EU foreign policy figures prominently on the agenda for the Parliament in Strasbourg this week in this its first session of the decade, and the first country to be addressed is that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in particular its nuclear programme.
Last January, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
(above) declared in a televised speech
that in spite of Western pressures Iran was approaching the "peak" in its nuclear program and predicted his country will have nuclear electricity by that time this year.
"If you (Western powers) imagine that the Iranian nation will back down you are making a mistake," he said. "On the nuclear path we are moving towards the peak."
This afternoon's debate on the situation as it stands opened with a statement from Catherine Ashton
, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, and she could not have begun in a bolder fashion: stating "Iran does not respect its international obligations.
Lady Ashton went on to express regret that Iran had not agreed to engage in meaningful talks to broker a settlement either with the European Union or the wider international community, before praising the country's "vibrant and active
" youth and women who are helping to create a "capacity for public debate
MEPs from all political parties had their say in the debate, many choosing to critisise Iran for its nuclear ambitions.José Ignacio Salafranca
(EPP, ESP) told the House that Iran "was still producing enriched uranium" and asked just how long Europe "could keep patience with such behaviour?
" and whether the time had come for extra punitive measures against the Iranian regime.
While Tehran has "the right to a peaceful civilian nuclear programme
" in the eyes of Roberto Gualtieri
(S&D, I), he said that enriching uranium (with consequently the possibility of creating harmful weapons) demanded a serious response from the entire international community. His solution would be to impose heavy sanctions while trying to maintain meaningful dialogue between the two sides.
But Charles Tannock
(ECR, UK) favoured a more direct approach, launching into a scathing attacking on what he called "the ruthless nuclear ambitions of Ahmedinejad
", a message that was supported by Bastiaan Belder
(EFD, NL) who warned that "Iran's nuclear programme poses very serious security threats and the international community should act accordingly
(ALDE, NL) was keen to address the grassroots movements in the country by its citizens and lamented the inability of citizens to speak about the regime critically. She told the chamber that "I won my elections by criticising the government of my country
" but that "young women doing the same in Iran would be arrested, beaten and raped
". She called on Europe to take a tougher leading role to ensure freedom of speech.
For Barbara Lochbihler
(Greens, DE), the head of Parliament's delegation to Iran that was recently denied access to visit
, pointed out that many European countries were supplying technology that allowed the censorship of protests in Tehran. She also said that the question had to be asked if "whether sanctions will lead to a change in government or only harm society?
While unable to answer that question precisely, Lady Ashton certainly made clear her thoughts on Iran. As for the Parliament as a whole, well it will vote a resolution on what to do vis-à-vis Iran sometime in February.
You can watch a recording of the debate by clicking here