A group of nine European legislators will pay an official visit to Iran later this month despite pressure from Israel to cancel the trip and a EU agreement to place new sanctions on the state’s regime.
The team will be headed by the President of the European Parliament-Iran group, Finland Greens MEP Tarja Cronber.
An unnamed parliament official told AFP there was a “sharp” discussion on whether to go ahead with the visit but that leaders of the parliament’s political groups finally voted to go ahead with it.
The official said that representatives from all but one of the parliamentary groups — the eurosceptic right-wing alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists — would take part in the October 27 visit.
Israel had tried to persuade the legislators to cancel the trip, saying it legitimized the regime in Tehran and claiming Europe was sending Iran mixed messages by conducting dialogue at the same time as it was introducing tougher sanctions to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive.
European Parliament Vice-President Alejo Vidal-Quadras had also called for the cancellation of the MEPs’ trip, telling a conference in Brussels Tuesday that “We in Europe should not send mixed messages to the Iranian regime” and that “any formal delegation from the European Parliament or any national parliament in Europe to Iran will be extremely counterproductive.”
“Whatever good intentions our colleagues may have,” New Europe Online quoted the Spanish MEP Vidal-Quadras as saying, “such visits would give credit to the mullahs and is completely for the benefit of the Iranian regime to justify the repression, violation of human rights and export of fundamentalism and terrorism.”
B’nai B’rith International also objected to the planned trip, with President Allan J. Jacobs saying, “Going over there with the intention of ‘bridge building’ is the exact opposite of what needs to happen. Instead the EU must continue to press Iran to hold its government accountable for efforts to create nuclear weapons.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Tuesday with European ambassadors to Israel, where he praised the latest EU sanctions while noting that they had not yet prompted Iran to halt its nuclear program.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg voted to substantially increase sanctions against Tehran, including banning imports of Iranian natural gas and other restrictions on the country’s infrastructure development.
“Iran’s nuclear program is a concern not only to Israel but also to the region and the wider international community,” the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley, told reporters on Tuesday at the meeting.