Iran General NewsEU to counter Iran's "harassment" of embassy staff

EU to counter Iran’s “harassment” of embassy staff

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ImageReuters: The European Union on Sunday condemned Iran's crackdown on post-election protesters and said the EU would meet any Iranian intimidation of European diplomatic staff with a "strong and collective response."

By Dina Kyriakidou and David Brunnstrom

ImageCORFU, Greece (Reuters) – The European Union on Sunday condemned Iran's crackdown on post-election protesters and said the EU would meet any Iranian intimidation of European diplomatic staff with a "strong and collective response."

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country takes over the EU presidency from Wednesday, said the Iranian government had been weakened at home and abroad.

"Obviously the regime is trying to preserve its position by very harsh repression. But that cannot hide the fact that this is a weakened regime. It has lost legitimacy both internally and externally," Bildt said.

EU foreign ministers were meeting on the Greek island of Corfu to review strategy toward Iran, where mass protests over alleged vote rigging in a June 12 presidential election have prompted crackdowns by police and Islamic militia.

The ministers urged Iran to swiftly release several Iranian employees of Britain's Tehran embassy and a Greek journalist detained as alleged instigators of the street unrest.

"The EU calls on Iran and its authorities to stop hostilities against EU member states as well as (the) EU's partner countries and their citizens," said Foreign Minister Jan Kohout of the Czech Republic, the current EU president.

"The EU strongly denounces arbitrary arrests and repression against members of the civil society," he said.

"(We) made clear to the Iranian authorities that harassment or intimidation of foreign and Iranian staff working at EU embassies (in Tehran) will be met with a strong and collective EU response," Kohout said, reading a joint communique.

Iran's biggest upswelling of popular dissent since the 1979 Islamic Revolution has been blamed by the Iranian leadership on foreign powers, mainly Britain and the United States, not popular outrage. Western officials say such charges are absurd.

Iranian state media say 20 people have been killed

"WEAKENED REGIME"

Sweden's Bildt said it was too early to say what a "strong and collective response" could entail because the situation in Iran remained very fluid. But the EU would monitor developments closely.

Iran detained several local British embassy staff, local media said on Sunday, escalating a spat with Britain which has been denounced as "the most treacherous" of Iran's adversaries by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The EU ministers bemoaned the "unjustified expulsion" of two British diplomats and the arrest of the embassy employees.

The EU wanted Iranian authorities to offer full protection for embassy employees, as required by international conventions.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said four of a reported nine Iranian staff at Britain's Tehran embassy who were detained had since been freed and London was awaiting word on the release of the rest.

Kohout said the EU fully respected Iran's sovereignty but was alarmed about the continued internal political crisis.

Analysts dismissed talk that the EU could toughen sanctions against Iran, saying ministers did not want to close avenues to dialogue or risk fuelling accusations from Iranian hardliners that the election unrest was being incited by foreign meddling.

The Group of Eight industrialized powers on Friday deplored the violence stemming from Iran's police sweep against protesters but kept the door open for Iran to enter into talks on reining in its secretive nuclear program.

(Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Mark Trevelyan)

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