EU leaders face an uncertain future in their negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program following the election of ultra-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even warning the talks could be frozen.
His win has got EU leaders worried
Iran moved Sunday to allay fears its new president could doom nuclear talks with the European Union but added it was now in a stronger negotiating position.
"The nuclear issue is a part of a macro policy, and our position will not change with the change of a president," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.
But he added: "With this election, the Islamic republic of Iran is more capable of confronting challenges, and the Europeans have to take this into consideration."
The EU reacted nervously to Ahmadinejad's shock victory, as well as the humiliating defeat for moderate cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was widely viewed as a more liberal negotiating partner.
Franco Frattini, European commissioner for justice and security issues, said the EU could "freeze" talks with Iran unless Ahmadinejad made an early commitment to talks with the EU-3 of Germany, France and Britain on the nuclear issue.
"The reformists have suffered a worrying defeat," said Frattini. "From the new President Ahmadinejad we are waiting for clear words on human rights and the nuclear issue. But if the replies are negative, the European Union will have no choice but to freeze dialogue with Iran," Frattini told Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.
Iran has frozen its fuel cycle work and has entered into long-term talks with Britain, France and Germany, who are trying to convince Iran to abandon such activities altogether in a "Libya-style deal" that offers incentives in return.
At the core of the nuclear issue is Iran's ambition to make its own nuclear fuel by enriching uranium, a process that can also be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it only wants to generate electricity.
"We will not give up our right," Asefi said, repeating Iran's demand to end the freeze on fuel cycle work. "We will reach bright results through negotiations."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he is expecting business as usual when the next round of talks resume.
"Germany expects that talks between France, the United Kingdom, Germany and EU foreign policy chief (Javier) Solana will continue with the new president under the terms of the Paris agreement," said Fischer.
"Economic cooperation also rests on how successfully Iran can secure international trust and further open itself," he added in a statement in the German daily Bild.
Hoping for "early steps"
Talks between EU and Iranian leaders are aimed at avoiding an escalation of Tehran's standoff with the West on its nuclear program
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he wanted Iran to continue with the talks, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he hoped Ahmadinejad would "take early steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program and policies toward terrorism, human rights and the Middle East peace process."
"We will work hard, with our EU partners and bilaterally, to encourage action by Iran in these areas so that Iran can return to its rightful place in the international community," Straw said.
But Iranian spokesman Asefi hit back.
"The Europeans and Mr Straw should give their nuclear proposal as soon as possible, which includes Iran's right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," he said.
"They should stop making inappropriate comments. They should send respectful congratulatory messages to Iran. People have freely chosen their president. The Europeans should respect our democracy."