High-Level Talks With EU in Brussels

Majid Takht-RavanchiMajid Takht-Ravanchi

Iran and the European Union were to meet in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday in a second round of high-level talks set to mainly focus on human rights and banking relations.

The plan for high-level consultations was announced in a late-July 2015 press conference attended by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his EU counterpart, Federica Mogherini, who was on a visit to Tehran days after the conclusion of the historic nuclear accord involving Iran, six major powers and the bloc.

It went into effect six months later to subject Tehran's nuclear program to time-bound curbs in return for relief from international sanctions.

It was agreed in a joint statement during another trip by Mogherini in mid-April that the bloc would open a full diplomatic mission in Tehran.

The joint statement said, "To facilitate the program of cooperation as set out [in the statement] and with a view to preparing the future opening of an EU Delegation in Tehran, in accordance with rules and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, an EU liaison team will be sent to Tehran."

The two sides also expressed determination to enhance human rights by engaging in dialogue through the exchange of visits of delegations, according to the statement.

The arrangements for the establishment of the EU's Tehran office has drawn sharp criticism from the conservative critics of President Hassan Rouhani's government, who fear the office might be used for pressuring the country by raising human rights issues.

Deputy Foreign Minister for European and American Affairs Majid Takht-Ravanchi led Iran's delegation to the Belgian capital.

***Judiciary's Purview

In an interview with IRNA before departing Tehran, Takht-Ravanchi said it is natural to see high sensitivity on the human rights issue, given the West's history of using it as a political tool.

"The human rights issue falls within the purview of the judiciary. That's why officials of the High Council for Human Rights are accompanying us in the talks and what we are going to discuss has been coordinated with the council and the judiciary," he said in an apparent attempt to mitigate misgivings of the conservative judiciary.  

The council's secretary, Mohammad Javad Larijani, who also advises the judiciary chief on international affairs, has protested the government's decision to allow EU to open the mission, calling it "a den of corruption".

"EU intends to forge close ties with human rights advocates and non-government organizations, so the judiciary will prevent the opening of this office," he said.

Takht-Ravanchi sought to defend the decision by highlighting the important role the prospective EU delegation could assume to facilitate targeted cooperation deals between Tehran and Brussels.

"As we are entering a new era of relations, we need to pursue our interaction and relations through the [EU] office in Tehran," he said.

Takht-Ravanchi noted that the Islamic Republic and Europe are "gradually" restoring banking relations, despite residual US sanctions that include a ban on clearing Iran-related transactions in dollars through Washington's financial system.

"Our banking ties had been cut during the sanctions years, but they are being gradually restored," he said.


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