EU must prioritize countering Iran’s state terrorism over saving the nuclear deal
More than two weeks has passed since a Belgian court found the Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi guilty of plotting to commit terrorist murder by bombing the “Free Iran” gathering organised by the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), on 30 June 2018 outside of Paris, writes Jim Higgins.
Assadi served as third counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna until being arrested one day after the date of his planned attack. His arrest was preceded by that of two co-conspirators, an Iranian-Belgian couple, who had been found in possession of 500 grams of the explosive TATP while trying to cross from Belgium into France.
The verdict announced on 4 February stemmed from a trial that began in November. Prior to the trial, a two-year investigation conclusively established that the diplomat had personally provided his co-conspirators with the bomb, along with instructions to place it as close as possible to the keynote speaker at the targeted opposition rally. That speaker was NCRI President Maryam Rajavi, who leads the pro-democracy opposition coalition.
As well as establishing the direct involvement of a high-ranking Iranian diplomat, the recently-concluded terror trial made it absolutely clear that ultimate responsibility for the plot lies with the uppermost leadership of the Islamic Republic. In a report that was released last year, the Belgian National Security Service said: “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.”
While some policymakers may be tempted to suggest that the matter has been concluded with Assadi’s conviction, the reality is that his actions of three years ago represent only one example of a much broader pattern. Assadi is the first Iranian diplomat to actually face charges as a result of his ties to terrorism. But as evidenced by the fact that other diplomats had been expelled from Europe earlier in 2018, he is by no means the first such individual to be credibly accused of those ties.
What’s more, the proceedings in his case revealed evidence that Assadi’s diplomatic position placed him at the head of a network of operatives that extended far beyond the co-conspirators in his plot against the NCRI. Documents recovered from his vehicle indicated that he had maintained contact and delivered cash payments to assets in at least 11 European countries while also taking notes about a number of points of interest all across the continent.
However, both the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Josep Borrell, have remained silent on this threat and are yet to condemn and respond to the Iranian diplomat’s conviction on a terrorism charge.
This is disconcerting given the EU’s repeated promise that the nuclear deal known as the JCPOA would not prevent it from addressing Iran’s mischiefs in other areas of serious concerns such as terrorism and human rights violations.
These concerns are shared by many senior European politicians and experts on Iran who are critical of the EU’s lack of response to the Iranian regime’s state terrorism on European soil.
Ahead of the meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels on 22 February, a Brussels-registered NGO, the International Committee of In Search of Justice (ISJ) sent a letter to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, criticising the continued silence by EU and Mr Borrell on this outrage, and urging them to intervene without delay.
The ISJ letter was signed by my former colleagues in the European Parliament, former EP Vice-President, Dr Alejo Vidal Quadras, Struan Stevenson, Paulo Casaca and Giulio Terzi, former foreign minister of Italy.
In their letter, which I fully endorse, the ISJ demanded action against Javad Zarif for his role in the murderous bomb plot because as Iran’s foreign minister, he oversees and is responsible for the activities of Iranian diplomats.
“There can surely be no further ‘business-as-usual’ with a regime that uses terrorism as statecraft. It is absolutely essential for the EU to take steps against the Iranian regime such as closing its embassies and making all future diplomatic relations contingent on Iran ending its terrorism on European soil”, the ISJ wrote and added.
“It is worth noting that back in 1997, following the assassination of 4 Iranian dissidents by Iranian agents in the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin, the EU Council and Presidency issued robust letters of condemnation and asked member states to recall their ambassadors in protest.”
Assadi’s guilty verdict justifies reviving this demand, and it ought to make the overlap between Iran’s terrorist networks and diplomatic infrastructure clear to an even broader cross-section of Western policymakers and European leaders.
With the Iranian diplomat now facing many years in prison, the work of dismantling his terror network – and others like it – has only just begun.
Given its immediate threat to civilians in Europe and the overall security of the EU, countering Iran’s state terrorism must now become a top priority for the EU and EU leaders.
Jim Higgins is an Irish former Fine Gael politician. He served as a senator, MP, and MEP.