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Solana: EU keen to restart nuclear talks with Iran

European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, right , talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg during an 0SCE Informal Ministerial meeting on Sunday, June 28, 2009. Foreign ministers from OSCE member states are holding a two-day meeting on the western Greek resort island of Corfu. On the sidelines of the talks, EU foreign ministers will discuss the developments in Iran. European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, right , talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg during an 0SCE Informal Ministerial meeting on Sunday, June 28, 2009. Foreign ministers from OSCE member states are holding a two-day meeting on the western Greek resort island of Corfu. On the sidelines of the talks, EU foreign ministers will discuss the developments in Iran. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
By Elena Becatoros and Slobodan Lekic
Associated Press Writers / June 28, 2009
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CORFU, Greece—The European Union wants to restart talks on Iran's nuclear program, the bloc's top foreign policy official said Sunday, even as its foreign ministers condemned the country for its crackdown on demonstrators and rights groups.

"The EU urges the Iranian government to restore and respect the freedom of media, press and all instruments used by the Iranian public to pursue democratic dialogue," the EU's 27 foreign ministers said a statement after a two-hour meeting on the western Greek island of Corfu.

The EU has repeatedly denounced Iran for its treatment of the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have rallied to demand a recount of ballots in the June 12 presidential election. The demonstrations have posed the greatest challenge to the country's ruling system since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Still, the EU wants to leave the door open for the resumption of dialogue with Iran on its nuclear program, and officials have sought to balance criticism of the crackdown with the need to prevent Iran from slipping further into isolation.

"We would like very much that soon we will have the possibility to restart multilateral talks with Iran on the important nuclear issues," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters in Corfu before the meeting.

Asked whether the protests would weaken the regime and affect negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said it was too early to tell.

"We don't know what Iran is going to be one week or one month from now," said Bildt, whose country assumes the EU's rotating presidency Wednesday.

"Obviously the regime is trying to preserve its position by very harsh repression. But that cannot hide the fact that this is a weakened regime. It has lost a lot of legitimacy both internally and externally," Bildt said, adding that "the experience of history is that repression can succeed short-term, but it weakens the regime long-term."

The ministers also condemned Tehran's detention of nine local British Embassy employees in Iran, and called for their immediate release.

"This is harassment and intimidation of a kind which is quite unacceptable," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

"These are hardworking diplomatic staff. The idea that the British Embassy is somehow behind the demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in Tehran. ... is wholly without foundation."

Miliband said that, as of Sunday morning, four of the nine had been released.

The EU ministers expressed unanimous support for Britain and called on Iran to respect international norms that ban harassment of diplomatic personnel.

Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said EU members would also discuss agreeing on a common visa policy for Iranians seeking to flee violence at home. Italy already has granted a number of visas to protesters in Iran who want to escape the crackdown.

"It is simply not possible to have discrepancies about reaction to Italy's issuing national visas," Frattini told reporters after the meeting. "It's not possible, we have to issue European ... visas."

(This version CORRECTS spelling of Swedish FM to Carl sted Karl, graf 6.)