement in international Islamic terrorism was proven and "it would be wrong to reduce the pressure on the Iranian president."

Javier Solana replies to political group speakers

Replying to the first round of speakers, Mr Solana identified three main areas of concern which it was hard to discuss with Iran: human rights and democracy, regional politics and the nuclear issue.

On the upcoming elections, he noted that many of the 30% of candidates who have been barred from standing for election are the most "modern" in outlook.

Regarding the Middle East peace process, he felt "Iran must become a constructive player". However, "we believe in a two-state solution, they don't. We need to see how we can move forward".

As to the nuclear question, Mr Solana told the House that "the outstanding issues have never been resolved". Iran is a signatory to the NPT and so it "has obligations". And pointing out that Iran has no plans and no contract for the construction of a nuclear power plant, even though it would take 7-8 years to come into use, he said "so if they continue enrichment, the question remains why they are doing so?" Tellingly, "we still have not had a good answer".

British speakers in the debate

Baroness NICHOLSON OF WINTERBOURNE (ALDE, Liberal Democrat, South East, UK) stated that she believed "there are huge possibilities for dialogue" but not just on human rights and on the all-important nuclear issue. She said she believed we should be having dialogue on cultural issues, music, art, archaeology - all of those issues - painting, calligraphy - in which we share so much historical reference and so much potential for future gain.

Baroness Nicholson also believed that one critical item that should be discussed is this so-called barrier between Islam and the democracy. "Perhaps it has not been noticed that the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that it has cracked that particular difficulty, and that her form of democracy is fully comprehensible with the Islamic Republic of Iran's version of Islam, the all-important Sharia law and the Shiite Islamic tradition. I think this, again, is something that we should welcome and should discuss this very year, perhaps with President Khatami or with other members of the Iranian religious influence and tradition."

Gerard BATTEN (IND/DEM, UK, UKIP, London) stated that "Iran plans to build 5000 more centrifuges. Meanwhile illegal secret imports of raw uranium arrive from the Congo, a country the EU supports with humanitarian aid. Britain still allows Iranian students to study nuclear physics at our universities. In addition to this, Iran, Syria and North Korea are working together to assemble missiles and chemical warheads.

Whether or not these countries successfully develop nuclear warheads, Mr Batten warned that "chemical warheads would certainly be deployable in the near future.

Struan STEVENSON (EPP-ED, Scotland, Conservative, UK) questioned if "we are training their nuclear physicists in our universities? Are we, at our taxpayers' expense, paying for poverty relief in one of the richest oil-producing nations in the world because they have chosen to spend billions on a nuclear weapons programme? What has our policy of appeasement achieved?" Mr Stevenson stated that " 23 people were executed in the first two weeks of this year, including several women. Five people had their hands or feet amputated. Men and women continue to be stoned to death by this Jihadist, misogynous, homophobic, genocidal, brutal regime which is a world sponsor of terror."

"If we wish really to support Iranian students, we should support the brave students of Tehran University, who have been demonstrating for the past five days, demanding regime change. Instead of backing appeasement, we should back the legitimate Iranian Opposition. Instead of keeping the PMOI on our terror list, we should put the revolutionary guards of Iran on the EU terror list."

Charles TANNOCK (EPP-ED, London, Conservative, UK) stated that "Iran remains a danger to the stability of the world and the Middle East. Iranian Jihadis are fighting alongside terrorists in Iraq, killing British soldiers. Iran's judges routinely pass death sentences on homosexuals and teenagers."

Our message must be clear and uncompromising, Mr Tannock stated - "Iran will not be allowed by the international community to arm itself with nuclear weapons."

European Commission response

In her response to the debate, Benita Ferrero-Waldner said there was a huge civil society in Iran that would like to have a different way of life, but there was a very difficult regime. The nuclear issue was the chief obstacle to improving relations between the EU and Iran. "We need to appeal to the population to see that there is a chance to change things at the next elections, although it will be difficult," It was good, she said, to see there was some greater unity in the Iranian opposition, but the screening of candidates issue was crucial. Too many candidates had already been put aside. "I strongly hope that an appeals procedure will redress the situation. The Iranian electorate deserves to be able to choose from a wide spectrum of candidates." She added that there was no question of the EU supporting any candidate in particular.

She agreed with those MEPs who had said there was a need to work on human rights even if no progress on nuclear issues. The EU had supported moves on human rights in the UN by Canada. She noted that the EIDHR programme was already being used in Iran. But a proposal to have one diplomat in one of the Member States' embassies in Iran to coordinate joint projects had so far not been given approval by Iran - Mrs Ferrero-Waldner had put this question directly to Mr Jalili the week before, but had received no answer.