A Brussels-based non-government organization, the International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ), has issued a statement decrying what it views as European neglect of a Belgian court case that concluded two weeks ago with a guilty verdict for a high-ranking Iranian diplomat. The principal defendant, Assadollah Assadi, was third counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna in summer of 2018, when he was identified as the mastermind of a plot to bomb a rally of Iranian expatriates and pro-democracy activists just outside Paris on 30 June, 2018.
Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of conspiring to commit terrorist murder, and three co-defendants received sentences ranging from 15 to 18 years. The details of the case suggest that those three individuals were only part of a much larger network that Assadi was running, and this has prompted many calls for a comprehensive political response to the situation in the wake of Assadi’s conviction.
In adding to those calls, the recent ISJ statement warned that an absence of accountability would effectively be an invitation for further terrorist plots on European soil. The 2018 plot was thwarted through the cooperation of multiple European law enforcement agencies, but it is generally understood that if it had been carried out successfully it would have resulted in hundreds if not thousands of fatalities.
The target event, an annual rally organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, was attended by an estimated 100,000 people, including hundreds of political dignitaries from throughout the world. European and American lawmakers, scholars, and foreign policy experts sat in a VIP section throughout the event, where they were at elevated risk of becoming collateral damage in the Iranian regime’s attempt to kill the event’s keynote speaker, NCRI President Maryam Rajavi.
The Assadi trial established both that the would-be bombers had been given instructions to place the device as close to her as possible and that those instructions could ultimately be traced back to Tehran. A full year ahead of the guilty verdict, the Belgian National Security Service said in a report, “The plans for the attack were developed in the name of Iran at the request of its leadership. Assadi didn’t initiate the plans himself.”
The NCRI was more specific, noting that the plans originated with the Supreme National Security Council, with input from both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. The ISJ statement reiterated this point, naming both Khamenei and Rouhani alongside Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi after declaring that “Assadi’s terrorist outrage was planned and ordered from the highest echelons of the regime.”
On that basis, ISJ recommends holding the regime’s leadership to account, which might include sanctions or indictments. The organization’s statement also condemns the leadership of the European Union for apparently pursuing contrary policies and legitimizing the very figures that the regime’s critics believe should be held accountable for the terrorist plot.
“Far from seeking to indict Zarif for this crime,” the statement says, “it appears that [EU head of foreign policy] Josep Borrell is again determined to reinstate his proposed 3-day online business conference with the Iranian regime, financed by the EU, at which Zarif will be a keynote speaker.” The event in question, the Europe-Iran Business Forum, was organized by the International Trade Centre and originally scheduled for December, but was postponed amidst international outrage over the Iranian regime’s execution, that month, of opposition journalist Ruhollah Zam.
The Forum’s recently-announced March 1 start date is arguably indicative of how much less attention has been focused on the potential deaths of hundreds of dissidents at the Paris rally, as compared to the actual death of one dissident in an Iranian prison. In the view of ISJ, whose work is focused on promoting democracy and human rights in Iran, this relative silence represents “catastrophic capitulation” to the clerical regime. ISJ President Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a former vice president of the European Parliament, was also quoted as saying that “blatant attempts to appease this terrorist regime are a disgrace and place EU citizens at risk from future attacks.”
Vidal-Quadras was joined in signing the statement by former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, former British Member of the European Parliament Struan Stevenson, and former Portuguese MEP Paulo Casaca. The statement was addressed to the Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, and it made specific reference to the European External Action Service as an entity that could lead the way in implementing retaliatory steps against the Iranian regime over the 2018 terror plot.
In light of the diplomatic status of that plot’s mastermind, as well as the regime’s repeated attempts to assert his diplomatic immunity in the wake of his arrest, the ISJ statement makes a point of suggesting that one of the first and most important steps the EU could take is the closure of Iranian embassies. Any restoration of ordinary diplomatic relations, the statement said, should be “contingent on Iran ending its terrorism on European soil.”
This week’s statement was not the first of its kind. Even before Assadi’s conviction, ISJ had sent another statement to Charles Michel, Josep Borrell, and President of the European Parliament David Sassoli urging much the same course of action. “Those who have ordered these terrorist acts and are among Iran’s high-ranking authorities must be pursued and brought to justice. This is a necessary and deterrent action against the godfather of international terrorism in the world today,” the earlier statement said.
In that case, Giulio Terzi’s signature appeared ahead of signatures from more than 20 other former government officials representing more than a dozen European countries. Separately, several dozen current lawmakers signed another statement addressed to Rik Daems, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which called attention to both the Assadi case and an escalating trend of domestic human rights abuses, and urged the severance of trade ties between Europe and Iran, pending noticeable changes of behavior in both these areas.
European powers warn Iran over 'dangerous' uranium enrichment move
The European countries party to the Iran nuclear deal told Tehran on Wednesday (14 April) its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity, bringing the fissile material closer to bomb-grade, was contrary to efforts to revive the 2015 accord, writes John Irish.
But in an apparent signal to Iran’s arch-adversary Israel, which Tehran blamed for an explosion at its key nuclear site on Sunday, European powers Germany, France and Britain added that they rejected “all escalatory measures by any actor”.
Israel, which the Islamic Republic does not recognise, has not formally commented on the incident at Iran’s Natanz site, which appeared the latest twist in a long-running covert war.
Last week, Iran and its fellow signatories held what they described as “constructive” talks to revive the deal, which the Trump administration quit in 2018 saying its terms favoured Tehran, and re-imposed sanctions - moves welcomed by Israel.
But Britain, France and Germany said Tehran’s new decision to enrich at 60 percent, and activate 1,000 advanced centrifuge machines at its underground Natanz plant, was not based on credible civilian reasons and constituted an important step towards the production of a nuclear weapon.
“Iran’s announcements are particularly regrettable given they come at a time when all JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) participants and the United States have started substantive discussions, with the objective of finding a rapid diplomatic solution to revitalise and restore the JCPoA,” the three countries said in a statement, referring to the 2015 deal.
“Iran’s dangerous recent communication is contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith of these discussions,” it said of the talks, which resume between Iran and global powers in Vienna on Thursday, aimed at salvaging the accord.
In an apparent rebuff later on Wednesday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the United States was trying to impose its terms for rescuing the deal and European powers were doing Washington’s bidding.
“America does not seek to accept the truth in negotiations ... Its goal in talks is to impose its own wrong wishes ... European parties to the deal follow America’s policies in talks despite acknowledging Iran’s rights,” Khamenei, who has the last word on Iranian matters of state, was quoted as saying by state television.
“The nuclear talks in Vienna must not become talks of attrition ... This is harmful for our country.”
U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January with a commitment to rejoin the deal if Tehran returns to full compliance with its restrictions on enrichment. Tehran has repeatedly said that all sanctions must be rescinded first.
“We have already declared Iran’s policy. Sanctions must be removed first. Once we are certain that has been done, we will carry out our commitments,” Khamenei said, according to semi-official Tasnim news agency.
“The offers they provide are usually arrogant and humiliating and are not worth looking at.”
The Biden administration called Iran’s 60% enrichment announcement “provocative” and said Washington was concerned.
The nuclear deal has frayed as Iran has breached its limits on uranium enrichment in a graduated response to the Trump administration reinstating harsh economic sanctions on Tehran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the decision to raise the enrichment level was a response to Sunday’s sabotage, adding Tehran had no intention of building a nuclear weapon.
“Of course, the security and intelligence officials must give the final reports, but apparently it is the crime of the Zionists, and if the Zionists act against our nation, we will answer it,” Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting.
In an allusion to the incident and Iran’s response, the European statement said: “In light of recent developments, we reject all escalatory measures by any actor, and we call upon Iran not to further complicate the diplomatic process.”
Iran’s leading Gulf foe Saudi Arabia also weighed in on Wednesday, saying it believed any revival of the nuclear deal should be a starting point for further talks that include regional states to expand the accord.
Rayd Krimly, head of policy planning at the Saudi foreign ministry, told Reuters any deal that fails to effectively address the security concerns of countries in the region would not work, and Riyadh was consulting with the global powers.
“We want to make sure at a minimum that any financial resources made available to Iran via the nuclear deal are not used...to destabilise the region,” he said.
Iran’s deal with the six powers caps the fissile purity to which it can refine uranium at 3.67%. That is well under the 20% achieved before the agreement, and far below the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.
Israel’s security services uncover Iran’s intelligence methods to use social media to lure Israelis abroad and abduct them
Israel’s Security Agency (ISA), in co-operation with the Mossad, has uncovered a method by which Iranian intelligence operatives attempted to lure Israelis to travel to various countries abroad in order to harm or abduct them, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.
"The method is based on the use of fictitious profiles on social networks and making contact with Israelis who are have international commercial contacts and travel abroad," the ISA said.
The method worked as follows:
Iranian elements created fictitious Instagram profiles of women who were seemingly engaged in business and tourism.
These profiles made contacts with Israeli civilians, coordinated meetings with them abroad and attempted to draw them into romantic or commercial meetings.
Activity of this kind is being carried out in various countries with links to Israel and with Israelis, including Arab and Gulf countries, Turkey, and countries in the Caucasus, Europe and Africa.
‘’This pattern of action is well-known and is similar to that previously used by Iran against opponents of the regime in Europe. Iran is currently using similar methods against Israeli citizens seeking to develop legitimate commercial ties in the aforementioned countries and regions,’’ the ISA statement said.
It added: ‘’There is genuine concern that such activity by Iranian operatives could lead to attempts to harm or abduct Israelis in those countries in which Iranians are active.’’
The security services called on Israelis with overseas commercial contacts to be alert and aware regarding social media contacts from unknown profiles and to avoid contact with them.
EU sanctions Iranian security officials, including powerful IRGC chief, for human rights violations
In the framework of its annual review of the EU’s Iran human rights sanctions regime, the EU announced on Monday (12 April) that it has issued sanctions against eight Iranian security officials, including the chief of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ([IRGC) and three entities over the violent response to the demonstrations in November 2019, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.
The eight people have been added to a sanctions that now comprises a total of 89 individuals and 4 entities.
‘’The Council today decided to extend its restrictive measures responding to serious human rights violations in Iran until 13 April 2022. These measures consist of a travel ban and an asset freeze, and a ban on exports to Iran of equipment which might be used for internal repression and of equipment for monitoring telecommunications,’’ an EU statement said.
The sanctions to be imposed on Iran are taken in the framework of the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime established by the Council of Ministers in December.
Since then, the EU has made use of this sanctions regime, modeled ater the U.S. Magnitsky Act, against China, North Korea, Libya, Russia, South Sudan and Erithrea.
Under this Sanctions Regime, the listed individuals and entities are subject to an asset freeze in the EU. In addition, listed individuals are subject to a travel ban to the EU and EU persons and entities are prohibited from making funds available, either directly or indirectly, to those listed.
The move to impose asset freezes and visa bans, including on the IRGC head, comes as the EU plays a mediation role between Iran and the U.S., as coordinator of the Joint Commission of the JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear deal.
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