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European Nations Ask U.S. to Lift Sanctions Against Iran

Deep splits have emerged between the European Union and the United States over policy toward Iran.

The rift emerged this week when E.U. foreign ministers decided to review their ban on high-level contacts with Iran in defiance of America’s long-standing policy of seeking international sanctions against Tehran.

The ministers said sanctions were no longer appropriate to what they perceive as an emerging moderation in Tehran.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook of Britain, which holds the rotating E.U. presidency, said the 15-member bloc had instructed its political directors to examine the policy and report back within a month.

Cook, who chaired a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, told a news conference that the European Union and the United States agree Iran must be stopped from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and from sponsoring terrorism.

But this goal, he said, could be achieved by blocking the export of weapons and related equipment to Iran — particularly Russian missile technology — and pooling intelligence on terrorist activities.

He added that signs of moderation in Iran suggested that “a policy of general economic and political isolation may be counterproductive.”

Ever since the landslide election last year of Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Tehran-watchers have found signs of moderation in his speeches, although there have been no clear-cut signs of a change in Tehran’s foreign policy, particularly toward Israel.

During a visit to Washington earlier this month, Cook said he had urged the Clinton administration and the U.S. Congress to work toward a convergence of E.U. and U.S. policy on Iran.

“The only net gainer” from a split is Iran, said Cook, asserting that a policy of general isolation “does not undermine Iran but it does undermine trans- Atlantic relations.”

Europe temporarily suspended diplomatic contacts with Iran last march after a German court ruled that Iran had ordered the 1992 killings of Iranian dissidents in Berlin.

E.U. member states withdrew their ambassadors, but returned them in December.

Europe and America have already clashed over U.S. legislation to blacklist any companies that do significant business with Tehran, particularly in the energy field.

The E.U. rejected the U.S. move as invalid because it sought to legislate beyond American borders.

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