Panel of Experts Discuss EU Policy on Tehran Pending Belgium Court Ruling
28th January 2021
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A court in Belgium is scheduled to issue its ruling on terrorism charges against Assadollah Assadi, a diplomat-terrorist of Iran’s regime, and his accomplices on February 4. A cross-party panel of Former European policymakers and experts on Tehran’s use of terrorism are weighing in on this topic during a webinar on Thursday, discussing the message the European Union should send through its Iran policy and the consequences of adopting a weak stance.
Assadi and his co-conspirators— Amir Saadouni, his wife Nasimeh Naami, and a third individual, Mehrdad Arefani—are charged with plotting a terror attack against an annual gathering of the Iranian opposition in 2018, suggesting he had been running a large network of spies and agents across Europe. The targeted gathering, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), was held in Villepinte, near Paris.
The Belgian prosecutors have demanded the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for Assadi for an attempted terrorist murder and participating in activities of a terrorist group. The Criminal Court of Antwerp will issue its verdict on February 4.
The panelists are discussing the European Union’s policy towards Iran. This page will be updated with the latest remarks and developments during the conference.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, former Vice-President of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014
Alejo Vidal-Quadras speaks in the Online Panel
The Iranian regime is repressive in nature. This should make Iran a top priority in European policy. I would advise policymakers that if you want peace and stability in the region, if you want human rights to be respected in Iran, do not engage with this regime. This has been our key message to western policymakers. Do not engage with this regime, because it encourages them with their human rights violations, their terrorism, and proxy wars. Instead engage with the suffering Iranian people and the democratic opposition. They are your true friends, those you must support. This is what we need for stability, peace and human rights in Iran.
We have been very critical of the appeasement policy toward Iran simply because it doesn’t work. This policy does not work, has never worked, is not working and will always be counterproductive.
Regarding the ruling of the Assadi case, we have decided to hold this conference to put things into perspective. Assadollah Assadi, the former third counsel of the Iranian embassy in Vienna, is in prison and accused of directing three other operatives in a bombing operation against the Iranian opposition gathering in Paris.
Fortunately, this plot was disrupted through the cooperation of European governments. The latest revelations from the trial show that the Iranian Belgian couple Nassimeh Naami and Amir Saadouni, who received the bomb directly from Assadi, were instructed to place the explosive device as close as possible to NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi. I was sitting very close to Madam Rajavi. First-rank political figures were sitting in a space of a few meters around her. You can imagine the consequences if such an attack succeeded.
The attack could have caused hundreds of deaths. The consequences would have been catastrophic. The Belgian prosecutor has provided evidence that Assadi brought half a kilogram of explosive TATP.
Assadi brought this explosive device on a commercial flight from Tehran to Vienna and carried it in his diplomatic suitcase. He also brought 22,000 euros in cash to pay for the expenses of the operation. Assadi instructed the couple on operating and detonating the device.
There was a third conspirator in the event. As is evident, this was a professionally organized terrorist attack. All these people face long-term prison sentences. The prosecutors are asking for 15-20-year sentences. On instructions from the regime, Assadi has refused to appear in court and claims to have diplomatic immunity. It’s ironic that such a criminal claims to have diplomatic immunity to kill hundreds of innocents.
Assadi also threatened the Belgian government and said that groups in the Middle East might retaliate if he receives a sentence. A major point of interest is the relationship between Assadi and the political leadership of Iran. Assadi is not a rogue terrorist. He is part of the regime and at the top of the hierarchy are the most prominent authorities of the Iranian regime.
The prosecutors have stated that these persons received directions directly from the Iranian regime. Assadi is the head of a network of terror that extends to 11 European countries. This is the tip of the iceberg.
We know that the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the regime President Hassan Rouhani and the always-smiling Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, all three knew about the attack, all three agreed to the attack, and all three ordered it. If you reflect on this, you can imagine the scope of this attack.
The Belgian judiciary will declare the ruling of the court soon. Regardless of the final outcome, we must fix our attention to the importance of this case. Because this is a ring on the bell of the European Union and European states. If they do not treat this seriously, it will be repeated. If there’s another attack, it might succeed. It might be of a bigger dimension. All these governments, and the people of the External Action Service, the High Representative, the Council, they must be very attentive to the result of this trial.
If they ignore it and go on with business as usual, there will be another worse attack.
Giulio Terzi, former Italian Foreign Minister
Giulio Terzi speaks in the Online Panel
This is not a case among others, not just a judiciary event. It is a turning point for understanding in full of how Iran and its criminal structure of terrorist activity threaten Europe. This is a regime which is the number one state sponsor of terrorism and fuels wars in the Middle East.
When Assadi was arrested by the German police, a green notebook was found in his car with important information about his plot, his actions, and the money he had given to different operatives in Europe. Assadi had at least 289 visits to different countries in Europe. I’ve been a diplomat and I must say this is an incredible amount of activity. He met with people and paid them in cash.
He was doing all of these activities under the guise of being a diplomat in Vienna. Only four people have been discovered. What about the other people on this network who remain in Europe? A considerable network of criminals is waiting for orders to carry out terrorist activities.
There are many questions about this case and the European policy. How is Europe going to stop these terrorist activities? If we look at history, there have been a lot of terrorist actions on European soil that the regime has denied despite a huge amount of evidence that pointed to Iran. How will Europe stop these terrorist attacks against Europeans and political refugees?
Political refugees have the right to be protected from attacks by Iranian agents who are in Iranian embassies. European politicians hope that blind appeasement will change the behavior of the regime. Do the European leaders still believe that terrorism, which is the pillar of Iran’s foreign policy, will disappear by itself, like a miracle? European public and institutions are increasingly demanding a more assertive approach to prevent Iran’s terrorist activities.
Business as usual is enough. This is the sense that many members of the European Parliament have developed. I and around 20 former members of European governments from 12 governments signed a letter of proposals to the President of European Commission, to EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell and other leaders in the EU, and urged them to take firm measures against the terrorist activities of the Iranian regime.
The EU has yet to take serious measures. It has just designated two people in this enormous case. The EU is continuing business as usual and only sanctioned two people. That is unacceptable because Europe’s lack of proper action has emboldened Iranian authorities in pursuing their malign activities. The Iranian government has been convinced that it has impunity no matter what it does in Europe.
There are clear reasons for the EU to review our approach. European-Iranian relations must be made contingent on Iran taking concrete measures to stop its malign activities in Europe. We must also adopt practical measures to give Tehran the message that we are serious. This means closing Iranian embassies and expelling Iranian diplomats when there’s serious evidence of terrorist activities.
Zarif is responsible for this criminal activity since the overall structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is involved. There’s a connection between the attempt of the Iranian government to free Assadi and the executions and hostage-taking of foreign nationals in Iran.
Those who are involved in this attack, including Iranian officials, must be brought to justice. Zarif must be held accountable for his role in this attack. The regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) must be designated as a terrorist entity.
Granting political asylum to these agents and mercenaries must be a red line. There is a need for a firm approach to prevent blackmailing and hostage-taking by the regime. Appeasing this regime is like feeding a crocodile. Finally, the Iranian regime’s race toward nuclear bombs is also a race to use it in a terrorist manner. It will want to do terrorist activities with weapons of mass destruction. This should be strongly condemned by European leaders. The idea of rushing back to the nuclear deal and lifting sanctions is crazy and against the security of the European people.
Struan Stevenson, former MEP representing Scotland (1999-2014), former president of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14), and chairman of the EP Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14)
Struan Stevenson speaks in the Online Panel
We must reflect on the history of decades of appeasement by the EU. We know that Assadi is an MOIS agent. He used the diplomatic cover to cause an attack that could have killed hundreds of men, women, and children. Assadi faces further terrorist charges in Germany. His notebook contained all the details of the bomb and the money he had paid to his agents.
As a diplomat you can’t make hundreds of visits to different countries without permission from your ambassador. And the ambassador takes his command from Tehran. There’s no doubt that this plot was ordered by Khamenei, Rouhani, Zarif, and Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi. The EU must hold all of them to account. But there has been a deafening silence from Europe. Borrell has typically said nothing.
Borrell even pledged to preserve the flawed nuclear deal and promised Iran would benefit economically from the lifting of sanctions by Europe. In his visit to Iran, Borrell didn’t mention human rights violations, didn’t mention the killing of unarmed protesters. A promise of an end to sanctions was the message conveyed by Borrell. The signal to the mullahs was that for the EU, trade matters, human rights does not.
Borrell may be a new singer, but this is an old song. The EU has sent a catastrophic signal to Tehran by offering concession after concession. The trial of Assadollah Assadi is the tip of a massive terrorist iceberg. The regime uses its embassies as terror cells for bomb attacks and kidnappings.
Borrell has a duty to protect EU citizens. His policy endangers our citizens. Borrell’s silence is not acceptable. The EU must designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization and close the regime’s embassies.
When the verdict of the terrorist diplomat will be announced, the eyes of the world will be on Borrell.
Paulo Casaca, former member of the European Parliament from Portugal
Paulo Casaca speaks in the Online Panel
The mullahs have relied on the lack of political courage and honesty of those in charge in European countries. As one of the tens of thousands of potential victims in the Paris attack, I would like to thank Belgian authorities for their professional handling of the case.
The mullahs have resorted to their usual tactic of blackmailing. They now claim that the chief of the terrorist cell has diplomatic immunity. This was already settled in 2018 when a German court declared the suspect could not resort to diplomatic immunity when on a holiday trip outside his country of service. Even if he was in Vienna, he would not enjoy diplomatic immunity for terrorist activities. And finally, diplomatic immunity does not cover the transfer of bombs on commercial flights. And the regime itself has denied diplomatic immunity when it ransacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran following the 1979 revolution.
The terrorism impunity that has allowed Iran to sow death and destruction around the world is the result of an ideology that is in no way different from the Nazis. It is worth noting that in the last few years, Iran is the only country which has entire branches of its government designated as terrorist entities by European authorities.
The European External Action Service remains silent on the heinous attack of the Iranian regime against Europe. The European Union has rewarded the regime’s aggressive behavior by rewarding them with a revived nuclear agreement.
European institutions should reinforce European unity, uphold the rule of law, and ensure the protection of values that keep our countries together, including freedom and protection from terrorism. They must not bow to foreign terrorist powers that want us to bow before them. The regime must not enjoy impunity in causing terrorism.