EU Sanctions Iran's Spy Unit Over Terrorism In Europe
The EU on Tuesday froze the assets of an Iranian intelligence unit and two of its staff and designated them as terrorists over Tehran’s role in assassinations and other attacks in Europe.
It is the first time the EU has imposed sanctions on Iran since they were lifted three years ago after the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Denmark’s Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said the decision at a meeting in Brussels was “a strong signal from the EU that we will not accept such behavior.”
France accused Iran of a plot to carry out a bomb attack last summer at a rally near Paris organized by an exiled Iranian opposition group. Denmark says it foiled an Iranian intelligence plan to assassinate an Iranian Arab opposition figure on its soil.
The Netherlands said Iran was behind the assassinations of two Dutch nationals of Iranian origin in 2015 and in 2017. “Iran was informed that involvement in such matters is entirely unacceptable and must be stopped immediately… further sanctions cannot be ruled out,” the EU said.
Tehran’s conduct “shows a pattern of destructive and terrorist behavior,” the Iranian-American Harvard scholar Dr. Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News.
“These assassinations and attacks show that the Iranian regime is increasingly targeting political dissidents abroad, particularly in Europe, in spite of the fact that the EU is attempting to help Iran by sustaining the nuclear deal and the sanctions relief.
“Iran’s increasing attacks and assassinations on European soil highlight the fact that the regime continues to prioritize its revolutionary ideology and principles, which were set by its founding father Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.
“The EU should take a firm stance against Iran; otherwise Tehran will be more emboldened and encouraged to increase its attacks on European soil.”
For its turn, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has held the EU responsible for "harboring" members of the exiled armed opposition group, known as Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK).
"Europeans, incl Denmark, Holland and France, harbor MEK - who killed 12,000 Iranians and abetted former Iraqi president Saddam's crimes against Iraqi Kurds - as well as other terrorists staging murder of innocent Iranians from Europe. Accusing Iran won't absolve Europe of responsibility for harboring terrorists," Zarif tweeted in English on January 8.
Zarif's tweeted after EU's announcement of fresh sanctions on a unit of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry and two individuals over alleged assassination plots today. The EU accuses them of attempting or carrying out, attacks within several European countries.
Dutch intelligence confident Iran behind two assassinations
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok and Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren have informed parliament that the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) has strong clues that the Iranian government was behind two assassinations of Iranian dissidents on Dutch soil in 2015 and 2017, public broadcaster NOS reported on 8 January.
The assassinations and other Iranian intelligence activities in Europe today prompted the EU to impose sanctions on the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, including freezing the assets and travel rights of two individuals involved in the assassinations, NOS added.
"It now turns out that the assassinations were also the reason two Iranian embassy employees were expelled from the Netherlands in June 2018," popular daily Algemeen Dagblad said, noting that Blok did not specify any reason at the time for reasons of confidentiality.
The two assassinations for which Iran is thought to be responsible include the 2015 shooting of Mohammed Samadi, also known as Ali Motammed, who was sentenced to death in Iran for allegedly being involved in the bombing of an Islamic Republican Party office in 1981, as a member of the resistance movement Mujahideen-e-Khalq, killing 13 people, the paper said.
The other one was the assassination of Ahmad Nissi, a leading member of the separatist movement Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz (ASMLA), which took place in The Hague in 2017, the daily said.
FM says Iran-EU trade mechanism to cover oil sales
In another move, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected Reuters' speculations that the EU-Iran trade mechanism, aimed at bypassing US sanctions against Tehran, would not cover oil sales.
Speaking to ICANA news agency on 4 December, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected the recent claim by Reuters that the Iran-EU trade mechanism, officially known as Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), will not cover oil sales and only includes humanitarian and food products.
Zarif maintained that Iran's oil sales is actually the focus of the EU's promised trade mechanism, adding “based on the information we have, Reuters' claim is not true. If the revenue of Iran's oil sales is not put into an account, then it won’t be clear if there is any money to do transactions with. On the other hand, Iran's major export is oil, so I suspect some media hype aimed at making people lose hope."
The mechanism is part of the EU's efforts to encourage Iran to remain in the nuclear deal following the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. back in May, by offering an alternative payment channel to keep trade flowing with Iran in defiance of U.S. sanctions.
Zarif said Iran is believes European countries are making efforts to maintain ties with the Islamic Republic. He added that EU seems to be exercising "too much caution" regarding the SPV.
"Europe wants to enjoy the benefits of the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the nuclear deal 2015 without paying any price for it, which is impossible," said Zarif. "Overall, it seems that the EU understands this fact, and we hope to hear some good news in the coming days."
Zarif added that the initial information received from the EU for the execution of the trade mechanism has been positive.
On 3 December, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the delay in the execution of Iran-EU's trade mechanism is due to too much pressure exerted by U.S. on European countries.
The special payment channel needs a host country to come into effect. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal on 26 November, France and Germany – as the two remaining European parties to the JCPOA – are the likely candidates to host the SPV.