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2003, an eventful year in EU-Iran relations

Ties between the European Union and the Islamic Republic took off with a good start in 2003, faced some turbulence in the middle of the year which is now ending on a promising note, IRNA reported from Brussels.

EU and Iran held three rounds of negotiations on a Trade and Cooperation (TCA) agreement which they had launched in December 2002.

Moreover, top EU leaders, including foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Commissioner Chris Patten visited Tehran amid a climate of better understanding and growing ties.

Setting the mood of rapprochement, Kamal Kharrazi, became the first foreign minister of the Islamic Republic to address the European Parliament in Brussels in February 2003 after an EP delegation paid a first-ever visit to Iran in July 2002.

In June 2003 an Iranian Majlis delegation led by the head of the foreign relations committee Mohsen Mirdamadi visited the European Parliament in Brussels.

EU-Iran experts groups in trade and investment, energy and fighting drug trafficking held their meetings in Brussels and Tehran. However, Iran's nuclear program caused some turbulence in EU-Iran ties. In July, the EU Council called on Iran to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol. It also stressed that intense economic relations between the two sides can be achieved only if progress is reached in the four areas of concern, namely human rights, terrorism, non-proliferation and the Middle East Peace Process.

On 21 October, foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK visited Tehran upon the invitation of the Islamic Republic to discuss Iran's nuclear programme.

The visit of the three ministers, regarded as an EU initiative, resulted in the signing of the "Tehran declaration" under which Iran agreed to sign the Additional Protocol and voluntarily suspend uranium enrichment while the European side underlined Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rowhani visited Brussels in November for talks with top EU officials on EU-Iran ties and Iran's nuclear program.

In December, Iran signed the Additional Protocol to the NPT a move which won high praise by the EU and also opened the path for further negotiations and contacts.

The EU was quick to respond with material and financial help for the victims of the devastating earthquake that struck Bam in the last days of December while EU leaders sent messages of sympathy and condolence to the Iranian leadership.

The signs for EU-Iran ties in 2004 look much brighter. Solana is being dispatched by the Council to Tehran early January to prepare the ground for closer cooperation with the Islamic Republic.

Several European Parliament delegations are expected to visit Tehran in January to boost people-to-people contacts and promote relations with the Iranian Majlis.

Moreover, the next round of TCA negotiations are also expected to resume in 2004.

Analysts in Brussels opine that Iran should focus its efforts on working with EU institutions like the Council and the Commission.

... Payvand News - 12/31/03 ... --

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