February 3, 2011 / 5:54 PM / 9 years ago

EU waives Iran visa ban, but Tehran stays silent

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union states have agreed to waive a visa ban on Iran’s foreign minister so he can attend a security conference in Germany this weekend, but Tehran has yet to reply to the invitation, an EU official said.

The minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, is included in a list of Iranian officials barred from entering the European Union as part of sanctions imposed to curb Iran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at developing an atomic bomb.

Iran denies this, saying it is stockpiling enriched uranium only for civilian purposes including electricity. Salehi was formerly the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.

“The Germans agreed that he could go to the Munich conference, so in agreement with the member states, he’s been taken off the list, but we haven’t heard if he’s actually going or not,” an EU official said Thursday.

U.N. Security Council diplomats in New York told Reuters it made sense to allow Salehi to travel to the annual, three-day Munich Security Conference, which begins Friday, in the interest of continuing talks between Iran, the five permanent Security Council members and Germany on Iran’s nuclear plans.

Salehi, they said, is a conservative and close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, therefore a credible partner for dialogue who might wield more authority in negotiations than his predecessor Manouchehr Mottaki, who was fired by Ahmadinejad.

Not everyone welcomed news of the sanctions waiver.

A senior Western diplomat said the nuclear negotiations were going nowhere and Salehi himself had made clear he was unwilling to compromise to resolve the long-running standoff between Iran and the six world powers.

“It doesn’t send a very strong signal to the world when the EU is willing to lift the travel ban for someone who has played a key role in Iran’s nuclear weapons program from the beginning and is doing nothing to help achieve a negotiated solution,” the diplomat said.

After the six world powers failed to prise any change from Iran in two days of talks in Istanbul last month, the European Union and the United States said no further meetings were planned.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who will also be in Munich, said then that further talks depended on a more constructive approach from the Islamic Republic.

The powers have offered a nuclear fuel swap that would effectively reduce Iran’s reserves of low enriched uranium to levels too small to be used to make a bomb, in exchange for fuel to run a Tehran medical research reactor. But Iran would have to drop pre-conditions for any deal to happen.

Tehran has ignored U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend enrichment and refused to grant unfettered access for U.N. nuclear inspectors.

Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau at the United Nations; editing by Mark Heinrich

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