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EU voices strong interest in closer ties with Iran

Brussels, Jan 11, IRNA -- European Union diplomatic sources here Tuesday noted on the eve of the resumption of the EU-Iran negotiations for Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) on Wednesday that since Iran is a large regional political and economic power with a rapid growing population and a rapid growing economy, obviously there are strong European economic interests.

The fifth round of TCA will be held after a pause of nearly one and a half years due to EU concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

"We like to be there. We like to trade with them. We like to invest there as long as the market offers political, administrative and legal stability,'' EU sources told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The EU has geo-strategic as well as economic interests in the Islamic Republic.

Iran can contribute to the stability of a region with neighbors like Iraq, Afghanistan with problems such as drug trafficking, migration issues.

"It is not only strategic interests. There is obviously an economic interests in the TCA with Iran. We are talking about a country that in the last three years has grown by an average of 5.8 percent a year and a country which between 2002-2003 grew at a rate of 7.4 percent. So this is a country that is growing.

"This is a country where the EU has a very strong presence. The EU represents 30 percent of Iran's trade. 40 percent of Iran's imports come from the EU," noted the sources.

The TCA in the EU jargon is called the 'First Generation Agreement' being the first contractual engagement with the Islamic Republic.

The TCA will be a non-preferential Agreement focussed on economic and financial co-operation and on greater trade liberalization between the EU and Iran.

"The first thing we will do (tomorrow) is to take stock of from where you left off to make sure that everybody around the table has the same recollection of how far we had gotten," said the sources.

The decision to resume TCA negotiations follows the 'Paris agreement' between Iran and the United Kingdom, France and Germany, and the subsequent verification of the suspension of Iran's enrichment and reprocessing activities as confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution of November 2004.

The negotiation and conclusion of the agreement will help develop economic exchanges and cooperation with Iran, and strengthen the process of political and economic reform.

"We do expect to meet rather more frequently than we had in the past with our Iranian counterparts," said the sources adding that the two sides expect to meet at the frequency of every two months or even less.

But there is no time-framework for the negotiations to be completed.

"We have not fixed a target date. We expect the talks to continue. We are willing to move at the speed the Iranians would be ready to move to conclude the agreement as soon as they will be ready to conclude."

The TCA needs only to be ratified by the European Parliament and not by all EU member states.

EU companies are interested to invest in oil and gas sector in Iran, they said.

"As trade with Iran becomes more stable there might be interest by European companies to invest in other sectors such as transport equipment, machinery chemicals," noted the sources.

Iran is not a member of the WTO. It requested entry in 1996 but its request has been systematically opposed by the US.

"We support Iran's accession to the WTO. Our position is that we should not judge countries on political grounds, but on economical grounds," underlined the EU sources.

The EU officials underlined that US sanctions on Iran are not applicable to the EU.

Negotiations relating to EU-Iran political dialogue will be held in Brussels on Thursday.

The political dialogue consists of four main issues, human rights, regional security in the Middle East, the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, "The resumption of these negotiations is a clear signal of our wish to work with Iran.

"These talks are an important element of a wider package. Iran can look forward to a richer relationship with the European Union, as long as the international community can be confident that Iran's nuclear program is not being developed for military purposes," she said.

The TCA will be led on the EU side by Christian Leffler, head of the Middle East and North Africa Department at the European Commission, and the Iranian side by Kia Tabatabai, director general of the Economic Department of the Foreign Ministry.

The TCA negotiations were initially launched in Brussels on December 12, 2002. The fourth and latest round of talks took place in Tehran on June 2-3, 2003.

... Payvand News - 1/12/05 ... --

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