Iran and EU to work on fostering closer relations

Sep 11, 2001 02:00 AM

Iran and the European Union pledged to work on fostering closer relations including increased trade and economic ties. On a first visit by a top Iranian official to EU headquarters since 1997, Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi said he was hopeful both sides could open a new chapter in relations. "Iran can be a stable partner for European countries," he told after meeting Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Kharrazi praised "the pragmatic approach of the European Union" in pushing for closer economic ties. Iranian and EU officials are expected to open negotiations shortly on a trade and economic agreement that would increase European investment to Iran.
"We are favourable to accelerating negotiations in this field," said Michel, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency. The 15-nation bloc is Iran's largest trading partner. In 1999 the EU imported goods from Iran worth 4.7 bn euros ($ 4.3 bn) and exported 3.9 bn euros ($ 3.5 bn).

Around 75 % of imports from Iran consist of oil products, while the EU exports mainly machinery and mechanical appliances and other consumer goods. Michel said the two sides discussed human rights issues and the reform policy of recently re-elected Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. Relations with the EU have improved since Khatami came to power in 1997.
But hard-liners have frustrated many of Khatami's attempts at reforms, and Amnesty International urged the EU to take a tougher stance on human rights after an increase in executions and crackdown on the media. Amnesty said any new trade agreement with Iran should include a human rights clause.

The United States has also been critical of Europe's warming relations with Iran. In July the US Congress extended a 1996 sanctions law for five years to penalize foreign companies doing business with Iran. Kharrazi and the EU officials also discussed the growing problem of drug trafficking problem through Iran and neighbouring nations, and the situation in Afghanistan.
Kharrazi denied Israeli and US claims that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. "Iran is basically opposing any weapons of mass destruction... We do not have any program," he said.

Source: AP via Newspage
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