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European delegation calls off Iran visit after blocked from prison visits

A delegation from the European Parliament has called off plans to visit Iran after being refused guarantees they could visit two jailed activists awarded freedom prizes, officials said Sunday.

The trip, scheduled for its first full day on Sunday, had brought criticism from some conservative European politicians, claiming it sent mixed messages as the European Union tightens sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. A senior Iranian lawmaker, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, was quoted by the semiofficial Mehr news agency as blaming Israeli pressure for the cancellation.

But Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said the decision was made after Iranian authorities said the five-member delegation could not visit with jailed Iranian dissidents Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi.

The European Parliament awarded the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Soutedeh, a human rights lawyer, and Panahi, a filmmaker who won the Camera d'Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Both were charged with roles in supporting the opposition in post-election unrest in 2009.

The European delegates hoped to personally deliver invitations for the award ceremony in Strasbourg in December.

Tarja Cronberg, a Finn who chairs the European Parliament delegation for relations with Iran, was told by the Iranian ambassador to the European Union on Saturday that it was impossible to guarantee a visit to Tehran's Evin prison "at such short notice." Cronberg then decided to cancel the trip, which has been scheduled to run to Nov. 2 and include meetings with Iranian lawmakers and representatives from civil society groups.

"I deeply regret that permission to meet the Sakharov laureates was withheld," Schulz said. "The European Parliament is nevertheless determined to continue its support for and involvement with the Iranian civil society."

The Iranian lawmaker Boroujerdi was quoted as saying that the visit was cancelled after Iran rejected preconditions. He heads the parliament's Committee on National Security.

Meanwhile, a German parliamentary committee arrived in Tehran for a six-day visit on Sunday, Mehr reported.

Mehr quoted Hossein Sheikholeslam, an adviser to Iran's parliamentary speaker, that the German group has already arrived in the country and are on the visit to central Iranian city of Isfahan.

The group will meet several Iranian top lawmakers as well as the director of the human rights committee of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. They also are scheduled to visit Qom, the center of Shiite religious study about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Tehran.

The trip by the group has been scheduled within the Iran-Germany parliamentary friendship group, headed by Iranian-born Bijan Jirsarai, a member of Germany's parliament. Before tighter EU sanctions, Germany was a major trading partner with Iran.

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Associated Press writer Don Melvin in Brussels contributed to this report.