EU’s Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday (16 February) said that following Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, there is now room to develop and improve EU-Iran relations. Yet, the Committee emphasized that this cannot be done at the expense of human rights. Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs yesterday met with Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and discussed the turmoil in the Middle East, including the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, as well as Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia.
At this occasion, Mr Zarif also thanked the EU for its constructive approach to finding a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, which he re-assured, had always been peaceful. “We managed to define the problem and objective […] a peaceful nuclear program”, he added. MEPs embraced the deal as an opportunity to boost EU-Iran trade and economic and cultural relations. Yet, MEPs said that Iran’s human right records was worrying and the death penalty, public executions and the prosecution of bloggers and journalists are still deemed as unacceptable and will be major obstacles in progressing mutual relations in the future.
Mr Zarif admitted that his country might need to improve certain areas of human rights and he vowed to pursue a dialogue on these issues with the EU “in a spirit of mutual respect and without preaching”. When asked about the situation in Syria and Yemen, he said that the biggest challenges are “extremism, sectarianism and violence”. He also proposed a plan to tackle these issues: ceasefire, national unity government, humanitarian assistance and elections based on new constitution. Regarding Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia, Mr Zarif said that Tehran was following a policy of self-restraint.
According to Amnesty’s International 2014/2015 report, the Iranian authorities restrict freedoms of expression, association and assembly, arresting, detaining and prosecuting in unfair trials minority and women’s rights activists, journalists, human rights defenders and others who voice dissent. The human rights advocacy also added that torture and ill-treatment remain prevalent and women and ethnic and religious minorities face pervasive discrimination in law and practice. Executions are also a common practice, occurring at a high rate.