Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that he was "eager" to start a human rights dialogue with the European Union, but insisted to EU lawmakers that it must be a "mutual" conversation, not a one-way street.
Zarif has been on a two-day visit to Brussels aimed at rebuilding relations following the lifting of sanctions related to Iran's nuclear programme, in the wake of a deal reached last year with global powers.
The country has also come under scrutiny for its human-rights record, which has led to separate EU sanctions being imposed on Tehran and has drawn strong criticism from the European Parliament.
But Zarif said Tuesday that his country welcomed a serious dialogue on the issue, as long as this is not a "monologue." He said Iran was far more democratic than neighbouring countries, while acknowledging that Tehran's human-rights record left room for "improvement."
"I do not want to start by preaching about the values that we keep dear in our traditions and in our societies, and I expect not to be preached on the values that you consider to be dear, but we can engage in a serious discourse," Zarif said.
One issue that Europeans must address is extremism, he noted.
"We all need to understand why some who behead innocent individuals in our part of the world speak European languages with perfect accents," he said, adding that "none of them speak Persian with perfect accents."
The Islamic State extremist group has posted several videos online in which militants with British or French accents are shown executing prisoners. The EU is trying to clamp down on such foreign fighters, European nationals who join extremist groups in Iraq or Syria.