Monday marks the beginning of a three-day conference to expand trade ties between Europe and the Iranian regime. It appears slated to go forward despite the fact there has been no resolution of the controversy that resulted in the event being postponed from its original December schedule. Its organizers and participants have seemingly opted to ignore that controversy now that it has faded from public awareness. But they are also ignoring a variety of other issues that favor its cancellation, including another international conference held on Thursday for the express purpose of condemning this and other examples of “appeasing” the Iranian regime.
There has been little change to the program of the Europe-Iran Business Forum. Many of the European politicians and business leaders who had signed onto it before December are now scheduled to deliver remarks in the coming week, even though some of them had helped apply the pressure that resulted in its postponement. That pressure emerged from the news that Iranian authorities had executed an opposition journalist, Ruhollah Zam, just before the event was set to begin. The timing was quite possibly chosen so Iran could test European lawmakers’ willingness to overlook human rights abuses. The initial withdrawals may have conveyed a message of accountability, albeit short-lived.
EU is sending the opposite message
In February, the European Union sent precisely the opposite message by announcing that it still planned to sponsor the event on its revised schedule. Making matters worse, that announcement came hot on the heels of a verdict in Belgian federal court which held a high-ranking Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, guilty for plotting a terrorist bombing that would have killed hundreds of people just outside Paris if it had been successful. After offering no public comment on that incident, the EU’s head of foreign policy Josep Borrell signed on to serve as the keynote speaker at the Business Forum, right alongside Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Even as those plans were being promoted, various European lawmakers and Iranian political groups were issuing statements that emphasized the role that Zarif and other leading regime officials surely played in the 2018 terror plot, which targeted the annual Free Iran rally organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Several months before that event, the NCRI’s leading constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI – MEK), had been credited with leading a nationwide uprising that gave rise to explicit calls for regime change and democratic governance. The attempted bombing of that event was undoubtedly an outgrowth of the anxiety that had been expressed in the wake of that uprising by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, among others. Belgian investigators and prosecutors repeatedly affirmed during Assadi prosecution that he had not been acting on his initiative but rather at the clerical regime’s direction.
The danger of embracing unconditional dialogue with the Iranian regime
This fact underscores the danger of embracing unconditional dialogue with the Iranian regime, as the Business Forum participants are clearly doing. That danger was articulated on Thursday by participants in the virtual conference that the Brussels-based International Committee in Search of Justice organized as a reaction to the EU’s latest contributions to a trend of appeasement. “If the answer of Borrell and the European Council to [Assadi’s] foiled attack is to have a business conference with the regime, the regime will conclude that they can organize another attack bigger than the previous one,” said Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a former vice president of the European Parliament who took part in the conference.
Conference Condemns “Appeasement” Behind Forthcoming EU-Iran Business Conference
The ISJ conference explicitly denounced Borrell’s decision to act as a keynote speaker alongside Zarif.#Iran #EUTime4FirmIranPolicy #StandUp4HumanRights https://t.co/Jm09l4zIZg
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) February 26, 2021
Other participants echoed this sentiment while also focusing on the Business Forum’s potential role in the regime escaping accountability for the terror plot and other similar malign activities. Paulo Casaca, a former Member of the European Parliament from Portugal, condemned Borrell for “using the taxpayers’ funds to finance the propaganda” being pushed by Foreign Minister Zarif.
Zarif, a propaganda minister rather than a foreign minister
In 2019, the US imposed sanctions on Zarif and explained the gesture in part by saying that his actual role on the international stage was more akin to that of a propaganda minister than a foreign minister. He had previously come under fire from human rights groups for visiting Western nations and answering detailed accounts of the regime’s abuse with blanket denials of responsibility, such as, “We do not jail people for their opinions.” In the wake of the 2018 terror plot, Zarif has played a vital role in promoting the idea that Assadi is owed diplomatic immunity throughout the EU and that his arrest represents “entrapment” by European authorities.
On the one hand, there is no indication that such desperate talking points are gaining traction in the West, much less raising the prospect of Assadi’s 20-year prison sentence being vacated. On the other hand, there is also no indication that Borrell or other leading EU officials see the regime’s propaganda in the same light as some lower-ranking lawmakers do – as evidence that the Iranian regime needs to be forced into accepting responsibility for violent actions undertaken on its direction and in its name.
For that very reason, the participants in Thursday’s conference believe the Europe-Iran Business Forum should be canceled.
Hermann Tertsch, a sitting Member of the European Parliament, was among the participants in Thursday’s conference to call attention to the incident in November 2019 when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps opened fire on protesters in dozens of Iranian cities, killing an estimated 1,500. As with other human rights violations stretching back to the Iranian regime’s earliest days, no one has yet been held legally or politically accountable for that incident.
Why not hold a 3-day conference to highlight the rampant violation of human rights in Iran
In his concluding remarks at the conference, a former MEP from Scotland, Struan Stevenson, offered a far-reaching rundown of Tehran’s recent and ongoing malign activities to highlight the extent to which Borrell and others are turning a blind eye to their responsibilities as advocates for human rights and representatives of democratic nations.
“Instead of the 3-day business forum with the Iranian regime,” Stevenson offered, “why not hold a 3-day conference to highlight the oppression, rampant human rights abuse, the escalation in the number of executions taking place in Iran? Why not hold a 3-day discussion on the massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in Iran in 1988? Why not discuss the 1,500 unarmed protesters who were gunned down by the IRGC in the nationwide uprising? Why not hold a 3-day conference to discuss the mullahs’ aggressive warmongering in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon?”
Why not indeed! With the Business Forum set to begin on Monday, we are unlikely to get an answer. But the least we can do in the wake of that event is to continue restating the question to challenge the underlying trend of Western leaders appeasing the Iranian regime.