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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 20:22 GMT
Improve human rights, EU urges Iran
Demonstrators outside the US embassy in Tehran, November 2000
America's contempt for Iran is returned

The European Union's Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Patten, who is visiting Iran, has urged the country's leadership to improve human rights if they want better economic relations with the EU.

He told journalists in Tehran that as the EU continues its dialogue with the Iranian government, it expects results in return.

If the Iranian authorities think they're getting unfair Western press then an easy way to get around that is to open up to more international agreements and inspections

Chris Patten
Mr Patten arrived in Iran on Monday to launch fresh talks aimed at producing a trade agreement.

He knows the EU's policy of constructive engagement with Tehran is being watched with scepticism by the United States.

His three-day visit comes just a week after President Bush attacked the Iranian Government in his State of the Union address.

Mr Bush accused it of oppressing its own people, developing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorism.

Mr Patten told journalists in Tehran that the EU wanted to see concrete progress.

He has already indicated that the EU expects Iran to improve its human rights record, especially on women's rights.

Bearing fruit

The EU has repeatedly said that any trade and cooperation agreement with the Islamic Republic is linked to progress on political issues such as weapons of mass destruction and fighting terrorism.

Chris Patten with Mohammad Khatami
Patten (left) met President Khatami (r)
Iran desperately needs help from Europe to overcome its economic difficulties.

Some observers believe that the EU's insistence on linking economic relations with human rights is to some extent bearing fruit.

The recent release of Iran's most prominent dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hussain-Ali Montazeri, from house arrest is seen partly as a concession to the EU.

Iran is also allowing a UN human rights delegation into the country in the next few weeks for the first time for many years.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, is also visiting the country later this month to inspect Iran's nuclear facilities.

Stoning ban

On Tuesday, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, head of Iran's conservative-controlled judiciary, told Mr Patten that execution by stoning would be replaced with other means of punishment.

He did not say whether this was a temporary or permanent move, but other high-level officials have defended stoning as part of Islamic law and thus impossible to abolish.

A moratorium on stoning was first announced in December.

See also:

04 Feb 03 | Media reports
29 Jan 03 | Middle East
10 Sep 01 | Middle East
26 Sep 01 | Middle East
27 Dec 02 | Middle East
08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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