Speech Given at the European Parliament by Jan Figel, European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism, on Behalf of Benita Ferrero-Waldner

European Parliament
October 12, 2005

In the current climate it is inevitable that discussions about Iran focus on its nuclear programme. That is one of the most serious security issues currently on the international agenda.

The international community must be united if we are to find a satisfactory solution. That means working through the appropriate channels, first the IAEA, and if and when necessary, the United Nations Security Council.

The development of EU's relations with Iran are conditioned in large part by progress on that issue, and by the international community's approach. But our relationship with Iran does not begin and end with the nuclear track. Other tracks with Iran should, in the Commission's view, continue to be pursued.

In this respect, I wish to express my appreciation for the work undertaken by the Delegation for relations with Iran under the dynamic chairwomanship of Ms. Angelika Beer. I hope that, in the months ahead, you will be in a position to develop contacts with your interlocutors from the Iranian Majlis as well as with the widest possible spectrum of Iranian society.

People-to-people links are the best way to overcome prejudice, negative stereotypes, and to foster mutual understanding. It would be for instance very important to support the further development academic, cultural and artistic exchanges between Europe and Iran, two ancient beacons of civilizations which have a lot to offer to each other.

On the official level, I first wish to draw your attention to two tracks: the Comprehensive Dialogue, and the EU-Iran dialogue on Human Rights.

The Comprehensive Dialogue is the successor of the Critical Dialogue. It is a forum designed in a way which should allow both sides to discuss in a frank and open way on a broad range of issues, in the economic, political and security fields. Since the outset, the emphasis has been put on our four long standing issues of concern -Weapons of Mass Destruction, terrorism, the Middle East Peace Process, and Human Rights.

We believe that this Dialogue, which has played a useful role in the past, should now be continued. The next session should be held in Tehran. We are waiting for Iran to make practical suggestions.

As for the more specific bilateral dialogue on Human Rights which we set up in 2002, it provides a structured forum which allows formal discussion of individual cases, as well as on a comprehensive range of human rights issues of concern, on the basis of clear benchmarks. It also comprises a round table involving a wide range of civil society actors, as well as Parliamentarians. It remains one of the means through which the EU can make a sustained contribution to fostering systemic change and improving the human rights situation on the ground.

However, the latest session of the Human Rights Dialogue took place more than a year ago. We sought to hold a session in September, but this proved impossible in the absence of any confirmation from the Iranian side. In the margins of the UN General Assembly, my colleague Ms. Ferrero-Waldner told Mr. Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, that it would be important for Iran to re-confirm its commitment to the EU-Iran Human Rights Dialogue by agreeing on a date for an early meeting. We are still waiting for Iran's response.

Now, regarding the actual situation of Human rights in Iran, there is a growing cause for concern, as exemplified by the continued imprisonment of Mr. Akbar Ganji, and his supporter and lawyer, Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani. There are other serious issues of concern which have emerged recently: the juvenile death penalty cases, despite the existence of a moratorium; the arrest of members of the Bahai faith; the excessive use of force to suppress unrest in the provinces of Khuzestan and Kurdistan; continued suppressions of press freedom. Each is a matter of deep concern.

The European Commission remains mobilized on each of these issues. We are fully in line with the European Parliament to say that, without a systemic improvement of the Human Rights situation in Iran, our relations with Iran cannot develop properly

Indeed, our relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran is, at present, well below potential: Iran is one of the few countries with whom the EU has no contractual relation.

A framework agreement with the EU could facilitate the reintegration of Iran in the international community and contribute to the creation of an environment conducive to economic growth and job creation. This should in turn consolidate the indigenous reforms process leading towards a more open society. As the Presidential campaign demonstrated, these are indeed among the most pertinent demands of the Iranian electorate.

Since 2002, the European Commission has led the talks for the conclusion of a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with Iran. They run parallel to the negotiations led by the EU Presidency for a Political Dialogue Agreement (PDA). These two tracks are indissociable and mutually reinforcing.

They are also dependent on the overall political atmosphere: you may recall that, when the nuclear crisis first erupted, back in 2003, we had to 'pause' our TCA and PDA discussions. These were resumed only after the signature of the November 2004 Paris agreement, which helped to re-establish a more favourable political environment.

The 8th - and so far last - round of negotiations took place in Tehran on 12-13 July. Indeed, up and until the most recent crisis over the nuclear issue, our negotiators had made good progress.

This leads me to say a few words on where we stand on the nuclear issue - including its implications on the TCA - since the adoption of the 24th September IAEA resolution: the 3rd October GAERC meeting confirmed that the EU remains firmly united around the E3 approach. This strong sense of EU solidarity forms the platform around which the united international community can rally to strengthen the hand and to support the excellent efforts displayed by the IAEA and its Director General, Mr. Mohammad El-Baradei.

A united EU can also form the bedrock upon which the international community can send a clear message to Iran - that, whilst as per Article IV of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has the inalienable right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and this, without discrimination, we need objective guarantees on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme.

Indeed, the EU considers that the integrity of the NPT must be preserved, and that international cooperation must take place within the strict limits set by the NPT and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines.

These principles underpin the framework set up last November in Paris by the European countries. The comprehensive package presented to Iran last August represents a solid pillar on which Iran and the international community can find a common ground to their legitimate concerns.

The Commission has also played its part. Following the resumption of conversion activities at the Isfahan plant two months ago, we decided to 'pause' the negotiations we were leading for a Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

The Commission strongly hopes that the Iranian leadership will accurately assess what the stakes are and will, as a result, take the steps necessary to reverse the current unhelpful trend, including by ensuring full cooperation with the international organisations.

Thank you for your attention.