AFP: The European Union is considering lifting a travel ban on Iran’s new foreign minister to boost hopes for a nuclear accord, officials said Tuesday.
by Tim Witcher
UNITED NATIONS, February 8, 2011 (AFP) – The European Union is considering lifting a travel ban on Iran’s new foreign minister to boost hopes for a nuclear accord, officials said Tuesday.
Ali Akbar Salehi, a former head of Iran’s atomic program who became foreign minister last month, is one of a group of Iranian officials banned from entering the 27-nation EU under sanctions imposed against Iran’s nuclear drive.
“Dr Salehi is foreign minister and the discussion going on is that normally foreign ministers are taken off the banned lists because generally you want to have an interlocuter, foreign minister, who is able to travel and visit,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters.
“And for my part I would be very keen to meet him, not least because of his role in the nuclear program,” she added.
Salehi is considered close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and he was Iran’s nuclear chief for two years up to last month which saw international fears heightened over the research.
Western nations accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear bomb, Iran denies the charge.
Ashton, speaking after a debate at the UN Security Council which included Iran, said that Salehi’s appointment could indicate a different negotiating style by Teheran.
“We will wait and see what they do next. Certainly Dr Salehi, if we do meet with him, of course knows and understands the program very well and maybe there will be a different conversation.”
Ashton presided over the last meeting with Iran in Istanbul last month at which the international powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — offered a deal on a research reactor and measures to boost transparency in nuclear dealings.
Iran insisted, however, on the lifting of international sanctions and a special declaration on its right to enrich uranium.
“I am waiting with interest to see what happens there,” Ashton said. “We have got on the table a set of serious proposals that I gave to Dr (Saeed) Jalili that would do the very very first step of building up a bit of confidence.”
The Security Council has passed four rounds of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to stop enrichment. The EU and United States have additional sanctions and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has already called for tougher measures against Iran.
“Now what happens next is for countries to start thinking about,” Ashton said.
“The sanctions that we have in place, which are designed to bring Iran to the table, have not long been in operation so the potential for the impact has not yet been realised, but from my perspective I would prefer that we sort this out with dialogue as quickly as possible.”
Ashton said the international community has a duty to apply sanctions to maintain pressure on Iran.
“I hope Iran will realise that if it is serious about what it says, it wants a peaceful nuclear program, it simply can’t have one these days without international cooperation,” she declared. “If they are not interested in that, then the international community has responsibilities.”