European Parliament cancels trip to Iran over activists

BRUSSELS Sat Oct 27, 2012 3:29pm EDT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Parliament delegation has called off a trip to Iran after a request to meet two jailed activists was refused.

The decision came after Iran's ambassador to the European Union said it was impossible to guarantee that the members of the European Parliament could meet jailed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi, the European Parliament said on Saturday.

The parliament awarded the two its Sakharov prize for human rights and freedom of thought on Friday.

"I deeply regret that permission to meet the Sakharov laureates was withheld. The European Parliament is nevertheless determined to continue its support for and involvement with the Iranian civil society," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a written statement.

Ties between Iran and Europe have become increasingly strained over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

Meetings between European and Iranian parliamentary delegations were meant to keep open another line of communication, even though the European Parliament has little influence over dealings with Tehran.

Western countries accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear bomb; Tehran denies this and says its program is peaceful.

Iran's Mehr news agency quoted an Iranian parliamentary official as saying the European delegation had wanted a visit with Sotoudeh and Panahias as a "precondition".

"The European parliamentary delegation wished to visit two Iranian political prisoners and give them a prize," said Hossein Sheikholeslam, international affairs adviser to Iran's parliament, according to Mehr. "Iran did not agree with this condition."

A European parliamentary spokeswoman earlier said it had been the Iranians who had cancelled the trip, but European officials later said this was not the case and it had been the European Parliament's decision.

(Additional reporting By Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai; Editing by Myra MacDonald, Luke Baker and Jason Webb)

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