European Parliament visit to Iran canceled

Reuters News

10/27/2012 6:54:27 AM - Reuters News

By Robert-Jan Bartunek

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Iran has canceled a European Parliament delegation visit to Tehran after the group asked to meet two Iranian activists awarded a top EU rights prize, a parliament spokeswoman said on Saturday.

The decision came after senior officials at the parliament, which on Friday awarded its Sakharov prize for human rights and freedom of thought to human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi, said they wanted the delegation to meet the two activists.

"After hearing the new conditions, the Iranians decided to cancel," European Parliament spokeswoman Satu Helin told Reuters. The delegation was set to travel to Tehran from October 27 to November 2.

Iran's Mehr news agency quoted an Iranian parliamentary official as saying the European delegation had stated as a "precondition" a visit with Sotoudeh and Panahi.

"The European parliamentary delegation wished to visit two Iranian political prisoners and give them a prize," said Hossein Sheikholeslam, international affairs adviser to Iran's parliament, according to Mehr. "Iran did not agree with this condition."

Ties between Iran and Europe have become increasingly strained over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

But meetings between European and Iranian parliamentary delegations were meant to keep open another line of communication, including with civil society - even though the European Parliament has little influence over dealings with Tehran.

Western countries accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear bomb; Tehran denies this and says its program is for peaceful purposes only.

(Additional reporting By Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai; Editing by Myra MacDonald)