Iran General NewsEurope weighs pulling envoys from Tehran

Europe weighs pulling envoys from Tehran


ImageNew York Times: Iran risked diplomatic isolation from the European Union, as European officials discussed whether to withdraw the ambassadors of all 27 member nations in a dispute over the detention of the British Embassy’s Iranian personnel.

The New York Times

Published: July 2, 2009

ImagePARIS — Iran risked diplomatic isolation from the European Union, as European officials discussed whether to withdraw the ambassadors of all 27 member nations in a dispute over the detention of the British Embassy’s Iranian personnel.

European diplomats said Wednesday that they had made no formal decision to order their envoys home, but that the measure was an option as the European Union — Iran’s biggest trading partner — tried to work out how to defuse the dispute in a way that would shield other embassies in Tehran from similar action.

Withdrawing all 27 ambassadors would be a rare and unusually forceful display of European anger at Iran’s crackdown on dissent after the June 12 presidential election, and several diplomats said the European Union would prefer to avoid such a move.

Iran arrested nine employees of the British Embassy in Tehran over the weekend, but said it had released all but one of them by Wednesday.

The Iranian response to the potential European action was bellicose. A high-ranking Iranian military official demanded that the Europeans apologize for interference in Iran’s affairs, which, he said, disqualified European countries from negotiating on Iran’s nuclear program.

The official, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the armed forces chief of staff, was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying that because of the European Union’s “interference” in the postelection unrest, the bloc had “totally lost the competence and qualifications needed for holding any kind of talks with Iran.”

He added, “We believe that they don’t have the right to speak of negotiations before apologizing for their obvious mistakes and showing their regret in practice,” Fars said.

The statement was a sign that Iran might use its postelection dispute to cast further doubt on the stalled nuclear negotiations, buying time to continue a nuclear enrichment program. Tehran says the program is for civilian power, but many Western nations believe that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.

Iran appears to be caught between strategies: one that does not want to downgrade diplomatic relations with other nations for fear of international isolation, and another that is pushing the concept of foreign interference for domestic reasons.

In Iran on Wednesday, Mir Hussein Moussavi, the main challenger in the election, reasserted his claim that the election was illegitimate. According to Press TV, a television station financed by the Iranian government, he said he would present documents that prove electoral fraud.

Late Tuesday, another opposition candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, reiterated on his Web site that he would not accept the outcome of the election. Mr. Karroubi is a former Parliament speaker who came in a distant fourth in the vote. The government shut down his reformist newspaper on Wednesday.

Iran’s police chief, Brig. Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moqaddam, said Wednesday that 1,032 people were detained during the postelection unrest, Fars reported. He told reporters that most detainees were released, and that “those who are still in detention have been sent to public and revolutionary courts in Tehran.”

He also said that 20 people had been killed in the postelection violence, and 500 troops had been wounded.

Apparently in a sign of the leadership’s edginess after the protests, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad canceled a planned trip to Libya on Wednesday, news reports said. No further details were given.

For the West, meanwhile, the Iranian reaction to a potential European diplomatic withdrawal added another layer of complexity to assessments of how to deal with Iran — not only for Europe, but also for the United States, where the Obama administration had expressed hopes for a new dialogue with Iran before the election-related crackdown.

Members of the European Union have strongly condemned the violent crackdown on dissenters, who believe that the government manipulated the election results to keep Mr. Ahmadinejad in power.

The Iranian authorities have sought to cast Britain in particular as an instigator of the unrest. The nine Iranian employees of the British Embassy who were arrested over the weekend were accused of fomenting unrest. Five were released by Monday night, and Press TV said that three more were released Wednesday, leaving one still in custody. That employee, Fars said Wednesday, “had a remarkable role during the recent unrest in managing it behind the scenes.”

As the dispute unfolded, the European Union said it would support Britain, but it has been unclear what form that backing would take. Britain has been pushing for a tough response, while Germany, Iran’s biggest trading partner in the European Union, is being more cautious.

Some Europeans believe the Iranians can be persuaded to avert a confrontation by quickly releasing the remaining British Embassy staff member, diplomats said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter.

Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden, told reporters in Stockholm on Wednesday — the day his country took over the presidency of the European Union — that it was in the interests of the European Union and Iran to retain full diplomatic ties. But he did not exclude the withdrawal of ambassadors, saying that “from the diplomatic perspective, all options are on the table.”

However, he added that the bloc had “an interest in maintaining full diplomatic relations” with Tehran and that he thought “it would be in Iranian interests that we retain diplomatic courtesies in a situation like this.”

Alan Cowell reported from Paris, and Stephen Castle from Stockholm. Michael Slackman contributed reporting from Cairo.

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