- EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif in 2016 (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)
By ANDREW RETTMAN BRUSSELS, TODAY, 09:28
Iran ordered four terrorist attacks in Europe in recent times, the EU has said, while imposing new sanctions.
Its agents plotted to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in France and to assassinate an opposition member in Denmark last year.
They also murdered two opposition members in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2017, the Dutch foreign ministry revealed on Tuesday (8 January).
Member states’ officials in Brussels the same day added the names of two Iranian nationals and of Iran’s main spy agency to the EU’s counter-terrorism register.
The move froze the assets and banned entry to the EU of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat suspected of plotting the French attack, and Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, a senior intelligence official.
It also froze the assets of the directorate for internal security of the Iranian ministry for intelligence and security.
The sanctions were the first imposed by the EU since world powers and Iran agreed a nuclear arms control treaty three years ago.
The EU lifted financial, oil and gas, and transport sector sanctions in line with the nuclear accord.
It maintained an arms embargo and a ban on missile technology, however.
It also maintained a travel ban and asset freezes of 82 Iranians and one entity on grounds of human rights abuse.
The Dutch government had “strong indications that Iran was involved in the assassinations of [the] two Dutch nationals of Iranian origin” in 2015 and 2017 Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said in a letter to the Dutch parliament justifying Tuesday’s move.
“Hostile acts of this kind flagrantly violate the sovereignty of the Netherlands and are unacceptable,” he said.
“Iran is expected to cooperate fully in removing the present concerns and, where necessary, aiding in criminal investigations. If such cooperation is not forthcoming, further sanctions cannot be ruled out,” Blok added.
The new sanctions were a “strong signal from the EU” that it “would not accept” assassination plots on its territory, Denmark’s foreign minister Anders Samuelsen said.
“EU stands united – such actions are unacceptable and must have consequences,” Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen added.
The EU move was welcomed by the US.
“Important day for European foreign policy!,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Twitter the same day.
“Iran and Hezbollah have terrorised Europe since 1979,” he added, referring to an Iranian-backed militant group in Lebanon.
He also posted a map showing 14 alleged Iranian attacks in EU countries, as well as Albania and Turkey, in the past 39 years.
Pompeo’s reaction came amid an EU-US rift on Iran after US leader Donald Trump walked out of the Iran nuclear arms control deal last year and threatened sanctions against EU firms who did business there.
The EU is currently trying to create special payment channels to shield EU companies from Trump’s wrath while keeping Iran on board with the nuclear pact.
Pompeo had previously said he was “disturbed and … deeply disappointed” by the EU.
But his good cheer on Tuesday was matched by a hostile reaction from Iran.
“Europeans, including Denmark, Holland, and France, harbour MEK – who killed 12,000 Iranians and abetted Saddam’s crimes against Iraqi Kurds – as well as other terrorists staging murder of innocent Iranians from Europe,” Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter.
The Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is an Iranian opposition group with branches in EU states. Saddam Hussein was the former leader of Iraq.
“Accusing Iran won’t absolve Europe of responsibility for harbouring terrorists,” Zarif, who had earlier complained about slow progress on EU nuclear sanctions relief, added.