Iran reacts coolly to US talk offer, demands lifting of sanctions

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.

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