Catherine Ashton in landmark visit to Iran
High Representative Catherine Ashton visited Tehran on 8 and 9 March, 2014. She met President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, Foreign Policy Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali-Akbar Velayati, and Secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security Ali Shamkhani.
The main purpose of the visit was to have a chance to talk about the potential for the relationship that the EU and Iran could have in the future.
Not surprisingly, there was a big focus on human rights. The High Representative met with women activists on International Women’s Day and talked to them about the situation of women in Iran and some of the work that these women are engaged in - from journalism, to work with Afghan refugees, to women working across the spectrum of civil society organisations.
She also discussed with her Iranian interlocutors a number of regional issues, for example the real challenges of the drug trade from Afghanistan, which presents real difficulties to Iran, and where the EU and Iran could work together.
The two sides also looked at the possibilities of a range of dialogues and discussions, such as on the environment.
The visit came against the backdrop of the nuclear talks. After her visit , the High Representative said: "One of the things that’s been very clear is the support that is given across the political spectrum for the work that is going on currently in Vienna to try and move forward on a comprehensive agreement. That does not mean that we’ll get an agreement … but I have had a real sense that people are committed to wanting to see the talks happen and that, I think, is encouraging in itself."
Not surprisingly, a number of issues in the region were focal points of the discussions, and the High Representative was encouraged that the two sides were able to talk frankly about some of these issues.
She concluded: "I hope that if we are successful with the nuclear negotiations, and it’s a big if, that we’ll be able to start to move forward on a range of different issues with Iran."