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Austrian president voices EU concern over human rights in Iran

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 security problems.

"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 Nateq-Nuri.

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 human rights.

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 satisfying."

"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.


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