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.
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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