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Iran cancels dinner with EU foreign policy head

The negotiations between Iran and West will continue this Tuesday in Vienna, but the dinner with the EU foreign policy head, Catherine Ashton, which was set for this Monday has been cancelled.

According to Iranian media, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the cancellation  of the dinner is an act of protest following Ashton’s meeting with women's rights activists during her visit to Iran last week.

The trip was Ashton's first to Iran and coincided with International Women's Day on Saturday 8 March. As part of the visit she met with women's rights activists including the mother of a blogger who died whilst under police custody in the country.

The foreign ministry in Iran, a country that has been widely criticised in the West for abusing the rights of their citizens, particularly women, sent a protest note to the Austrian embassy, arguing that the meeting was unsanctioned and will not help relations between Europe and the country.

Negotiations between Iran and the West have been ongoing in Vienna in the past few months. It is hoped that they can come to an agreement over Iran's ongoing nuclear programme, which many in the west believe is secretly being used to develop nuclear weapons, and trade sanctions placed on the Islamic state by the US and Europe. Some of these trade sanctions against Iran were temporarily lifted after the country agreed in November to a six month pause in the their nuclear programme.

The negotiations will take up to three days and are expected to conclude in a comprehensive settlement of the dispute. But to lift the trade sanctions, Iran will need to guarantee the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. By July, the UN veto powers (U.S., Russia, China, Britain & France) and Germany want to conclude with the agreement. One of the main concerns, is the Heavy Water Reactor in Arak, where plutonium is produced, which could be used to create a nuclear bomb.

It is also unclear whether the current tensions in Ukraine, will affect the negotiations between Russia and Iran. "The United States hope that the crisis in Crimea and generally the situation of Ukraine, will not endanger the negotiations", stated a senior U.S. government official. Although, the U.S. have declared that there will be no partial agreements, either all critical points are resolved, or the negotiations will fall through all together.

Catherine Ashton has warned, that the agreement may not be resolved in the end, no matter how promising the situation may seem at the moment. Mohammed Javad Zarif on the other side, stated that "the lifting of the trade sanctions is the ultimate objective for Iran, and remains their main concern in the nuclear negotiations".

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