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Sunday, July 19, 1998 Published at 03:58 GMT 04:58 UK


World: Middle East

EU courts Iran

Tehran: European businessmen see lucrative opportunities

A European Union delegation to Iran has held the first high-level talks with Iranian officials since relations were frozen last year.

There has been no word from either side about how the meeting went.

The EU broke off its so-called critical dialogue with Tehran in April 1997 after a German court ruling implicated Iran in the assassination of Iranian Kurdish exiles in Berlin in 1992.

European Ambassadors were temporarily withdrawn from Tehran, but later returned.


[ image: President Khatami: improved relations with Europe]
President Khatami: improved relations with Europe
Relations with the West have warmed significantly since Iran's new reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, took power almost a year ago.

Our correspondent says European countries are now keen to re-establish lucrative commercial ties with Iran, especially given the fact that some $5bn of oil and gas projects are currently up for tender.

Many European businessmen are anxious to establish themselves in Iran before the previously icy relations between Tehran and Washington thaw still further and American firms are able to tap into this lucrative market.

The previous "critical dialogue" concentrated largely on issues of concern to Europe, including Iran's alleged development of weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism, human rights and the Salman Rushdie affair.

These issues were still scheduled topics of discussion, but the agenda was broadened to reflect Europe's support for President Khatami's efforts to open up Iran despite opposition from hardliners, and the positive role a more moderate Tehran could play in the region.

It included regional issues such as Kosovo, the Middle East peace process, the situation in the Gulf and Central Asia, and Afghanistan, where Iran recently launched a joint peace initiative with Pakistan.

The two sides were also due to discuss areas of possible future co-operation, such as transport, culture, science, and the fight against drug trafficking.

The three EU officials, from Austria, Britain and Germany, will hold separate bilateral talks with the Iranians on Sunday.

The British member of the team, Deputy Under Secretary of State John Shepherd, is the most senior British official to hold talks in Tehran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.



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