Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been listed as a terrorist by the U.S. State Department. File Photo by Miguel Gutierrez/EPA-EFE
Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Inviting Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, to address the Munich Security Conference on Friday and Saturday, where he joined more than 450 senior decision-makers as well as prime ministers and presidents from around the world, was a grave error.
Zarif has been listed as a terrorist by the U.S. State Department. In January, he was banned from entering the United States to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting. Why then, is the European Union still willing to extend the hand of friendship to this listed terrorist?
As foreign minister, Zarif is in charge of Iran's army of ambassadors and diplomatic staff. In June 2018, he was therefore responsible for the orders given to Assadollah Assadi, a diplomat from the Iranian Embassy in Vienna. Assadi was allegedly instructed to hand over 500 grams of high explosives and a detonator to an Iranian couple from Antwerp, Belgium.
He allegedly ordered them to drive to Paris and detonate the bomb at a major rally organized by the National Council for Resistance in Iran and attended by over 100,000 people. A combined operation by the German, French and Belgian intelligence services led to the arrest of Assadi and the other conspirators, all of whom are now in prison in Belgium, awaiting trial on charges of terrorism.
It was well known that Rudy Giuliani and other high-ranking international political leaders would be attending and speaking at this rally. So Zarif must clearly have planned the terrorist attack with Mahmoud Alavi, Iran's minister of intelligence, and Reza Amiri Moghaddam, head of the Ministry of Intelligence & Security's Foreign Intelligence and Movements Organization.
Such a high-level atrocity could only have been validated by Hassan Rouhani, the so-called "moderate" president of Iran and the country's supreme leader, Sayyid Ali Khamenei. Zarif had even arranged to fly to Vienna the day following the proposed bombing outrage, presumably to congratulate Assadi personally and to spread the usual lies and propaganda, no doubt blaming the Mojahedin e-Khalq/People's Mojahedin of Iran, the main opposition to the mullahs, for planning the attack on their own supporters so that they could point the finger of blame at the Iranian regime.
But Zarif's plan backfired horribly, leaving him lamely trying to claim that the arrest of his diplomat and other trained Iranian agents was a "false flag operation" designed to deceive, by enemies of Iran. It will be interesting to see what the Belgian courts make of this ludicrous claim. Ironically, the senior diplomat whom Assadi had replaced in the Vienna Embassy was Mostafa Roodaki, another trained MOIS agent.
He had previously been the head of the Iranian regime's intelligence station in Austria and had been coordinating activities against the MEK/PMOI across the whole of Europe. Roodaki had been redeployed to Albania by Zarif, with the rank of first secretary in the Iranian Embassy in Tirana. He was joined there by a new ambassador appointed by Zarif, Gholam Hossein Mohammadinia, a former high-ranking Iranian intelligence official who had also been a member of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team.
Zarif had clearly instructed his new team of "diplomats" in Albania that their main mandate was to track down and eliminate the MEK/PMOI, who had created a new compound in the country housing over 2,500 of their members.
But once again Zarif's plans were thwarted. Albanian intelligence officers uncovered a plot to detonate a bomb at a Nowruz (Iranian New Year) gathering of MEK/PMOI members in Tirana. Two MOIS agents, together with Mohammadinia and his first secretary, Roodaki, were expelled from the country by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.
These were not the only terror plots that bear the fingerprints of Zarif. In October 2018, the Iranian regime sent another senior MOIS agent -- Mohammad Davoudzadeh Lului -- with close ties to the Iranian embassy and its ambassador in Norway, to assassinate an opposition figure in Denmark. He too now awaits trial on terrorism charges. Also, in 2018 two Iranian diplomats were expelled from the Netherlands for acts of terror.
With this catalog of assassinations and bomb plots involving Iranian diplomatic personnel under the leadership and guidance of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, it is not surprising that the United States has decided to label him as a terrorist. Yet the West continues to believe that his mastery of English and his benign smile mean that he must be a trustworthy moderate with whom we can negotiate. Giving this person a platform in Munich was a big mistake, particularly because Zarif, like Khamenei, is a Holocaust denier.
In a reference to the West, Iran's supreme leader said in a speech on Feb. 7 2006, which was posted on his English language website: "The freedom of expression which they claim to advocate does not allow them to raise doubts about the myth of the massacre of the Jews known as the Holocaust." When Zarif was asked by ABC News, "Do you endorse or reject the ayatollah's belief that the Holocaust is a myth?" he replied: "I have spoken to him about this. He was mistranslated. This is the problem when you translate something from Persian to English, it gets lost in translation."
Addressing students at Columbia University in 2006, Zarif was asked by a student: "Do you personally believe that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust?" Zarif responded: "The question that needs to be asked is what is the crime committed by the Palestinians in these atrocities." When the students cried out in anger at his failure to answer, he lamely fell back on the supreme leader's issue of "freedom of expression," stating: "I'm answering. If you want to cypher the right to freedom of expression, then that's your problem, not mine."
Allowing Zarif to address the security conference in Munich, during the year which marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, was a serious error. Zarif, as both a Holocaust denier and a sponsor of state terrorism, should be placed on the EU terrorist blacklist and arrested next time he sets foot in Europe.
Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.