Former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the presidential palace in Tehran in 2014. File Photo courtesy of the President of Iran | License Photo
Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The trial in Belgium of an Iranian diplomat for attempting to bomb a mass rally of Iranian opposition supporters at Villepinte near Paris in 2018 has provided the clearest sign yet that decades of appeasement by the European Union has done nothing to tame this terrorist regime.
Assadollah Assadi is a senior agent of the Iranian regime's sinister Ministry of Intelligence and Security. He was using the cover of being a diplomat in the Iranian Embassy in Vienna to enable him to plan a terrorist bomb attack that would have caused carnage on European soil, potentially killing hundreds of men, women and children.
Evidence from the Belgian prosecutor showed how Assadi had brought the professionally assembled 550-gm TATP bomb on a commercial flight to Vienna from Tehran in his diplomatic bag and passed it, together with an envelope containing €22,000 (about $27,000), to two co-conspirators. Assadi instructed them how to prime and detonate the device. A third co-conspirator was posted at the Villepinte rally as a lookout.
All four now face long terms of imprisonment. On instructions from the regime, Assadi refused to appear in court, ludicrously claiming diplomatic immunity. He even threatened the Belgian police, warning that if he was found guilty there were armed groups in the Middle East who would retaliate.
There is no doubt Assadi's terrorist plot was ordered from the highest echelons of the regime, including the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. The EU should be holding them to account. So far, there has been muted criticism of this outrage from the European External Action Service, which handles EU foreign affairs.
Indeed, Europe's top diplomat, the high representative for foreign affairs and security Josep Borrell, has typically said nothing. Not a word. We shouldn't be surprised. The first country that Borrell visited within days of taking office in December 2019 was Iran, where he met Rouhani and Zarif. Borrell pledged to "preserve" the deeply flawed nuclear deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump had unilaterally withdrawn America from, promising that Iran would "benefit economically from sanctions lifting."
It was the same old EU refrain. Not a mention of the rampant human rights abuse and escalating number of executions taking place inside the repressive regime. Not a mention of their policy of aggressive expansionism in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. Not a mention of the massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, now the subject of a U.N. special inquiry. Not a mention of the 1,500 unarmed protesters who had been gunned down just weeks before by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the regime's Gestapo, in the nationwide uprising, which had erupted in every town and city in Iran.
The promise of an end to sanctions, so that EU businesses could reopen trade with the regime, was the message conveyed by Borrell. His signal to the mullahs was clear; for the EU, trade matters, while human rights don't.
Now, even as an Iranian diplomat awaits his sentence for terrorism, Borrell announced that the EU had agreed to finance a three-day online business forum with Iran, at which both he and Zarif would make keynote speeches. In fact, the conference, which had been due to start on Dec. 13, was postponed at the last minute after the regime hanged yet another former European resident on the preceding weekend. Borrell's willingness to participate in such an event demonstrated clearly his wretched appeasement of this pariah regime. The business forum must now be canceled.
Borrell may be a new singer, but this is an old song. From 1999 to 2009, Javier Solana, another Spanish socialist, was occupying the EU's top diplomatic role. At a press conference in Washington in 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the main democratic opposition movement to the mullahs, led by Maryam Rajavi, had revealed the existence of the Iranian regime's top-secret nuclear program. Western intelligence agencies were caught by surprise and governments around the world were stunned.
Solana was sent to Tehran to negotiate with the mullahs, offering them a package of incentives in exchange for a reduction in their uranium enrichment program. But when the mullahs heard that Rajavi had been invited to address a meeting in the European Parliament, they threatened to boycott talks with Solana. He frantically telephoned prime ministers and presidents around the EU urging them to stop her visit. Learning that she could be blamed for undermining Solana's negotiations, Rajavi voluntarily withdrew from her proposed meeting, but warned that the mullahs were bluffing and that they couldn't be trusted. She was right.
The theocratic regime thumbed its nose at the West's compromise offers, forcing Solana, in a speech to the European Parliament, to concede that, "there has been no progress. Iran continues to ignore us." But once again the rewards of appeasement were manifest. While the people of Iran and the Middle East suffered from the mullahs' oppressive dictatorship, European businesses thrived with renewed Iranian contracts. Germany was even involved in the building of massive water and tunnel infrastructure projects connected to the mullahs' nuclear project, while Italy supplied specialist military equipment necessary for the development of its long-range Shahab Missile launchers.
Solana's disastrous term in office was followed by two further equally ignominious high representatives. The useless Baroness Catherine Ashton, nominated by the British Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair, held the post from 2009 to 2014. She was succeeded by the Italian socialist Federica Mogherini, who wore the headscarf when visiting Tehran and posed for selfies with the mullahs. Both reinforced the EU's failed policy of appeasement. In doing so, they sent a catastrophically wrong signal to Tehran. By offering concession after concession, the West played into the mullahs' hands, emboldening the clerics to continue their path of defiance and terror.
The trial of Assadi is simply the tip of a massive terrorist iceberg. Tehran has used its embassies as terror cells and bomb factories for decades, perpetrating bomb attacks, murders and kidnappings around the world. Now that one of their agents has been caught red-handed, this must surely be a signal to the West that appeasement has failed? President-elect Joe Biden and his nominee for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, should think again about reopening diplomatic relations with this pariah regime. Its days are numbered. Its embassies should be closed and its diplomats expelled. The United States, EU and UN must begin a new policy of backing the oppressed Iranian people and not their tyrannical rulers.
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 is also president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.