Slovenian Prime Minister Janez JanÅ¡a may hold the rotating EU Council presidency, but he â€œdoes not representâ€ the EU in foreign policy, the blocâ€™s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said Monday â€”Â a reaction to comments by JanÅ¡a that sparked tensions with Iran.
Borrellâ€™s unusual statement to reporters came after JanÅ¡a on Saturday demanded an international inquiry into the 1988 executions of Iranian political prisoners. These killings led to at least 2,000 deaths, according to Amnesty International, with some observers putting the number much higher.
JanÅ¡aâ€™s comments, made in a video address to the annual Free Iran World Summit organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, also referred to Amnesty Internationalâ€™s demands to investigate Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi over his alleged involvement in the executions. â€œFor nearly 33 years, the world had forgotten about the victims of the massacre. This should change,â€ Jansa said in his address.
The speech triggered a strong reaction from Tehran, with a spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry condemning the remarks as â€œunacceptable, against diplomatic norms and spirit,â€ according to media reports.
The diplomatic dust-up highlights the EUâ€™s growing struggles with the controversial Slovenian leaderâ€™s current prominent role within the bloc after Slovenia assumed the EUâ€™s rotating presidency at the beginning of July. It also served as a reminder of the messaging confusion that comes with the EUâ€™s multiple layers of leadership and representation, leaving it unclear at times who speaks for the entire bloc.
Asked about the tense back-and-forth at a press conference following an EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday, Borrell said that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had called him on Sunday to ask â€œif the declarations of the Slovenian prime minister represent the official position of the European Union, given that there had been a certain confusion related to the fact that Slovenia is currently the country holding the rotating presidency of the Council.â€
The EU foreign policy representative said he told Zarif that â€œin our institutional setting, the position of a prime minister â€” even if heâ€™s from the country that holds the rotating Council presidency â€” does not represent the position of the European Union.â€
Borrell argued that only the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, could represent the EU at the level of heads of state and government.
He added: â€œForeign policy remains a competency of [EU] member states and each member state can have the opinion that it sees fit for each issue of international politics. â€¦ For me itâ€™s only up to say whether this position [by JanÅ¡a] â€¦ represents the European Union. And certainly it does not.â€
Borrell further said that the EU had â€œa balanced positionâ€ on Iran â€œthat puts political pressure when itâ€™s considered necessary, in many areas, and at the same time looks for cooperation when it is necessary.â€
Several EU member states â€”Â with the EUâ€™s backing â€”Â are currently trying to help resurrect the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, for instance.
â€œI have nothing to say about the opinions of the Slovenian Prime Minister,â€ Borrell said. â€œItâ€™s his responsibility, but he does not represent the European Union.â€
A spokesperson for the Slovenian representation to the EU said that â€œSlovenia has no intention whatsoever of getting involved in Iranâ€™s internal affairs,â€ but added that the country â€œalways advocates for human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is in line with our values and legislation.â€
The spokesperson remarked that Borrell â€œhas already made clear that the statements made [by JanÅ¡a] had not been on behalf of the EU.â€
David Herszenhorn contributed reporting.