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Iran negotiator cancels dinner with EU’s Ashton

March 17, 2014

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister cancelled a planned dinner meeting with the European Union’s foreign policy chief on Monday over meetings she had with opposition activists during a visit to Iran earlier this month, Semiofficial Fars news agency reported.

It said Mohammad Javad Zarif’s cancellation of Monday’s scheduled dinner with Catherine Ashton in Vienna was intended to protest “uncoordinated meetings in Tehran,” a reference to her meeting with female opposition activists convicted of rioting after the disputed 2009 election, including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann, confirmed there was no dinner but declined to say if it was cancelled by the Iranians, adding only that Ashton and Zarif had met recently in Tehran so there was less need for them to meet again ahead of Tuesday’s round.

“The High representative was in Iran last weekend and spent a great deal of time with the minister,” he said. “There’s therefore less need for a dinner this time... She has preparatory work to do with her team.”

Zarif was in the Austrian capital for talks with world powers over the Islamic Republic’s contested nuclear program. The six powers fear the program could be used to make a nuclear weapon and seek to scale it back, although Tehran denies it has a military dimension. If a deal is reached, all sanctions imposed over the program will be lifted.

Earlier Monday, Iran said that an alleged attempt to sabotage one of its nuclear facilities had involved foreign intelligence agencies who tampered with imported pumps.

Asghar Zarean, in charge of nuclear security for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, was commenting on claims regarding the heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak in the center of the country. Iran first made the charges Saturday.

Tehran has accused the Israel, the U.S. and their allies of undermining its nuclear program through covert operations. It says its adversaries regularly engineer sales of faulty equipment and attacks by computer viruses.

Zarean said in comments posted on state TV’s website that the contractor who sold the pumps did not know they were faulty. He did not identify the contractor.

“Foreigners were behind it and contractors had no specific role. The (intelligence agencies) exploited the contractors’ lack of knowledge,” he said.

In the past, computer viruses have also attacked Iranian nuclear facilities. In 2010, the so-called Stuxnet virus temporarily disrupted operation of thousands of centrifuges, key components in nuclear fuel production, at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

Israel has never commented on the allegations but is widely believed to have been involved in the Stuxnet attack.

Some Iranian officials have also suggested in the past that specific European companies may have sold faulty equipment to Iran with the knowledge of American intelligence agencies and their own governments, since the equipment would have harmed, rather than helped, the country’s nuclear program.

Since then, Iran has also said that it discovered tiny timed explosives planted on centrifuges but disabled them before they could go off. Authorities now claim the Islamic Republic is immune to cyberattacks.

Update hourly