Ashton Appointed EU Advisor on Nuclear Talks

Ashton Appointed EU Advisor on Nuclear Talks
Ashton Appointed EU Advisor on Nuclear Talks

Catherine Ashton will continue to play a key coordinating role in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program despite stepping down as the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

Federica Mogherini, who took over from Ashton as EU foreign policy chief on November 1, has appointed Ashton as her special advisor for facilitating the nuclear talks with Iran, Reuters reported the EU as saying on Friday.

Iran and the six powers - the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - failed last month to resolve a 12-year stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear work, and gave themselves seven more months to clinch a historic deal.

That created a dilemma for the 28-nation EU because Ashton, who was deeply involved in the negotiations with Iran during her time as EU foreign policy chief, no longer held the job.

It left Mogherini with the choice of either taking on the role herself, at a time when she is busy dealing with the Ukraine crisis and seeking ways to get the so-called Middle East peace process back on track, or leaving Ashton to focus on Iran.

She opted for a compromise, with Ashton facilitating contacts while Mogherini herself will attend meetings when ministers from the six powers come together to negotiate with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“To ensure the continuity of negotiations, which require full-time dedication, Catherine Ashton will facilitate the talks, and report regularly to (Mogherini),” an EU statement said.

An EU diplomatic team, led by political director Helga Schmid, will continue to support Ashton.

Tehran denies western claims that its nuclear program might have military aims, saying it is only for peaceful purposes.

Although she faced criticism early in her tenure as EU foreign policy chief, Ashton won praise for the way she shepherded the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Some experts feared her departure could complicate nuclear diplomacy as her successor took time to learn the intricacies of the complex nuclear file.