TEHRAN -- The European Parliament canceled a delegation’s scheduled visit to Iran on Saturday after Tehran refused to guarantee access to a pair of dissidents just awarded the prestigious Sakharov Price for Freedom of Thought.
Five European parliamentarians had planned to leave Saturday for a weeklong visit at a time when relations between Iran and the West are deeply strained because of a dispute about Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
The Europeans’ plan was to reopen a dialogue with counterparts in the Iranian legislature, known as the Majlis, as well as meet with members of Iranian civil society. Similar delegations had made previous visits, most recently in 2008.
The agenda changed on Friday, however, just as the group was set to travel, when the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize to a pair of Iranian dissidents -- Nasrin Sotoudeh, a jailed human rights attorney, and Jafar Panahi, a banned filmmaker.
The prize is formally scheduled to be awarded at a ceremony in Strasbourg, France, in December. The Europeans decided to insist on hand-delivering invitations to the two laureates, the European Parliament said in a news release.
The Iranian government, which generally keeps close tabs on visiting foreign delegations, didn’t go along with the last-minute demand.
On Saturday the Iranian ambassador to the European Union informed the parliamentarians that “at such short notice” it was impossible to guarantee a meeting with the two dissidents, the European Parliament said. That prompted the chair of the delegation, Tarja Cronberg, a Finnish parliamentarian, to cancel the visit. She told the France 24 news network she was “very disappointed” that the trip had to be abandoned.
Iran’s semi-official Mehr News agency reported that Iran rejected the“precondition” that the Europeans meet with the two “political prisoners.”
--Ramin Mostaghim. Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed.