On Monday, foreign ministers from the European Union’s member states gathered in Brussels for wide-ranging policy discussions. The meeting naturally drew advance commentary from various policymakers and political groups with strong attitudes regarding existing policies. A good deal of that commentary was related to the Iranian regime, which is a perennial source of controversy within Western policy circles and has lately been thrust back into the spotlight by the news of a terrorism trial in Belgium.
That trial concluded on February 4 with guilty verdicts for four Iranian operatives who attempted to coordinate the bombing of an Iranian expatriate gathering just outside of Paris. The principal defendant, Assadollah Assadi, was third counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna at the time of the 2018 plot. The trial established that he had personally smuggled 500 grams of TATP explosive into Europe while traveling on his diplomatic passport in order to evade normal scrutiny from airport security.
Those explosives were ultimately confiscated from two of Assadi’s co-conspirators while they were trying to travel from Belgium into France. Had the attack gone forward as planned, it is generally believed that it would have killed hundreds of attendees at the crowded event, which was attracted as many as 100,000 Iranian expatriates from across Europe and the world at large. The prime target for the attack was the Iranian Resistance leader Maryam Rajavi, who delivered the keynote speech at the event in fairly close proximity to hundreds of lawmakers, scholars, and other political dignitaries who attended to show support for the cause of Iranian democracy.
Many critics of the Iranian regime have highlighted the plot as an example of a much larger pattern of behavior stemming not just from individual operatives like Assadi but also from high-ranking Iranian officials including the regime’s supreme leader, the president, and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
In the nearly three weeks since Assadi’s conviction and sentencing, these calls for broader accountability have come to emphasize a perceived lack of adequate response from European leaders. The EU foreign ministers’ meeting was a perfect occasion for voicing frustration over that silence, which many Iranian expatriate activists did by gathering in Brussels on the day of the meeting.
The demonstration in Schuman Square, in front of the EU’s headquarters, directly called attention to the Assadi case and demanded that the EU acknowledge the incident and condemn the underlying phenomenon of Iranian state-backed terrorism.
In #Brussels now, as a gathering of Free Iran protesters have come to tell Europe, they cannot close eyes on executions in #Iran to keep trade interests with the mullahs.
Iranians rallying today demand leaders to #ShutDownIranTerrorEmbassies pic.twitter.com/02MLkqO2Vp
— Iran Freedom (@4FreedominIran) February 22, 2021
The Brussels rally also attempted to shine more light on some of the Iranian regime’s other malign activities, which are arguably related. The sentiment was reiterated in a statement signed by more than 200 Iranian communities from a dozen EU member states, plus, the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. The statement was addressed to European Council President Charles Michel and EU head of foreign policy Josep Borrell, and it described the regime’s state terrorism as a corollary to “gross and systematic human rights violations inside Iran.” It then went on to identify the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, its ballistic missile development, and its regional imperialism as additional reasons why the EU should assume a more assertive policy toward the Iranian regime.
Members of Iranian Communities Demand EU to Adopt a Firm Iran Policy
The mullahs’ complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the #Iranian people, its terrorism directed against dissidents on European soil#Iran #EUTime4FirmIranPolicy https://t.co/4bqhAcEpYJ
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) February 23, 2021
“The inexcusable silence and inaction of Western countries for the sake of obtaining a parochial agreement on the nuclear issue, despite the regime’s human rights violations and terrorism, has emboldened the theocracy to conduct crimes against the Iranian people and the opposition at home and abroad,” the statement declared.
The Iranian communities’ impulse to blame persistent Iranian misbehavior on permissive Western policies is shared by a large number of European, British, and American policymakers, as evidenced by their recurring presence at events like the 2018 Free Iran rally. Some of them issued their own statements on prospective European policy in the aftermath of the Assadi conviction and just in advance of the EU foreign ministers’ meeting.
A group of British MPs issued a statement to this effect on Friday, addressing the leadership of both the UK and the EU in order to condemn their shared “inaction” on the Assadi case and the underlying issues. Bob Blackman, David Jones, and Steve McCabe each signed the statement on behalf of the International Committee of Parliamentarians for a Democratic Iran, which has taken the position that “the UK and EU must prioritise efforts to end Iran’s state terrorism” ahead of current priorities such as preserving the Iran nuclear deal and maintaining ordinary diplomatic relations.
In fact, that statement and the subsequent statement from the Iranian communities both disdain the notion of ordinary diplomatic relations, arguing instead that Iran should be isolated and subjected to coordinated pressure with the aim of compelling it toward serious, far-reaching changes of behavior.
“The International Committee of Parliamentarians for a Democratic Iran calls on the EU Foreign Ministers to agree at their meeting in Brussels on 22 February 2021 to suspend diplomatic relations with Iran,” said the former statement before adding that the UK and the EU must also work together to “dismantle Assadi’s network in Europe and launch an investigation to find, prosecute and expel those Iranian diplomats and agents who are engaged in similar terrorist activities.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool, a member of the British House of Lords, joined that statement as a fourth signatory while also issuing his own statement addressed to Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary. Alton emphasized the British government’s potential leadership role in altering European policy toward the EU, regardless of his recent separation from that multinational body.
“A Global Britain must have the courage to take the lead in Europe to address the serious threats of Iran’s state terrorism,” Alton’s statement said. It also highlighted the apparent fact of broader culpability for the 2018 terror plot and stated that the plot “could have led to a bloodbath and killed many civilians and parliamentarians, including some of my colleagues in the House of Commons.”
“The Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, who is responsible for the mission and conducts of the Iranian diplomats abroad, shares responsibility for the criminal conduct of Iran’s diplomats and must be held accountable for his role in this foiled terrorist bombing,” Alton said while acknowledging that demands for such accountability are unlikely to come from continental Europe unless the EU’s leadership comes under serious pressure.
After calling attention to the Europe-Iran Business Forum, which is scheduled to begin on March 1 with participation from both Josep Borrell and Javad Zarif, Alton’s statement concluded, “The UK and its diplomats must refrain from participating in such dangerous diplomatic events and [must] reject any attempt by the EU to glance over or excuse the direct involvement of Iranian state in acts of terrorism.”