BRUSSELS - Iran has cancelled a European Parliament delegation visit to Tehran after the group asked to meet two Iranian activists awarded a top EU rights prize, a parliament spokeswoman said on Saturday.
The decision came after senior officials at the parliament, which on Friday awarded its Sakharov prize for human rights and freedom of thought to human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi, said they wanted the delegation to meet the two activists.
"After hearing the new conditions, the Iranians decided to cancel," European Parliament spokeswoman Satu Helin told Reuters. The delegation was set to travel to Tehran from October 27 to November 2.
Iran's Mehr news agency quoted an Iranian parliamentary official as saying the European delegation had stated as a "precondition" a visit with Sotoudeh and Panahi.
"The European parliamentary delegation wished to visit two Iranian political prisoners and give them a prize," said Hossein Sheikholeslam, international affairs adviser to Iran's parliament, according to Mehr. "Iran did not agree with this condition."
The planned visit drew condemnation from two US senators, who sent a letter to the European Parliament
calling for its cancellation. The two, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
(D-New Hampshire) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), cited Iran’s failure to comply with the UN
Security Council demands that it suspend its nuclear enrichment program, its
increased “interference” inside Syria, its support for “terrorist activities
around the globe” and its “abysmal” human rights record.
Ties between Iran and Europe have become increasingly strained over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.
But meetings between European and Iranian parliamentary delegations were meant to keep open another line of communication, including with civil society - even though the European Parliament has little influence over dealings with Tehran.
Western countries accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear bomb; Tehran denies this and says its program is for peaceful purposes only.
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Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report