Bonn ready for new start with Tehran

Germany is ready for a "fresh start" in relations with Iran, the Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, said yesterday.

His comments give cautious room for optimism that links between Iran and member-states of the European Union - sundered since a Berlin court in April linked Iranian leaders to the killings of dissidents abroad - may be restored.

The climate has improved since Iran elected a relatively moderate new president, Muhammad Khatami, who took office this month.

Iran's new Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, was quoted as saying he was ready to meet European counterparts to discuss strained relations.

Mr Kharrazi told the Iran News that he was willing to meet EU ministers during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next month.

"I'll meet with them if they so wish. I have no problem with meeting any European foreign minister and I'm ready to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the General Assembly and meet with all my counterparts ... if they so wish."

Mr Kharrazi, Iran's former ambassador to the United Nations, said in the newspaper interview Iran had "historical ties with EU member-countries and we have had our shares of ups and downs in our relations with them".

Mr Kinkel said in a newspaper interview for publication today: "After a lengthy pause in contacts, we will not ignore this wish. We should approach the evidently more liberal new government with openness."

All EU countries except Greece withdrew their ambassadors from Tehran in the wake of the ruling by a Berlin court that Iran's top leaders had ordered the 1992 assassination of four Kurdish dissidents in a restaurant in Berlin.

The EU also suspended its policy of "critical dialogue" with Tehran, a strategy which involved maintaining trade and political ties while also discussing human-rights issues.

Iran, which strongly rejected the court's verdict, has said the EU envoys can return to Tehran but has indicated the German ambassador must be the last, a formula which Bonn has denounced as an attempt to undermine the solidarity of EU partners.

Mr Kinkel repeated that the EU rejects any conditions linked to the return of the ambassadors.

Mr Kinkel also mentioned the name of Faraj Sarkuhi, an Iranian newspaper editor charged by Tehran with spying for Germany. Mr Sarkuhi, editor of the monthly Adineh, was arrested by Tehran in April and is due to stand trial soon.

Bonn feels some responsibility for Mr Sarkuhi, because his wife has been given asylum in Germany. It had been in regular contact with Tehran over the case.

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