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WTO to Begin Membership Talks with Iran

  • Lisa Schlein

After nine years of beating on the doors of the World Trade Organization, Iran has been allowed to begin negotiations to join the body. The deal was struck after the United States dropped its long-standing veto.

The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva calls the decision long overdue. And, he says after nine years of fruitless efforts to gain entry, WTO member states finally have corrected a wrong.

The Swiss ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Pierre-Louis Girard, says everybody is pleased with the decision. He says he believes the determination to admit a country into the organization should be based on trade considerations, not on political ones.

"It is good to have countries involved into a system of common rules and common behaviors and common commitments," he said. "That is the basis of the world we are trying to live in."

But diplomats see this as a first payoff for Iran's resolve to continue its freeze on its uranium enrichment program.

WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell agrees that Iran's difficulty in getting its foot into the WTO's door had more to do with politics than trade or commercial issues.

"These are problems that have to do with other issues, nuclear power and things like that which really are outside our orbit," he said. "But, I understand the meeting here in Geneva with the three European foreign ministers and the Iranian delegation went well and I am sure that had much to do with the fact we have gone forward with this item today."

On Wednesday, Iran struck a deal with three European foreign ministers to suspend its nuclear activities until the end of July. As a consequence, the United States did not block Iran's entry into the World Trade Organization as it has done in the past.

Washington accuses Tehran of wanting to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies this. It says its nuclear program is for peaceful, electricity generating purposes only. In March, the United States said it would allow Iran to begin talks to join the World Trade Organization, if it abandoned plans to build its nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Rockwell notes it took China 16 years of negotiations before it finally was allowed to join the World Trade Organization. He says Iran's membership process also is likely to go on for years.

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