OpinionIran in the World PressEU policy in jeopardy

EU policy in jeopardy

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Financial Times: The election of a new hardline president in Tehran is likely to complicate the Islamic Republic’s engagement with the European Union just as the UK, France and Germany prepare to make a detailed offer to Iran on curbing its controversial nuclear programme. Although Iranian officials have quickly moved to ease concerns of a change in policy on the nuclear front, European officials yesterday warned that the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, had made the European policy of engagement, whether on the political, economic or nuclear
front, harder to pursue. Financial Times

By Roula Khalaf, Middle East Editor

The election of a new hardline president in Tehran is likely to complicate the Islamic Republic’s engagement with the European Union just as the UK, France and Germany prepare to make a detailed offer to Iran on curbing its controversial nuclear programme.

Although Iranian officials have quickly moved to ease concerns of a change in policy on the nuclear front, European officials yesterday warned that the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, had made the European policy of engagement, whether on the political, economic or nuclear front, harder to pursue.

“It makes the task of building a common ground between the west and Iran much more difficult,” said a senior European official.

Franco Frattini, European commissioner, told Italy’s La Repubblica that Europe was waiting for clear words from the new president on human rights and the nuclear issue. “If the replies are negative, the European Union will have no choice but to freeze dialogue with Iran.”

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s spectacular rise means all elected institutions in Iran are now in the hands of hardline conservatives. His victory reverses eight years of reformist governments that have rehabilitated Iran’s image and sought closer relations with Europe.

The powers of Mohammad Khatami, the outgoing president, were curtailed by Iran’s unelected institutions – also dominated by conservatives. But his moderating influence convinced European governments to step up engagement with Iran.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has no foreign policy experience but his ideological background and suggestions that Iran’s future need not depend on good ties with the west, have raised alarm in Europe.

European officials said they would be closely watching the government appointed by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad and the policies it pursued. The most immediate concern remains the nuclear issue. The UK, France and Germany have been seeking to convince Iran to give up its uranium enrichment programme in return for economic and political incentives, and are expected to make a detailed offer to Tehran within a month.

On the surface, the election of a new president should have little impact on the talks since the ultimate decision-maker on this issue is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

But so far the leader’s scepticism towards of the talks has been tempered by the support from allies of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who just lost the presidential elections, and from the outgoing government. A hardliner in the presidency, however, is likely to reinforce the leader’s doubts about the benefits of a compromise.

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