EU deputies snub senators with planned Iran trip

Critics say trip by European politicians to Iran undermines the sanctions on regime, legitimizes Tehran's rulers.

EU building 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)
EU building 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)
BERLIN – A group of center-left European Union parliament deputies – spearheaded by Finland’s Green Party member Tarja Cronberg – rejected on Monday an appeal from two US Democratic senators calling on the EU politicians to cancel their trip to Iran, slated for Saturday.
A spokeswoman for the EU parliament, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday during a telephone interview that the EU politicians were leaning toward traveling to Tehran.
Nevertheless, it is still “unclear” if the visit will move forward, she said, noting that a decision will be made on Monday evening or Tuesday. The spokeswoman wrote to the Post on Tuesday, “Unfortunately, the delegation didn’t make the final decision” about the trip to Iran. She added “But it still seems likely that they are going. At the moment, the planned delegation has five members of the European Parliament.”
The five MEPs are slated to meet on Thursday at 2 p.m. to make the final decision on the trip, she said.
According to the spokeswoman, the left-wing deputies are working to create “balance” and convince their conservative members to take part in the trip.
“Sending a delegation to Iran for a seven-day visit sends the wrong message at this particularly sensitive time,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) wrote in a letter sent on Wednesday to the EU.
Struan Stevenson, a conservative Scottish deputy who heads the parliament’s Friends of a Free Iran caucus, said in a Twitter message, “Scandalous European parliament will send a large ‘friendship’ delegation to Iran, end October, bolstering this evil regime. CANCEL.”
A total of 15 European Union parliamentarians from six countries plan to visit Tehran on October 27 for a six-day visit.
Three members of the European People’s Party group in the EU parliament on Monday issued a statement blasting the trip.
The first, Ioannis Kasoulides MEP, who is the EPP Group Vice-Chairman responsible for Foreign Affairs, said: “A visit to Iran at this particular time would send the wrong message and could prove to be damaging.”
The EPP Group supports the latest Foreign Affairs Council decisions to increase sanctions against the banking, shipping and industrial sectors of Iran, aimed at affecting Iran’s nuclear program and revenues for funding it.”
Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, said, “We ask for the postponement of the meeting until the High Representative, Catherine Ashton, gives us the green light to go on with it, given the ongoing negotiations she is involved with in Iran. The European Parliament should not damage the EU position and become an instrument of Iranian propaganda.”
The third member of the EPP who joined the statement condemning the trip was José Ignacio Salafranca.
“Let me stress that the delegation’s agenda is fully in line with the EU’s twintrack approach to Iran of both sanctions and dialogue and has been established in close cooperation with the European External Action Service (EEAS),” the EU spokeswoman told the Post.
“This twin-track approach was repeated in the council’s conclusions on October 15, which said, ‘The council reaffirms the longstanding commitment of the European Union to work for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue in accordance with the dual track approach,’” she said.
Daniel Schwammenthal, the director of AJC’s Transatlantic Institute in Brussels, told the Post on Monday that “for European lawmakers to make an official visit to Iran is shockingly absurd when the 27- member European Union has unanimously imposed ever-tightening sanctions on Iran for its reckless behavior that endangers global security.”
Schwammenthal added that the EU’s latest sanctions package, which was passed last week, “is a dramatic reminder that relations with Iran cannot be business as usual. The European parliament delegation is, in effect, undermining the EU’s efforts.”
He listed the delegation’s planned visits with blacklisted Iranian politicians, including Iranian Chief Justice Sadegh Larijani, “who was sanctioned by the EU in March for his role in human rights violations,” he said.
“European officials reaching out to the regime will be a blow to the morale of dissidents suffering in Iranian prisons and throughout the country,” said Schwammenthal.
The EU politicians are slated to meet Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of Iran, who is wanted by an Argentinian court for his role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
“No self-respecting Western official should offer any legitimacy to the Iranian regime, which defiantly ignores the will of the international community,” said Schwammenthal.
“How can they even think of going to Tehran at this time?” he asked.
Writing on The Huffington Post United Kingdom website, Abbas Rezai, an Iranian dissident who fled the Islamic Republic regime after being imprisoned in Iran’s Evin Prison in the 1980s, wrote, “Critics often maintain, whatever good intentions this people may have, such trips would give credit to that theocracy.”
Rezai quoted Sohrab Saidi, an Iranian exile in Cologne, who commented, “Name one objective that has been achieved by all these trips and negotiations with Iran.
Has there been any progress on human rights? Have they halted their nuclear weapons program or backed down from exporting terrorism to the region?” Rezai added, “Several people were hanged in public during the last trip by a European parliamentary delegation to Iran in 2007. The trip was hailed by the Iranian media.”