Italy’s foreign minister announces Iran visit

Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino will visit Iran, her ministry said on Friday, less than a month after meeting her Iranian counterpart in Rome.

Italy's foreign minister announces Iran visit
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and his Italian counterpart, Emma Bonino, in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

While the date of Bonino’s visit has not been confirmed by the foreign ministry, Italian media reported she would be travelling to Iran “in the next few days”.

The announcement follows the nuclear deal reached between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, in Geneva on November 24th.

As part of the deal Iran agreed to halt uranium enrichment above purities of five percent, in exchange for $7 billion (€5.1 billion) in sanctions relief.

While Italy was excluded from the talks in Switzerland, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif travelled to Rome in November to meet with Bonino.

At a joint press conference on November 19th, Bonino said she hoped a nuclear deal would “restart our full political relationship”.

“I think that this is the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship with the [government] agency that can bring concrete results. I think we are facing a historical occasion,” Bonino said.

Al Alizadeh, an Iranian political analyst, told The Local that Bonino's visit to Iran "could be very beneficial for the EU".

"The Italian relationship is the least problematic one Iran has in the EU. Bonino’s visit opens the gate to other European foreign ministers to visit Iran; it’s a very important symbolic step," he said.

Bonino's visit could not have been possible before the Geneva deal was reached, Alizadeh said, as Italy was bound by the EU's isolationist policy towards Iran.

"Even though Italy was not part of the agreement, it has been a very significant economic partner with Iran. The sanctions caused by the nuclear dispute has affected the Italy relationship," Alizadeh told The Local.

In addition to rebuilding business links, Zarif said in Rome that there were “a number of possibilities” for Iran to work with Italy such as “collaborating together for peace and security in our region”.

Iran’s foreign minister was appointed earlier this year following the election of President Hassan Rouhani, who has taken a more open approach to international diplomacy as Iran struggles under the burden of economic sanctions.

Bonino last month said Italy has followed “with attention and respect, the new signal that has arrived from Iran” following Rouhani’s election.

The two foreign ministers have also discussed instability in the Middle East, such as the ongoing civil war in Syria.

“The situation in the region is so complicated, I think that Iran should be part of the solution not part of the problem,” Bonino said in November.

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Italy tells Iran of ‘extreme concern’ for scientist who could face death penalty

The Italian government expressed alarm on Monday about the fate of an Iranian academic detained in Tehran for nearly a year and reportedly sentenced to death for espionage.

Italy tells Iran of 'extreme concern' for scientist who could face death penalty
Italy's foreign minister, Angelino Alfano. Photo: AFP

Ahmadreza Djalali, who used to work at the University of Eastern Piedmont, was arrested on April 25th 2016 when in the Iranian capital for a conference, according to Italian media.

The foreign ministry in Rome said in a statement it had “activated its channels of communication with the Iranian authorities to highlight its extreme concern” about the 45-year-old.

Stressing his academic links, the ministry sought information about Djalali's detention — he is reportedly in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison — and asked “that he be quickly returned to his family”.

Djalali's wife, who is living in Stockholm with the couple's two children, told Corriere della Sera that he faced “the death penalty for collaboration with enemy states”. 

Djalali worked at the University of Eastern Piedmont between 2012 and 2015 and also had employment in Belgium.

There has been no comment from Iranian officials or media about his case.

Djalali is resident in Sweden where he conducts research in disaster medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. 

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven discussed human rights on a visit to Iran at the weekend but did not say if he had specifically mentioned Djalali's case.