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Iran polls to affect EU talks: Straw

February 24, 2004

BRUSSELS, Feb 23: Iran's parliamentary election will inevitably have an impact on trade talks between Tehran and the European Union, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Monday.

The EU has linked a resumption of negotiations on a potentially lucrative trade and cooperation agreement with Iran to compliance with pledges to accept intrusive spot checks of its nuclear programme and halt uranium enrichment.

It is also demanding progress from Tehran on human rights, the fight against terrorism and its attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before concluding the pact.

EU diplomats said Friday's election, from which an unelected hardline clerical watchdog barred some 2,500 reformist candidates, could be seen as a step backwards on human rights.

"The results of the elections in Iran will obviously create a new environment for the discussions with Iran to take place," Mr Straw told reporters before a meeting of foreign ministers from the EU's 25 current and future member states.

"It's plain for everybody to see that these were - from the start - flawed elections in which in at least half the constituencies reformist candidates were not on offer to the electorate. By all accounts the turnout is down 25 percentage points from its level when there were free elections in 1997."

Mr Straw did not spell out what impact the poll would have on trade talks with the EU. Conservatives scored an easy victory over the shackled reformists on a record low turnout in the poll, which pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami has branded unfair.

Those banned from standing in the poll included 80 sitting lawmakers, some of whom had been key interlocutors of the EU in its dialogue with Iran. -Reuters