AFP: EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Iran this weekend, Iran’s foreign ministry said Tuesday amid a thaw in Tehran’s strained relations with the European bloc.
By Cyril Julien
Tehran (AFP) — EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Iran this weekend, Iran’s foreign ministry said Tuesday amid a thaw in Tehran’s strained relations with the European bloc.
Ashton is tasked with coordinating nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, which culminated in an elusive deal that was struck in November and put into force in January.
“Ms Ashton will arrive in Tehran on Saturday night,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
Ashton would represent the 28-strong European Union in talks with President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Her trip — which follows official visits by top diplomats from Italy, Sweden, Belgium and Spain — will take her to Isfahan on Monday, according to Iranian media.
European sources confirmed the trip, saying talks in Tehran would focus on international foreign policy issues of mutual concern.
The last visit of an EU foreign policy chief to Tehran took place in 2008.
A Tehran-based Western diplomat said revival of dialogue with Iran was high on Ashton’s agenda, particularly on human rights issues, as well as regional developments and the proposed establishment of an EU mission.
According to Araqchi, Iran’s nuclear work, which the West suspects of masking a military drive despite Tehran’s denial, will also be discussed with Ashton.
Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of world powers will resume talks at experts level in Vienna on Wednesday, ahead of a March 17 meeting of political directors in the Austrian capital.
“In this round of expert-level talks, we will review the issues related to (uranium) enrichment as well as tackling the concerns about the Arak heavy water reactor,” Araqchi said.
The Arak site is of concern to the West because Tehran could theoretically extract weapons-grade plutonium from its spent fuel if it also builds a reprocessing facility.
In February, Tehran and the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany agreed on a timetable and framework for the negotiations for an accord that would allay Western concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions.
Negotiators hope to reach a final accord by July 20, when an interim agreement reached in November is due to expire.
Under the interim deal, Iran agreed to curb parts of its nuclear programme for six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief. The agreement came into effect on January 20.
According to the Tehran-based diplomat, “diplomatic success on the nuclear issue will (also) be a victory for Ashton,” whose mandate is nearing its end.
The source added that the crisis in Ukraine could also be discussed in Ashton’s visit, with Iran being a strategic ally of Russia.