Ashton testing water in Iran
By Dalga Khatinoglu
Before diving in depth of the Iran-Six powers nuclear negotiations to achieve the final accord, it seems that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is testing the water during her visit to Iran by meeting with the country's several powerful wings, including Iranian hard-liners.
This is the first visit of a senior EU leader to Iran after six years (2008), but with new hopes and different atmosphere than during the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinead's presidency.
Alongside visiting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ashton has had a couple of meetings with Iran's former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, the top politic advisor of Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati, the Secretary of Iran Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, as well as Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani
Mrs.Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann, who accompanied the European delegation that flew to Tehran on March 8, told the BBC Persian service on March 9 that this visit is a good opportunity for the EU to hold bilateral talks with the Iranian side, and besides nuclear negotiations, discuss such topics as human rights, Iran's role in the Syrian crisis, drug trafficking, as well as boosting Iran-EU relations.
Catherine Ashton visited some activists for women rights in Iran on International Women's Day, March 8, and heard them out.
International human right organizations' reports indicate an increase in executions in Iran after Hassan Rouhani became the country's new president.
Ashton's visit to Tehran occurred a couple of days after a missile carrying ship was seized by Israel. Reuters reported that the Israeli navy seized a ship in the Red Sea on March 5 that was carrying dozens of advanced Iranian-supplied rockets made in Syria and intended for Palestinian guerrillas in the Gaza Strip.
Tel Aviv accused Iran of transferring these Syrian-origin weapons to Gaza, a claim that was rejected by Iran, while some American leading media outlets quoted their officials saying the U.S. was well-aware about the issue from the beginning and was tracking the mentioned ship weeks ago.
Nearly four months after reaching an interim accord between Iran and the P5+1, while the negotiation process remains fragile and the final framework of nuclear talks is under serious dispute, Mrs. Ashton's visit to Tehran is a good opportunity to focus on nuclear talks with all representatives and various wings of Iran's regime.
After reaching the interim nuclear accord some confirmed reports were released revealing that the U.S. and Iran have had several secret talks in Oman during Ahmadinejad's presidency which continued during Rouhani's administration.
Mrs. Ashton can develop the EU-Iran relations to a better level, and have them carry a much more weighty role for the EU in resolving the nuclear dispute with Iran.
To achieve this the EU must test the other powerful political groups in Iran, including the Judiciary System, Parliament as well as Supreme National Security Council.
Iran and the P5+1 held meetings in Vienna in February to work on a comprehensive deal. Iran and the P5+1 (Russia, China, France, Germany, UK and the US) signed an interim deal on Iran's nuclear energy program in Geneva on November 24, 2013. The deal took effect on January 20.
Under the agreement, six major powers agreed to give Iran access to its $4.2 billion in oil revenues blocked overseas if the country fulfills the terms which offer sanctions relief in exchange for steps on curbing the Iranian nuclear program.
Iran and P5+1 aim to continue their talks to reach a final agreement to fully resolve the decade-old dispute over the Islamic Republic's nuclear energy program.
The U.S. and its Western allies suspect Iran of developing a nuclear weapon - something that Iran denies. The Islamic Republic has on numerous occasions stated that it does not seek to develop nuclear weapons, using nuclear energy for medical researches instead.
Dalga Khatinoglu is Trend Persian Service head