This article appeared on October 21 on Rooz. By Nooshabeh Amiri.
Rooz talked with EU representative Marietje Schaake who recently visited Iran and participated in the award-giving ceremony for Iranian human rights attorney Nasrin Sotudeh. Ms. Schaake said that if the nuclear talks currently underway between Iran and the P5+1 did not result in “an accepted settlement” of the issue, then a serious crisis would be forthcoming. She stressed that human rights were and would continue to be on the top of the agenda of EU’s demands from Iran. She also said people in Iran appeared to have lost hope in Rouhani’s promises and says how could young Iranians who want to demonstrate that there is joy in Iran be arrested and imprisoned. Here are excerpts of the interview. Nooshabeh Amiri: You went to Iran and presented Nasrin Sotudeh’s prize to her. How was this meeting arranged? Did you have the consent of Iranian officials? Marietje Schaake: We wanted to be sure that we would meet Nasrin Sotudeh on our trip to Iran and give her prize. She was in prison when she was awarded the prize and so had not received it. Amiri: Had Iranian officials concurred with this? Schaake: I think you need to ask this question of them. Amiri: So you do not wish to talk about the details? Schaake: That is correct. Amiri: How was the meeting? Schaake: It was a major privilege for me to meet Nasrin Sotudeh. She is a brave woman who has paid heavily for doing her duty. She continues to fight for the human rights of her clients despite the severe restrictions she faces. In short, this was a brief but unique meeting. Amiri: What is your impression of the general conditions in Iran? Schaake: Iranian people welcomed us everywhere we went; from the newspaper kiosks on the streets to everybody else. They were happy to see a European group of people. Amiri: Did you have direct contact with them? Schaake: Yes, we saw many people and talked with them. Many people were concerned about the future, about their jobs, life and what the future has in store for them. I concluded during these meetings that many young people want to leave Iran. Between the two recent visits that I had, I sensed that optimism after president Rouhani’s election which was evident in the beginning has almost completely disappeared. In other words people regularly hear good words but they do not see useful actions. They even said that from some perspective restrictions have in fact increased. How can one tell them that state officials have access to the Internet but officially access to the Internet is banned? Or why is it that people who want to show that they are happy in Iran are thrown into jail? To these problems add other major issues such as drug addiction. We have of course spoken to the European Community about the problems of the Middle East and relations with Iran but in the field we saw people who are educated and enlightened but caught up in problems. People see that they are not given any opportunity. Amiri: How did you see things as a woman? Schaake: It was very difficult for me to be obliged to wear the scarf. Amiri: Why did you wear it? Schaake: I had to. Amiri: Why? Many people ask why foreign authorities such as yourself heed to this obligation. The opposite is true also. You too can force Iranian officials who come to your country to do certain things. Schaake: Look, diplomatic norms require that the rules of every country be respected .. Amiri: Do they respect your rules? Schaake: You cannot compare this because rules in democratic societies are determined out of free choice. Almost everybody can do anything they want, wear or not wear a scar, drink or not drink alcohol, shake somebody’s hand or not. So they too can do what they want in the European Union countries. But there, there is not much freedom. So we are talking about two different systems. They have no freedom to choose. Amiri: Many are concerned that the most important issue for the West are the economy and the resolution of the nuclear issue. If the nuclear dossier is resolved, will the human rights issue be forgotten? Schaake: No, this will never happen. Human rights have been at the forefront of EU’s demands and will continue to be so. But for now the nuclear dossier is serious because it can lead to a very serious crisis. Still, I have always said that nuclear talks and human rights issues should not be viewed in totality; each is very important from a different perspective. This is why human rights are at the forefront of EU’s demands and the nuclear issue cannot overshadow it. We too must exert more pressure on this. But the other point is that if the nuclear issue does not come to an acceptable resolution, it may be a huge victory for the extremists in the country and this will without doubt have an impact on the human rights issues. This could result in more sanctions and greater isolation for Iran which would increase domestic pressure. Amiri: How do you see the future? Is reaching an acceptable settlement possible? Schaake: Yes, it is possible. The question is whether there is the right political leadership on both sides. Specialists know that solutions exist but finding political support for them in Iran is difficult. Amiri: What is your own opinion? Do you agree with limitations on the number of centrifuges? Schaake: I think there needs to be perpetual monitoring of this program. There are no issues with Iran having nuclear energy and nobody is against that. But the Islamic republic must acquire international trust and provide the information requested by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Just recently the IAEA announced that Iran is not providing the necessary information. This leads to lack of trust and does not help the talks. This is why I am very concerned even as I have never said that Iran should not have nuclear energy. Nobody else either has said that Iran should not have nuclear energy.