Iran General NewsEU lawmakers say Iran asked them to delay visit

EU lawmakers say Iran asked them to delay visit

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ImageWall Street Journal: A delegation of European parliamentarians has postponed a trip to Tehran at the request of the Iranian government. The Wall Street Journal

By DAVID CRAWFORD

ImageA delegation of European parliamentarians has postponed a trip to Tehran at the request of the Iranian government.

The chairwoman of the Delegation for Relations with Iran — one of several dozen groups within the European Parliament that monitor relations with other countries or regions — said she was surprised when Iran's ambassador to Belgium, Ali Asghar Khaji, contacted her Sunday evening to request the visit be delayed.

Calling the postponement a missed opportunity to discuss human rights and other issues, Barbara Lochbihler, who represents Germany's Green Party in the European Parliament, said it was the third time in recent months that Iran had invited the group and then postponed the visit. "But this time we went further, we had our visas; we have our plane tickets," she said.

A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Berlin declined to comment.

The trip, which had been planned for this week, drew fire from a group of U.S. lawmakers who sent a letter opposing the visit to European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek last week. British and Italian members of the European Parliament last week joined in urging the European delegation not to visit Iran at this time.

In the letter, the U.S. lawmakers warned that the visit could send the wrong signal to Iran at a time when the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany are pressuring Iran to begin serious talks on the future of its nuclear program.

Members of the 11-person delegation have argued that the visit would give them an opportunity to register objections about Tehran's treatment of dissidents and to discuss other issues.

Ms. Lochbihler says members of Iranian civil-rights groups have asked her to proceed with the visit despite the international criticism, and that media attention fueled by criticism from U.S. lawmakers and individual members of the European Parliament gave Iran an "excuse" to postpone the visit.

Iran's decision to halt the visit is "sad evidence of the Iranian government's effort to prevent discussion of any of the difficult problems facing the nation," Ms. Lochbihler said.

Kurt Lechner, deputy head of the delegation and a member of the Christian Democratic Party led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said there had been discussion within the group about whether it should travel to Iran at a time when antigovernment protesters have engaged in violent clashes with security forces in Tehran.

Iran says it is developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes. The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna says it is unable to certify the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program and has asked Iran to step up its cooperation with the United Nations agency.

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