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Iranian minister’s Brussels visit exposes lack of trust

Iranian minister's Brussels visit exposes lack of trustBy Mark Beunderman

EU Observer, BRUSSELS – The Iranian foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki meeting MEPs on Monday (20 February) said a Russian compromise on Tehran’s nuclear programme "could be acceptable" – but Moscow’s hopes are limited.

 Mr Mottaki appeared in the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday evening in what developed into a fierce exchange of words with MEPs.

German conservative member Elmar Brok, the chairman of the committee, concluded after the one and half hour session that "we have a long way to go to understand each other" after Mr Mottaki clashed with MEPs over his country’s nuclear aspirations, the Danish cartoon row, human rights and the Holocaust.

Deputies from across the political spectrum sought clarity from Mr Mottaki on his country’s view on a Russian compromise offer to enrich uranium for the Iranians, with talks between Moscow and Tehran on the plan resuming on Monday.

The Russian offer, cautiously backed by the US and the EU, is designed to calm fears that Iran is developing nuclear technology to build an atomic bomb.

Mr Mottaki told MEPs that Iran has reservations on the Russian scheme.

"We think the proposal could be acceptable if it would incorporate additional elements," signaling that Iran still wishes to pursue some nuclear research on its own territory.

Die Welt quotes the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Monday that he has only "reserved expectations" on the talks.

Peaceful aspirations?

Mr Mottaki, meanwhile, reiterated his country’s right to pursue atomic research.

"Completing nuclear knowledge for peaceful use is the national right of all countries, particularly the NPT [Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty] states," he stated, his country being a signatory of the treaty.

He also said that "according to our religious teaching we are not allowed to produce nuclear weapons."

But MEPs showed little confidence in Iran’s peaceful intentions.

"All recent reports show a lack of trust of the exclusively peaceful nature of your nuclear programme," said Belgian liberal MEP Annemie Neyts.

Israel and Holocaust

MEPs also attacked the Iranian minister on the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent questioning of the holocaust as well as his comments that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

"Don’t come to the European Parliament with a question of evidence for the holocaust," said Belgian socialist MEP Veronique de Keyser.

Mr Mottaki replied that there was "no question" that the holocaust had been a "horrific event," but asked "why should muslims pay the price?"

After his meeting with MEPs he told Reuters that Mr Ahmadinejad had been misunderstood.

"Nobody can remove a country from the map. This is a misunderstanding in Europe of what our president mentioned."

"We do not recognise legally this regime," he added.

MEPs also criticised Iran on its human rights record, with Dutch leftist MEP Erik Meijer recalling the fate of the many Iranian refugees living in Europe.

"Iranian people are free to choose where they want to live," Mr Mottaki replied.