Trying to Exert Pressure on a Divided Government

While the European Union and Iran held talks over human rights in Teheran, the IAEA started a meeting in Vienna on 15 June, at which Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme is one of the main issues. Michael Lawton reports

photo: AP
Satellite picture of the nuclear reactor at Bushehr, Iran

​​Mohamed El-Baradei, the head of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the start of the meeting in Vienna that Iran's cooperation with UN inspectors was "less than satisfactory" and that it was important that the investigations into whether Iran has a nuclear weapons programme should be wound up "within a few months".

US take a tough stance

The United States would like to see sanctions imposed on Iran, but it doesn't have widespread support. The EU, for example, wants to take a gentler approach.

The three EU countries which are responsible for the dialogue with Iran, Britain, France and Germany, and who have convinced Iran in the past to back off from hard-line positions, have introduced a motion in Vienna criticising Iran for failing to disclose its nuclear activities, but merely calling for more cooperation in the future.

The Iranians argue that they should be allowed to continue to enrich uranium for their nuclear power programme, but Jamsheed Faroughi of DW-Radio's Iranian service doesn't believe them.

"Iranians don't need nuclear energy, and you can't tell if they'll keep promises in the future", says Faroughi.

Human rights for EU-Iran trade agreement

Meanwhile, the same three EU countries that are putting the pressure on in Vienna are talking to Iran about human rights. This time among the topics will be the administration of justice and police training.

The reward for the Iranians is the promise of a trade agreement with the EU, but there's little sign that such a development is in the offing.

The lobby group Human Rights Watch issued a report last week in which it observed a crackdown on dissidents and it called on the EU not to limit itself to dialogue. Part of the problem is, however, that the Iranian government is divided.

On the one side are the hardliners who argue that international human rights standards are not compatible with their reading of Islam. On the other side are reformers who see the human rights standards are universally valid. With which group should one talk?

Pressure must be on hardliners, but you can't separate. You can't have different dialogues.

The situation may be bad – but it has improved

Neither of the two meetings taking place this week is likely to come up with striking results. But some dissidents in Iran say that, however unsatisfactory things are now, they are still better than they were twenty years ago.

The prison beatings nowadays, for example, are not quite as hard. But it does seem to be difficult to get Iran to move on these issues at a speed that the rest of the world finds fast enough.

Michael Lawton


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