EU building 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)
Iran put an end to plans for a European Parliament delegation’s visit to the country, a parliament spokeswoman said on Saturday.
The decision came after senior officials at the European Parliament – which on Friday awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Iranian 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 that a visit with Sotoudeh and Panahi would be a “precondition.”
“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.”
Ties between Iran and Europe have become increasingly strained over Tehran’s nuclear program, which the West claims Iran is using to create atomic weapons.
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 the Islamic Republic.
Meanwhile, Britain said on Friday that it was opposed to a military strike on Iran “at this moment,” arguing sanctions were having an effect on Tehran’s nuclear agenda and that diplomacy should be given time.
The comments followed a report in The Guardian that said the UK had rebuffed US plans to use its bases to support the build-up of troops in the Gulf, due to legal advice warning that a preemptive strike would be illegal.
The advice claimed that Iran currently does not represent a “clear and present threat,” according to the Guardian, which cited unnamed sources.
“The government does not believe military action against Iran is the right course of action at this moment, though no option is off the table,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman told reporters, declining to comment on the legal advice.
“We want to see the sanctions, which are starting to have some impact, working, and also engaging with Iran,” she said.
In a related development, three Bundestag deputies traveled to Iran on Saturday, in defiance of a warning from a top deputy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, and the opposition of US senators and a host of German and Jewish organizations.
Philipp Missfelder, a deputy in the Bundestag who serves as the foreign policy spokesman for Merkel’s party, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday, “We see the trip skeptically... and there exists a danger that the trip could be misused for propaganda reasons.”
Thomas Feist from Merkel’s party and Angelika Graf from the opposition Social Democrats joined Bijan Djir-Sarai, the chairman of the German-Iranian parliamentary group and a deputy with the Free Democratic party, to conduct visits with a host of Iranian officials, including with the chamber of commerce.
In addition to the business parley, Djir-Sarai told the Post that the trip’s main objective was to draw attention to Iran’s human rights violations.
US senators and critics in Europe see the trip as undercutting international sanctions, which aim to isolate Iran because of its uranium enrichment.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) wrote the Post on Tuesday that “the decision to go ahead is unfortunate” and “sending a delegation to Iran sends the wrong message.”
“It is unfortunate that an official German parliamentary delegation has decided to visit Iran at this critical moment in negotiations with Iran,” Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin-based office, wrote the Post on Saturday.
“With Iran on the brink of building a nuclear bomb that will destabilize the region and pose an acute threat to the existence of Israel, the Iranian people can best be supported by forceful sanctions, not by dialogue,” she continued.
The German-Israel friendship society (DIG) issued a statement on its website on Thursday calling for the deputies to cancel their trip. Feist is a member of DIG.
DIG president Reinhold Robbe wrote that “it must be made clear to the regime in Tehran, in view of its nuclear program, that the regime will no longer be allowed to give the free world the runaround.”