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Europe

New Phase Starts in EU-Iran Relations

Germany, France and Britain held talks with Iran in Brussels on Monday in a first attempt to secure a long-term agreement on nuclear, economic and security cooperation.

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Talks continue over Iran's nuclear program

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and his French and British contemporaries, Michel Barnier and Jack Straw, met with Iranian negotiator Hassan Rohani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Monday.

Prompted by Iran's agreement last month to suspend uranium enrichment activities, the meeting has been welcomed as the start of a new phase in relations between Tehran and the European Union.

Der britische Außenminister Jack Straw, Porträt

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw

Jack Straw announced plans to create three working groups -- security, nuclear and economic -- in order to tackle the controversial questions surrounding Iran's nuclear program. He said it was key to "provide objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear program can only be used for peaceful purposes."

The working groups, which have been given three months to come up with initial concrete results, began their first sessions at the Iranian embassy directly after the meeting. Rohani said that the continuation of the initiative would be greatly influenced by the extent of progress made during that time.

No lasting end in sight

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said they were on the right track. "As long as the voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment is in force, our undertakings are valid. We must move forward step-by-step on the basis of realism," he commented.

Joschka Fischer EU Außenministertreffen in Brüssel

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer

But in reality, Tehran is not seeking to permanently suspend its uranium enrichment activities, arguing that it has the right to continue using nuclear energy for civilian use.

Washington has been particularly suspicious of Iran's nuclear program and has accused Tehran of concealing a secret nuclear weapons program. But the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has certified that there are no current indications of Iran building nuclear weapons.

However, in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaredei said Iran had been trying to conceal things until the end of 2003, but since then had been cooperating with the inspectors.

Washington versus Tehran

That though is not enough to convince the White House of any change in policy towards Iran. At the weekend, the Washington Post reported that the US secret service had bugged ElBaradei because the White House doesn't trust him.

Hassan Rowhani

Iran's nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani

Following the meeting in Brussels on Monday, the Iranian negotiator said that much had been achieved, adding that it was now possible to work from a different basis not only on questions of the nuclear program but also other economic and political questions.

Many European officials believe it will take greater US input for the temporary halt in the nuclear fuel cycle to become a permanent cessation. "Our wish would be to stabilize our mutual efforts, as I think that would give the whole process considerably more push," Germany's Fischer said.

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