Austrian president voices EU concern over human rights
TEHRAN, Sept 21 (AFP) - Austrian President Thomas Klestil expressed
the EU's "dismay and preoccupation over the human rights situation"
here Tuesday but said his country wanted to maintain ties, particularly
economic ones, with Iran.
"The Austrian president voiced the EU's dismay and preoccupation
over the human rights situation in Iran, notably the death sentences handed
down against four people condemned to death for their involvement in (July's)
pro-democracy demonstrations," a member of his delegation told AFP.
Klestil, who arrived here Monday, met with supreme leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei and President Mohammad Khatami, passing on the concerns of
Austria and other European Union countries that the death sentences were
a "pre-judgment," the Austrian diplomat said.
Tehran's revolutionary court last week announced that a secret court
hearing had handed down death sentences against four people charged with
being the main instigators of the six days of violent unrest which shook
Iran's bigger cities in July.
Klestil, who brushed aside calls at home not to visit Iran because of
its rights record, also raised the issue of 13 Jews facing the death sentence
on charges of spying for Israel.
But Khamenei insisted on Iran's right to deal with its own legal and
"We are very sensitive to problems such as espoionage and we ask
for nobody's permission to punish anyone," he told Klestil.
"We hate spies, whether they work for Israel or anyone else,"
Khamenei added, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
"If their crime is proved by the court, they will probably be punished,"
he said, warning that "Zionist agents are everywhere, in Austria too."
"I know in Austria they have already carried out subversive activities,"
he warned, without giving details.
Klestil's visit is the first here by an EU head of state, while his
meeting with Khamenei marked the first time the supreme leader had received
a Western head of state, although he has met Western heads of government.
Earlier Klestil met the still influential former president Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani and Iran's conservative leader and parliament speaker Ali Akbar
Speaking after the meeting with Rafsanjani, Klestil said Iran played
a "sensitive role" in the Middle East and called for relations
based on "reflection and understanding."
An Iranian official said Khatami had accepted an invitation from Klestil
to visit Austria.
The Austrian president's landmark two-day visit was the target of sharp
criticism at home as it comes just days after the European Parliament warned
that the EU's future relations with Tehran depended on its respect for
The European Parliament in Strasbourg Thursday passed a resolution calling
for the release of the 13 Jews charged with spying for Israel and a revision
of the four death sentences against the alleged student leaders.
Klestil said any further "intensification of Tehran-EU ties"
would depend on certain conditions," connected with general human
rights issues in Iran, as well as economic matters including "investment
security for Austrian firms," a member of his delegation said.
But before he left Tehran, Klestil described his talks here as "very
"The atmosphere of the meetings was very good," he said at
a farewell meeting with Khatami.
"Once I am home I'll inform my fellow EU heads of state of the
outcome of my talks and we hope that ties will be closer from now on."
Khatami said he was "very happy" with the Austrian president's
visit which "lays the basis for cooperation not only between Iran
and Austria, but also between Iran and the European Union."
"Our policy of detente has borne fruit," the reformist president
said. Klestil's delegation, which included Economy Minister Farn Leitner
as well as around 130 businesspeople and other officials, signed six agreements
during the visit.
Tehan metro director Mohsen Hashemi said the city's rail network will
now be completed with Siemens Austria instead of Paris's state-owned metro
system, the RATP, as originally planned.
Vienna wants to participate in a number of investment projects in Iran
including "at least three oil projects ... the contracts for which
should be signed this year," an Austrian official told AFP.