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UK 'grateful' to Iran's stance during Iraq war, says Straw

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw Monday contrasted Iran's position on the US-led war against Iraq with that of Syria, which has been warned by Washington not to harbour fleeing members of Saddam Hussein's regime, IRNA reported from London.

"As far as Iran is concerned, Iran is a different case. We have been developing better diplomatic relations with Iran. It is a very important neighbour of Iraq and, of course, has suffered grievously from Saddam's domination of the region," Straw said.

"We want to see good neighbourly relations with Iran and we are grateful to the Iranians for the support and cooperation which they gave during the course of this military conflict," he said.

The Foreign Secretary was speaking to the BBC from Bahrain, during a visit of Arab states in the Persian Gulf, while Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien travelled to Syria after visiting Iran on Sunday.

Over the weekend, the US stepped up its rhetoric against Syria with President George W Bush saying he believed it had chemical weapons.

Straw insisted that Syria was "not next on the list" of American military action after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

But he said that President Bashar Assad, who spoke to Prime Minister Tony Blair over the weekend, needed to explain whether any members of the Iraqi regime had sought refuge in Syria.

"What is important in this new and changed climate where we are looking to all members of the international community to fully respect the rule of the international community is for Syria to fully cooperate over these questions," the Foreign Secretary said.

He said that he was "not sure" if Syria had chemical weapons but that it needed to "sit down with the United States and United Kingdom and actively cooperate."

Straw repeated that Blair had stated last week that there were "no plans" to attack either Syria or Iran following the US becoming increasingly hostile to both countries.

With regard to Iraq, he said that Britain would be sending a representative to the consultative meeting of Iraqi opposition groups in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah on Tuesday.

The meeting, the Foreign Secretary, suggested would become more representative over time and would lead to a possible Baghdad conference on setting up an interim civilian administration.

Kharrazi: Iran proved its seriousness in fighting terrorism

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on Sunday that Iran has proved its seriousness in fighting terrorism while reminding the West that it too should be serious in this regard, IRNA reported.

Speaking in a meeting with British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien, Kharrazi also briefed him on Iran's policies regarding terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and regional stability.

Iran is the center of stability and security in a turbulent region, and its detente policy has been fruitful in garnering support for regional and international policies.

He also voiced satisfaction with the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, adding that while it is true that the removal of Saddam has been the will of the international community, but, "we did not believe that war was a legitimate means for achieving this goal."

Iran, aiming to avert a destructive war on the Iraqi nation proposed a referendum, but Saddam did not accept it and was overthrown disgracefully and with a heavy price for Iraq, Kharrazi asserted.

He also voiced concern about the critical situation in Iraq. The Iraqi developments are perplexing and there is a concern that the Iraq people will not be allowed to run their own domestic affairs."

A speedy pull-out of foreign forces from Iraqi soil will give a boost to formation of a popular government, Kharrazi said, adding "it is not to the benefit of the outside powers to grapple with the internal Iraqi developments."

"A future Iraqi government should be based on people's will. Only formation of a democratic nation which incorporates all the multiplicity of ethnic and religious make-up in the country will be a guarantor of the legitimate aspirations of the Iraqi people.

"Iran is hopeful that any future Iraqi government will respect the principles of good neighborly relations and abide by the agreements signed with its neighbors," the Iranian foreign minister underlined.

He further referred to the crucial role of UN in Iraq as a necessity and the will of the world community. A constructive solution in Iraq is to find a consensus among nations while incorporating their views on the issue.

O'Brien also highlighted Iran's important role in shaping regional developments and said that Tehran-London consultations are important in strengthening bilateral ties and regional developments.

London believes that the UN has to play a vital role in Iraq's future developments and advocates a democratic state in the country, the British official stated.

British Ambassador to Tehran Richard John Dalton said on Saturday that Britain understands Iran's concern about humanitarian situation in Iraq and backs the United Nations direct role to help organize Iraqi administration.

In a meeting with Head of Parliamentary Commission for National Security and Foreign Affairs Mohsen Mirdamadi, the ambassador hoped that transitional period would be short until the formation of a new government and a new constitution for Iraq.

Mirdamadi said that Iraqi people have top personalities capable of running the administration of their own country adding that installing a foreign national for Iraqi interim administration would be an affront to the national pride of the Iraqi people, on one hand, and in contradiction with the international law on the other.

Dalton said that London shares the same views with Iran on the formation of a broad-based government with the participation of representatives from all sections of Iraqi society.

He also said that Britain is aware of Iraq's debts to Iran and Kuwait for war reparations the former regime imposed on them.

The ambassador also thanked Iran for sending humanitarian aid to Iraq.

EU-Iran ties expected to grow after war in Iraq

When US forces took control of Baghdad Wednesday last week, EU and Iranian officials were on the same day negotiating in Brussels on a Trade and Cooperation Agreement, IRNA reported.

The two separate events give a hint of the future of developments in the Middle East, that is, one of either confrontation and belligerency or of dialogue and engagement.

Analysts in Brussels opine that after the end of the US-led war in Iraq cooperation and relations between the European bloc and the Islamic Republic of Iran are bound to grow and expand.

Europeans are apprehensive that the US will not only take total control of Iraq's oil wealth but also hinder Europe from taking any significant part in the Arab country's reconstruction.

Many EU countries, including heavyweights Germany and France, remain staunchly opposed to the military invasion of Iraq.

Their anti-war position has irked many in Washington, with "hawks" in the White House now insisting that the anti-war coalition in Europe should be excluded from the "reconstruction cake" of Iraq.

Concern is also widespread that after taking control of Iraq's oil, the US will manipulate the world's oil market, a move that would damage economic growth in Europe.

European observers are keen to point out that the 15-member European bloc is proceeding in earnest with its engagement and dialogue with Iran despite strong US criticism of Europe's rapprochement with the Islamic Republic.

Both EU and Iranian officials have expressed satisfaction over the ongoing EU-Iran economic and political dialogue.

Three sessions of the TCA negotiations and two sessions of the political dialogue have taken place to date.

Washington was taken aback by the widespread condemnation in Europe of US President George W. Bush's lumping of Iran in his controversial "axis of evil" rhetoric.

European officials say Bush's harsh rhetoric is damaging the position of the reformist camp in Iran.

In contrast to Washington's accusations that Iran is a destabilizing factor and a sponsor of terrorism, the EU has been stressing Iran's vital role for peace, stability and security not only in Afghanistan but also in the wider region.

Top EU officials like EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten have paid visits to Iran to underline Brussels' growing interest in Tehran.

The European Union regards Iran's economic potential and its geo-strategic position as too important to be ignored.

Moreover, after the US imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic that resulted in hurting EU economic interests, European companies now see a golden opportunity to do business in Iran.

According to a European Commission report, the EU is Iran's main trading partner in both imports and exports.

In 2001, EU imports from Iran totaled 6.7 billion euro whereas the value of EU exports to Iran in the same year amounted to 6.6 billion euro.

Whereas more than 80 percent of EU imports from Iran consist of oil products, its exports to Iran are more diversified consisting of power generation plants, heavy machinery and electrical and mechanical appliances which make up about 45 percent of its total exports.

A working Group on Energy was established in May 1999 and last year the European Commission opened an energy bureau in Tehran aimed at expanding energy cooperation.

Iran is endowed with 10 percent of the world's oil reserves and 16 percent of its natural gas reserves.

The EU believes that better relations with Iran would guarantee a constant and stable supply of energy for its economy.

For its part, Iran is trying to win EU support for its efforts to join the WTO, a move which is being blocked by the US.

Europeans are keen to upgrading cooperation with Iran in the fight against drug trafficking much of which flows to Europe via Iran from Afghanistan.

All in all, observers in Brussels expect swift and significant developments in EU-Iran relations this year.

... Payvand News - 4/14/03 ... --

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