TEHERAN Iranian newspapers on Monday welcomed European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's weekend visit to Teheran although her focus on human rights came under criticism.
Ms Ashton met on Sunday with top Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
"Iran and Europe enter an era of cooperation," ran the headline in government-run daily Iran alongside a picture of the Rouhani-Ashton meeting.
According to the president's office, Ms Ashton delivered "the goodwill message" of the 28-member European bloc to Mr Rouhani.
Ms Ashton is tasked with coordinating a diplomatic push by six world powers in talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear drive.
Those talks culminated in an interim deal in November, but ongoing negotiations on a final accord will be challenging, she warned at a joint press conference with Mr Zarif.
The reformist Arman daily said her mission signalled "an extensive revision of the European Union's approach towards Iran," recalling a string of visits by European top diplomats in recent months.
Another reformist paper, Shargh, argued the visit was a foreign policy success for Rouhani, who came to power in August vowing to mend strained ties with the outside world.
Iranian media said Ashton also met with rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who has served time in jail, and the mother of Sattar Beheshti, a blogger who died in detention under unclear circumstances.
A hardline figure in Iran's armed forces condemned the encounter, with his remarks echoed by conservative newspapers.
"Ashton's meeting with some notorious people is proof of a violation of diplomatic rules and a harbinger of future interference" in Iran's internal affairs, said General Masoud Jazayeri, quoted by Fars news agency.
Shargh newspaper criticised what it termed the West's double standards in putting the spotlight on human rights while at the same time imposing sanctions over Iran's nuclear drive.
"Ashton can visit Iranian medical centres and think about the fate of patients who could face death because they do not have access to drugs," it said in an editorial.
It was referring to curbs on financial transactions between Western firms and Teheran, making the procurement of medicine nearly impossible.
"When she gets on a safe plane to Isfahan, she can also reflect on the fact that ... having safe planes is the right of all human beings," Shargh wrote, referring to a US embargo against Iran's civilian aviation prior to the interim nuclear deal.
On the final day of her mission, Ms Ashton was visiting the historic city of Isfahan on Monday.