January 4, 2010 / 2:54 PM / 10 years ago

Iran calls off visit by EU parliamentary group

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Iran postponed a visit by members of the European Parliament on Monday, but the EU delegation said it had canceled the visit because Iran had blocked meetings with opposition figures.

General view of the European Parliament's plenary room in Strasbourg March 11, 2009. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Iran’s official news agency IRNA said the visit, scheduled for January 7-11, was postponed by the foreign ministry to allow more time to prepare for a “constructive trip.”

The visit would have happened at a time when the Iranian government faces deepening unrest, with near daily protests against the leadership since a disputed election in June.

“The date for the visit has been changed to have better and more constructive mutual parliamentary cooperation,” IRNA quoted foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.

But Barbara Lochbihler, the German head of the delegation, said all meetings with senior officials in Iran’s parliament had been blocked as had meetings with politicians opposed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, making the visit pointless.

“A delegation that is keen to enhance dialogue does not make sense any more if dialogue is not possible,” she told Reuters.

“The delegation was meant to express solidarity with the protest movement — this is regarded as too dangerous by the Iranian government,” she said.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said a new date would be coordinated through “relevant channels” but gave no details. Iran has already postponed several times a visit that would have been the first by a delegation from a Western parliament in more than a year.

Members of the U.S. Congress had called for the trip to be canceled, saying it was counterproductive to efforts to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies its nuclear program is for arms and says it is to generate power.

In a December 22 letter to European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, 15 members of Congress called the trip “potentially damaging” and asked for it to be stopped.

“We believe that a visit from the European Parliament would send the wrong message to the Iranian government and undermine the international efforts to end their nuclear program,” said the letter, signed by members of the foreign affairs committee.

Iran, which is facing its bloodiest unrest since the aftermath of a disputed presidential election last June, says it is developing nuclear technology for domestic energy purposes.

Reporting by Luke Baker and Ilona Wissenbach

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