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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.

Iran

Friends, Israelis and countrymen, lend me your ears

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“The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious,” eulogizes Mark Antony in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. He then goes on to sing the praises of the dead leader whose body lay on the pavement of Rome, arousing the crowd’s love, writes Fiamma Nirenstein.

History has spoken of Caesar, the protagonist of Roman history, as he deserved. This will also be the case in relation to outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, fortunately, is in very good health and may one day return as the country’s premier.

For another, as they often repeat: Caesar, or rather Netanyahu, has a difficult personality. They depict him as a cutthroat, power-hungry politician who leaves no room for others. This is the main reason for the government sworn in today: its partners—from Yamina’s Naftali Bennett to Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, as well as from Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman to New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar—all say that they have signed on to this unity government because they have been treated unjustly and with arrogance by Netanyahu.

The late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also had a problematic character. This did not prevent him, however, from saving Europe from Adolf Hitler. Similar words can and were said about Caesar, as well.

Nor has Netanyahu’s family been spared the wrath of his detractors, with his wife Sara’s personality, and his son Yair’s social-media posts part and parcel of the intolerance towards him. This is despite the fact that they have never been known to influence his clear, elaborate, Zionist strategy.

And, of course, the adjective “corrupt” is hurled at him ad abundantiam, due to his trial on charges of breach of trust, bribery and fraud. This is in spite of the fact that many jurists consider the indictments to be false and spurious—particularly those involving his ostensibly having bribed a news outlet to obtain positive press coverage, which he never received, and that he received ridiculous gifts of cigars and champagne from powerful businessmen in exchange for favors.

Netanyahu however, whose leadership is now interrupted and who’s future is uncertain, is a man at the center of major turning points in Israel’s recent history, the latest of which was the country’s victory in fighting COVID-19. His determined vaccination campaign is a testimony to his leadership. His efforts to secure a vaccine deal with Pfizer early on was for him synonymous with saving Israel, which explains not only why he “obsessively” sought it out, but also did it better than any other world leader.

This is an integral part of his drive: his perception, refined over time, that Israel is a small country with strong enemies and insecure borders that must be protected. It’s the only country that holds firm to the principles of Western values, while preserving Jewish tradition and history.

It thus requires a leader with the utmost dedication and determination, who doesn’t joke around and understands that when it comes security, no compromise is possible.

The first time that Netanyahu became prime minister in 1996 after defeating Shimon Peres, his determination seemed hard and solemn. Over time, however, he adapted his behavior, but solidified the content of his vision for the country, which he outlined during a trip to Argentina: Israel must be able to defend itself; its science and technology should be unrivaled; it needs to have the most modern weapons and the best intelligence. To accomplish this, it needs a lot of money, a free economy (with far less red tape), open markets and great foreign relations.

Here he identified his path to what has been the greatest ambition of every Israeli prime minister, from Menachem Begin to Yitzhak Rabin, from the political right to the left: peace. He understands that peace with the Palestinians deserves serious effort, which is why he has periodically frozen construction in West Bank settlements.

Moreover, in 2009, he became the first leader in Likud’s history to publicly adhere to the notion of “two states for two peoples.” That said, he also understands—unlike former U.S. President Barack Obama, who tried to impose on him that slippery and inconclusive terrain of territorial concessions after the failure of the Oslo Accords—that negotiations aren’t making any headway because the Palestinians actually reject the existence of the Jewish state.

It is for this reason that he has pursued an effective regional strategy, which could include the Palestinians in the future, through the Abraham Accords. His gaining of sympathy from neighboring Arab countries for his project is based, above all, on his courageous determination to oppose even the United States, or rather Obama, when Iran became a deceptive interlocutor for them. Netanyahu knows that his choice to speak sincerely before the US Congress in 2015 about the Iranian nuclear threat was risky and critical, but it opened doors to an incredible broadening of horizons among Islamic countries facing that same threat.

Through his strategy, Netanyahu has pushed Israel on the path of its long-term mission as a small but great beneficent power—one that can help other countries tackle issues from water conservation to the fight against terrorism, from satellites to vaccines and from high-tech to medicine. In short, Israel under Netanyahu has become indispensable to the entire world.

Today, however, the new “noble” men and women of Israel’s next government not only say that their coalition is going to save the nation from them, but that they have accomplished an essential historical achievement. They list a number of reasons for these claims—which, by the way, far outweigh the unclear strategy of their eight-party governing coalition.

For one thing, they say, no matter how valuable a leader may be in a democracy, a 12-year term in power is an anomaly that (beyond arousing envy) has led to the undermining of democracy itself. They treacherously insist that this has been Netanyahu’s intent.

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Iranian Opposition rally in front of US embassy in Brussels to ask US and EU for a firm policy towards Iranian regime

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Following the G7 summit in London, Brussels hosts the NATO summit with US and EU leaders. It is the first trip of President Joe Biden outside the US. Meanwhile, the Iran deal negotiations have started in Vienna and despite the international efforts to return Iran and the US to compliance with the JCPOA, Iranians regime showed no interest to return to its commitments under JCPOA context. In the recent IAEA report, important concerns have been raised that the Iranian regime failed to address.

The Iranian diaspora, supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran in Belgium, held a rally today (14 June) in front of the US embassy in Belgium. They held posters and banners with the picture of Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian opposition movement who has declared a non-nuclear Iran in her 10-point plan for the free and democratic Iran.

In their posters and slogans, Iranians asked the US and the EU to work harder to hold the mullahs’ regime accountable for its human rights violations too. The protesters emphasized the need for a decisive policy by the US and the European countries to harness the mullahs’ quest for a nuclear bomb, stepped up repression at home, and terrorist activities abroad.

According to the new IAEA report, despite the previous agreement, the clerical regime refuses to answer IAEA questions on four disputed sites and (to kill time) has postponed further talks until after its presidential election. According to the report, the regime's enriched uranium reserves have reached 16 times the limit allowed in the nuclear deal. The production of 2.4 kg of 60% enriched uranium and about 62.8kg of 20% enriched uranium are of grave concern.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said: Despite agreed terms, “After many months, Iran has not provided the necessary explanation for the presence of the nuclear material particles…We are facing a country that has an advanced and ambitious nuclear program and is enriching Uranium very close to weapons-grade level.”

Grossi’s remarks, also reported by Reuters today, reiterated: “The lack of clarification of the agency’s questions regarding the accuracy and integrity of Iran’s Safeguard Declaration will seriously affect the agency’s ability to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Maryam Rajavi (pictured), the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said that the recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the remarks by its Director-General once again show that to guarantee its survival, the clerical regime has not abandoned its atomic bomb project. It also shows that to buy time, the regime has continued its policy of secrecy to mislead the international community. At the same time, the regime is blackmailing its foreign interlocutors into lifting sanctions and ignoring its missile programs, export of terrorism, and criminal meddling in the region.

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Iran fails to explain uranium traces found at several sites - IAEA report

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Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Iran has failed to explain traces of uranium found at several undeclared sites, a report by the UN nuclear watchdog showed on Monday (31 May), possibly setting up a fresh diplomatic clash between Tehran and the West that could derail wider nuclear talks, writes Francois Murphy.

Three months ago Britain, France and Germany scrapped a US-backed plan for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors to criticize Iran for failing to fully explain the origin of the particles; the three backed off as IAEA chief Rafael Grossi announced fresh talks with Iran.

"After many months, Iran has not provided the necessary explanation for the presence of the nuclear material particles at any of the three locations where the Agency has conducted complementary accesses (inspections)," a report by Grossi to member states seen by Reuters said.

It will now be up to the three European powers to decide whether to revive their push for a resolution criticising Iran, which could undermine wider negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal at talks currently under way in Vienna. Grossi had hoped to report progress before the board meets again next week.

"The Director General is concerned that the technical discussions between the Agency and Iran have not yielded the expected results," the report said.

"The lack of progress in clarifying the Agency's questions concerning the correctness and completeness of Iran's safeguards declarations seriously affects the ability of the Agency to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme," it added.

In a separate quarterly report also sent to member states on Monday and seen by Reuters, the agency gave an indication of the damage done to Iran’s production of enriched uranium by an explosion and power cut at its Natanz site last month that Tehran has blamed on Israel.

Iran's quarterly increase in its stock of enriched uranium was the lowest since August 2019 at just 273 kg, bringing the total to 3,241 kg, according to an IAEA estimate. It was not able to fully verify the stock because Iran has downgraded cooperation.

That total is many times the 202.8 kg limit set by the nuclear deal, but still well below the more than six tonnes Iran possessed before the deal.

At Iran's main enrichment plant, which is underground at Natanz, the agency verified on May 24 that 20 cascades, or clusters, of different types of centrifuges were being fed with uranium hexafluoride feedstock for enrichment. A senior diplomat said that before the explosion that figure was 35-37.

After Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2018 under President Donald Trump and re-imposed crippling economic sanctions against Tehran, Iran began breaching the deal's restrictions on its nuclear activities as of 2019.

One of its more recent breaches, enriching uranium to 60%, a big step towards weapons-grade from the 20% it had previously reached and the deal's 3.67% limit, continued. The IAEA estimated that Iran had produced 2.4 kg of uranium enriched to that level and 62.8 kg of uranium enriched to up to 20%.

Iran’s production of experimental quantities of uranium metal, which is prohibited under the deal and has prompted protests by Western powers because of its potential use in the core of nuclear weapons, also continued. Iran produced 2.42 kg, the IAEA reported, up from 3.6 grams three months ago.

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