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EU foreign policy boss lands in Iran for talks

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has arrived at the head of an EU delegation to Iran. The short trip, designed to boost trade and regional peace after last year’s nuclear deal, is not to everyone's liking.

Mogherini talks Saturday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other ministers about EU-Iran economic ties, the security situation in Syria, the opening of an EU mission in Tehran and issues including Iran's use of capital punishment and refugee flows.

"This visit is an important step towards building cooperative relations between the EU and Iran on the areas where there is mutual interest and to have frank discussions on the issues where differences remain," Mogherini said.

The 24-hour trip comes days after Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi became the highest-ranking European leader to visit Tehran since July’s nuclear accord.

The US, UK, China, France, Russia and Germany agreed in 2015 to lift sanctions in return for Tehran accepting curbs to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry meets with EU High Representative Mogherini at the Nuclear Summit in Washington

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry meets with EU High Representative Mogherini at the Nuclear Summit in Washington



Energy, banking and the WTO
According to the European Commission, the EU's executive, the EU is also interested in discussing future energy imports from Iran.

Tehran is also thought to be interested in closer cooperation with the EU on energy and also trade issues, notably possible membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

An EU official told reporters Saturday that Brussels is "willing to play a supportive role" in Iran’s bid to join the WTO. But the EU wants Iran to do more to fight money laundering and terrorism financing, which are impediments to foreign investment, the official said.

The trip comes after Iran raised concerns about

banking sanctions

, with officials saying the West - particularly the US - is creating obstacles to its access to the global financial system.

The governor of Iran's Central Bank said Friday in the US that the international community was not sticking to its promises. "The impact that we were expecting to get is not what we see, at least on a tangible basis," Valiollah Seif told a forum at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington.

Seif, in the US capital for the IMF-World Bank spring meetings, pointed to a reluctance by European banks to engage with Iran for fear of falling foul of US sanctions.

"They have been asked not to work with Iranian banks, and they're afraid," he said.

Industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska, transport commissioner Violeta Bulc and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete will be among those travelling with Mogherini. They will meet Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, parliament speaker Ali Larijani and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, an EU statement said.

An Iranian woman casts her ballot to vote for both parliamentary elections and Assembly of Experts at a polling station at Massoumeh shrine in the holy city of Qom, 130 kms south of Tehran, on February 26, 2016

An Iranian woman casts her ballot to vote in February's elections



Migrants

Europe is struggling to cope with an influx of migrants and asylum seekers, including Afghan migrants from Iran.

Iran hosts around 3 million refugees from neighboring Afghanistan.

"Migration is a very important theme for discussion," a senior EU official said.
Mogherini is expected to brief the bloc's 28 foreign ministers about the visit on Monday at talks in Brussels.

Not all on board

Critics attacked the visit for appearing to legitimize Tehran's poor track record on human rights, among other things.

The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom (BPCIF), for example, said in a statement that: "[the trip] is highly inappropriate considering the regime's domestic repression and destructive policies abroad."

It said that "during the 'moderate' administration of Hassan Rouhani, nearly 1000 people were executed in Iran last year alone, including juveniles in violation of international law. At least 47 journalists and social media activists were reportedly detained in the country as of January 2016, according to reports by the UN Special rapporteur for Iran and Amnesty international."

The EU did not request a meeting with Iranian civil society representatives because of the shortness of the visit, a senior EU official said on condition of anonymity. Iranian President Hassan Rowhani went at short notice to Ankara and was also unable to meet the EU delegation, the Iranian press reported.

"Our objective remains to reassure everyone - particularly in the financial sector - that re-engaging with Iran is possible now," an EU official said.

Regional conflicts

An EU official said that Mogherini - who personally helped negotiate the nuclear deal - will also seek to advance diplomatic efforts on Syria and

Yemen

, two regional conflicts where Iran plays a role.


jbh/ (dpa, AFP)

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