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Expatriates urge stronger EU policy on Iran in a global statement

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More than 200 Iranian expatriate organizations have sent a letter to Charles Michel, the president of the Council of Europe, urging a change in policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. The letter was also addressed the Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and it echoed prior statements from individual organizations which lamented a relative lack of attention to malign activity from the Iranian regime, writes Shahin Gobadi.

The latest statement comes about two weeks after an Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was convicted of plotting a terrorist attack on a gathering of tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates just outside of Paris. The trial began in a Belgian federal court last November and concluded on February 4 with guilty verdicts for Assadi and three co-conspirators. It revealed that Assadi, the third counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, had personally smuggled an explosive device into Europe and also that he had been running a network of operatives spanning at least 11 European countries, for years before the attempted bombing of the 2018 Free Iran rally in Paris.

The Iranian organizations’ statement refers to that plot in the interest of suggesting that it is part of a larger pattern, and also that that pattern is partly the result of “unwarranted concessions” that the Iranian regime has received from Western powers, including those associated with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “After that deal, the regime’s terrorist activities widened so alarmingly that it prompted many European countries to expel its embassy functionaries,” the statement said, referring to incidents in France, Albania, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

In Albania alone, the Iranian ambassador was expelled along with three lower-level diplomats in 2018, as a result of a plot that was foiled about three months before the attempted attack in France. In that case, Iranian operatives allegedly planned to detonate a truck bomb at the Persian New Year celebration of members of the leading Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (also known as MEK), after they were relocated from their embattled community in Iraq.

National Council of Resistance of Iran, the coalition of Iranian opposition, in which MEK plays an integral role, organized the June 2018 rally in France. NCRI President-Elect Maryam Rajavi was the keynote speaker.

These two incidents seemingly reflect growing conflict between the Iranian regime and a global community of activists pushing for democratic governance as an alternative to the regime’s theocratic dictatorship.

This too was directly referenced in the recent statement as a cause for more assertive European policies, and an example of how recent policies have been deficient. It warned that conciliatory trends would only “embolden the regime to continue its egregious human rights abuses, its terrorism, and its malign activities,” all in the interest of suppressing a strong and growing trend of opposition among Iran’s domestic population and the Iranian expatriate community.

“The EU must recognize and support the overwhelming majority of Iranians’ desire for change, reflected in three major uprisings since 2017,” the statement said. The first of those uprisings began in December 2017 and quickly spread to more than 100 Iranian cities and towns. In January 2018, the movement came to be defined by provocative slogans like “death to the dictator” and explicit calls for regime change, which in turn prompted Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to begrudgingly acknowledge that the MEK had played a major role in organizing demonstrations.

Khamenei’s statement no doubt influence the regime’s response to subsequent protests, including the second nationwide uprising in November 2019. In that case, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps opened fire on crowds of protesters in numerous localities, killing an estimated 1,500 people in just a few days. Thousands of other participants in the uprising were arrested, and the recent statement suggests that they might comprise some of the roughly 60 executions that have already been carried out by the Iranian judiciary in the first two months of 2021.

But regardless of the exact identity of those executed detainees, the statement emphasizes that the statistics alone are evidence of “the mullahs’ complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Iranian people.” This phenomenon stands alongside “terrorism directed against dissidents on European soil” and “destabilizing activities in the Middle East,” as reasons why so many Iranian expatriates believe Europe has been delinquent in its responsibilities vis-à-vis interactions with the Iranian regime.

The statement goes so far as to suggest that the European Union and its member states should sever diplomatic and trade ties with Iran almost entirely, closing embassies and making future commerce conditional on confirmation that each of these malign trends have been reversed. The statement also urges European governments and institutions to designate the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian Intelligence Ministry as terrorist entities and to “prosecute, punish and expel their agents and mercenaries” as well as Iranian officials who are believed to have direct involvement in terrorist activity or human rights abuses.

Furthermore, by implicating officials such as Foreign Ministry Javad Zarif in those activities, the statement deliberately impugns the legitimacy of the entire regime as a global representative of the Iranian people. It concludes by suggesting that “the illegitimate and cruel clerical regime” should no longer have representation in the United Nations or other international bodies, and that its seats should be given instead to “the NCRI as the democratic alternative to the regime.”

Of course, this is only one of many ways in which the international community could help fulfill the statement’s more general demand for formal recognition of “the Iranian people’s legitimate struggle to overthrow a tyrannical and abusive regime and instead establish democracy and people’s sovereignty.”

The statement to this effect was signed by representatives of Iranian communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Romania.

Additionally, supporters of the NCRI gathered outside the EU headquarters on Monday in a rally that reiterated the message of that statement for attendees at the latest meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.

EU

European politicians condemn upcoming business forum with Iran which ignores Iranian terrorism on European soil

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A group of senior European politicians took part in an online conference to express outrage over the European Union’s silence vis-à-vis the recent conviction and imprisonment of an Iranian diplomat and three of his accomplices for terrorism and attempted murder in Belgium. The conference took particular aim at Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, who is scheduled to take part in the Europe-Iran Business Forum on March 1 alongside Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, writes Shahin Gobadi.

Borrell and Zarif are both being promoted as keynote speakers at that three-day virtual event, organized by the International Trade Centre and funded by the EU. Critics of the Business Forum described it as an endorsement of “business as usual” approach by the EU toward the Iran regime, which they insist is neither a practical nor a desirable objective as long as Tehran continues to use terrorism as a form of statecraft. The speakers urged Borrell and other European officials to cancel their participation in this conference.

Giulio Terzi, minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy (2011-2013), Hermann Tertsch, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament from Spain, Dr. Alejo Vidal Quadras, a former EP Vice-President, Struan Stevenson, former MEP from Scotland, and Paulo Casaca, former MEP from Portugal, took part in Thursday’s (25 February) conference.

The International Committee of “In Search of Justice” (ISJ), a Brussels-registered NGO that seeks to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, peace and stability in Iran, organized the virtual conference.

Speakers focused on the case of Assadollah Assadi, the Third Counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, who he hatched a plot to bomb the “Free Iran” gathering held north of Paris on June 30, 2018. Tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from across the world took part in that event, along with hundreds of political dignitaries. The prime target of Assadi’s foiled plot was the keynote speaker, Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). On February 4, Assadi received a 20-year prison term and three co-conspirators were sentenced to 15-18 years in jail.

The trial established that Assadi was supervising a terrorist network that spanned the EU and that he had collected and tested a bomb in Tehran for use against the Free Iran rally, and then transported it to Vienna on a commercial airliner, using a diplomatic pouch. From there, Assadi passed the device to two of his co-conspirators, along with directions for its use.

Participants in Thursday’s conference pointed out that Assadi had been exposed as a senior officer of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), an officially designated terrorist organization. The European politicians warned that if the EU’s failure to take retaliatory and punitive measures against Iran over this terror plot will embolden the regime to engage in even larger terrorist conspiracies on European soil.

Hermann Tertsch strongly condemned Borrells’ approach toward Tehran, saying that he was compromising the integrity of Europe, adding that Europe cannot keep it as business as usual posture in dealing with Tehran after the court ruling. He said he expects that the European Parliament strongly and vocally oppose the scheduled business summit forum and added that he and other MEPs are very much committed to be the loud voice to the international community to stop the Business Forum.

According to ambassador Terzi: “Borrell is in charge of the security policy of the European people, all people who are residing in Europe. He does not do this at all.”, adding, “his approach to Tehran goes far beyond appeasement: it is total surrender.”

He added that Borrell’s participation in the business forum makes it appear as though nothing has happened and that he is under the illusion that not addressing the case and the court ruling by a Belgian court convicting Assadi and the three terrorists would serve Europe’s business interests. This is not diplomacy. Diplomacy should be an element of deterrence when it comes to security of our countries.

The speakers also noted that Europe should address the Iranian regime’s appalling human right record and the dramatic surge in the number of executions in recent weeks.

Dr. Vidal Quadras denounced the Europe-Iran Business Forum as an example of Western appeasement of the Iranian regime, calling it a shameful act of cowardice. The speakers said that it was absolutely essential for the safety and security of EU citizens that Mr. Borrell and the EU External Service close Iran’s embassies and make all future diplomatic relations contingent on the regime ending its terrorism on European soil. They also specifically demanded action against Foreign Minister Zarif for his role in the murderous bomb plot in Paris.

According to Mr. Stevenson: “If you allow this business forum to go ahead Mr Borrell, you will be sending the clearest possible signal to the fascist regime in Tehran that as far as Europe is concerned, trade matters more than human rights. Terrorism and brutality can be ignored, so long as EU businesses can make money. EU jobs mean more than Iranian lives.”

Paulo Casaca, who was spokesman for the Socialist Group and a member of the budget control committee in the European parliament, said: “Every European expenditure, as in any state following the rule of law, has to be legal and regular. The European Union Treaty sets, in the most unequivocal way, in article 21, the guidelines for the EU’s action on the international scene and therefore, to pay for propaganda of a regime that embodies the reverse of these principles in the wake of masterminding a terrorist attack on European soil is illegal and should be stopped by the European Parliament.” 

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Iran

EU foreign affairs chief sounds optimistic on possibility of meeting to revive nuclear agreement with Iran

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EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (pictured) sounded quite optimistic Monday about the possibility of a EU-led meeting to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, after a video conference between the 27 EU Foreign Ministers and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It was the first such conversation on various world issues with the top US diplomat since the Biden administration took office, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

‘’I hope that in the next days there will be news,’’ said Borrell at a press conference after the Foreign Affairs Council meeting.

He added, ‘’We discussed the worrying recent developments in the nuclear field. We need to bring back full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and IRAN, both as regards nuclear commitments and when it comes to sanctions lifting. This is the only way forward, and is in the interest of global and regional security.’’

The US under former President Trump left the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions on Iran. Since then, Tehran has intensified its uranium enrichment

But last week, the Biden administration offered to talk to Iran under the aegis of the European Union in an effort to revive the nuclear deal.

“We are of course concerned that Iran has over time moved away from its commitments under the JCPOA. There is now a proposition on the table; If Iran returns to full compliance, we will be prepared to do the same,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

Borrell said that ‘’intense diplomatic contacts’’ are ongoing these days, including with the United States. ‘’As JCPOA Coordinator, it is my job to help create space for diplomacy and to find solutions. And the work on this is ongoing. I informed the Ministers and I hope that in the next days there will be news,’’ he said.

Borell called the discussion with Blinken ‘’very positive’’. ‘’The next days and weeks will prove that working together (with the US) delivers,’’ he said.

The US State Department spokesperson said Blinken ‘’highlighted the United States’ commitment to repairing, revitalizing, and raising the level of ambition in the US-EU relationship.’’

Borrell noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency has reached a temporary technical understanding with Iran that ‘’will allow a sufficient level of monitoring and verification in the coming months.’’  ‘’This gives us a window of opportunity and time, the time needed in order to try to reinvigorate the JCPOA,’’ he said as Tehran has increased its use of advanced centrifuges and begun producing  quantities of uranium metal, essential for building nuclear warheads.

Tehran has threatened to expel inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visiting the nuclear facilities this week.

The U.S. announcement that it was ready to talk directly with Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement was met with concern in Israel, amid accelerating Iranian breaches of the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities.

“Israel remains committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and its position on the nuclear agreement has not changed,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Friday. “Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. Israel is in close contact with the United States on this matter.”

“With or without an agreement,” he added, “we will do everything so Iran isn’t armed with nuclear weapons,” he said.

Israel views the E3, the three  European countries who are part of the nuclear deal with Iran-  France, Germany and the UK – as more open to the Israeli position in recent months, according to a report by KAN, the Israeli public broadcasting channel, due to Iran’s repeated violations of the deal’s limitations. The E3 have pointed out that Iran’s announcement of more uranium enrichment and production of uranium metal have no credible civilian use.

Israel has increased pressure on the E3 to try to talk them out of rejoining the old Iran deal, KAN reported.

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Germany

Germany urges Iran to comply with nuclear pact

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (pictured) called on Monday (22 February) for salvaging the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers which he said was in Tehran’s interest, writes Stephanie Nebehay.

Addressing the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, he noted the Biden’s administration’s stated readiness to rejoin the pact, adding: “It is in Iran’s best interest to change course now, before the agreement is damaged beyond repair.”

Maas said that Germany expected “full compliance, full transparency and full cooperation” from Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose chief Rafael Grossi returned on Sunday from a trip to Tehran.

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