Last updated: 19 February, 2014

Austria says president invited to Iran

Austria’s president has been invited to Iran, his office said Wednesday, in what would be the first visit by a Western head of state since President Hassan Rouhani’s election.

“Yes it is correct that the president (Heinz Fischer) has been invited to Iran,” spokeswoman Astrid Salmhofer told AFP. She declined to comment on whether the invitation would be accepted.

The 2013 election of Rouhani, a relative moderate, to succeed the more hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has led to a minor thaw in Iran’s relations with the West.

Rouhani and US President Barack Obama, whose countries have not had diplomatic relations since 1980, held an historic phone call in September.

In November, Iran and world powers struck a nuclear deal that was hailed as a major breakthrough after years of failed attempts under which Tehran has rolled back some of its activities for six months.

Iran has seen a string of high-profile recent visits including by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Italy and Sweden’s foreign ministers and British former foreign secretary Jack Straw.

In mid-January EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who was invited by Tehran, said she intended to visit the Iranian capital “in the course of the next weeks”, but no date has been revealed since.

Austria, home to oil giant OMV, is currently hosting the latest round of nuclear talks — hosted by Ashton — between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany aimed at securing a lasting accord.

Western companies are keen to see a breakthrough in the talks and the lifting of sanctions in order to be able to do business in the oil-rich Islamic republic, even though Washington has urged firms to be cautious for now.