Reestablishing a diplomatic presence in Iran would be a serious mistake. The Iranian regime destroyed the fundamental tenets of international diplomacy when they sent an accredited diplomat – Assadollah Assadi – on a mission to bomb a mass rally of Iranian opposition supporters at Villepinte near Paris in June 2018.
Assadi was registered as a diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, although he was a senior Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) agent, using the cover of being a diplomat 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. He and his three co-conspirators are now serving long terms of imprisonment in Belgium for acts of terrorism.
Assadi’s conviction was followed by the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador from Albania and the closure of their embassy in Tirana, again based on charges of planning acts of terror and cyber-attacks. The Iranian regime does not hesitate to use its embassies as bomb factories and terrorist havens.
In a desperate attempt to secure Assadi’s release, the mullahs’ regime arrested the Belgian humanitarian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, charging him with spying on Iran, cooperating with the United States against Iran, currency smuggling and money laundering. He was sentenced initially in December to 28 years’ imprisonment on these fabricated charges.
When this blatant exercise in blackmail and hostage-taking failed to achieve the terrorist Assadi’s repatriation, Iran’s Supreme Leader, the elderly and increasingly deranged Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, this month ordered his judiciary to increase Vandecasteele’s sentence to 40 years, together with 74 lashes and a $1 million fine.
The Belgian government should not bend to this dirty blackmail. They should immediately announce that they will indict Khamenei for human rights abuse and crimes against humanity and try him in the international courts of justice, in absentia, if Vandecasteele is lashed. While there is understandably great sympathy for Mr Vandecasteele and his family and friends, there should be no question of negotiating a prisoner exchange with the mullahs.
To do so would simply encourage further hostage-taking and provide impunity for the regime’s perpetrators of any future deadly terrorist attacks in Europe. The only certain way to secure Mr Vandecasteele’s freedom is to support the Iranian population in their bid to overthrow the mullahs’ fascist dictatorship.
The barbaric tactics employed by the theocratic regime in their bid to crush the ongoing protests in Iran have caused international outrage and condemnation. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the paramilitary Basij have used batons, steel rods, tear gas, shotguns and live ammunition to kill and maim protesters, many of whom are women and young girls. There have been over 750 deaths, including 77 children and teenagers, and more than 30,000 protesters have been arrested.
Four of the young protesters have been tortured into signing false confessions, then hanged. Many others have been sentenced to death. In the past year, the mullahs’ regime has executed over 500 people, in a wave of killings designed to smash opposition. Many of those sentenced have been accused of “moharebeh” or “waging war against God”, a charge which carries the mandatory death penalty in Iran.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has agreed to establish an investigative mission to probe Iran’s suppression of the nationwide insurrection, based on the principle that there must be no impunity for the perpetrators of such atrocities. The council strongly believes that those responsible for the brutal crackdown on the protests – leading to injuries to and the death of thousands of men, women and children and the arrest, torture and execution of innocent protesters – must be held accountable for their crimes.
It is against this background of the ongoing insurrection in Iran, where the people are openly calling for regime change, that the reopening of the Irish embassy in Tehran would be a grave error; it would be ruthlessly exploited by the mullahs’ regime for propaganda purposes. There is a growing conviction that the recall of EU ambassadors and the closure of western embassies in Tehran, followed by the expulsion of all Iranian diplomatic staff and their cohorts from Europe and America, would be a forceful response to the regime’s barbarity. It would also send the strongest possible signal of support to the beleaguered population of Iran.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s former foreign affairs minister and current trade minister, said last year that he was keen to reestablish a diplomatic presence in Iran this year to help negotiate the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear talks that were abandoned unilaterally by President Trump in 2018 and have been moribund ever since. It must surely be clear to Coveney, and his successor as foreign minister Micheál Martin, that the nuclear deal is dead and buried.
It was deeply flawed from the outset and has been repeatedly breached by the mullahs as they have accelerated their clandestine efforts to build a nuclear weapon and develop sophisticated missile delivery systems. This is a pariah regime that cannot be dealt with diplomatically.
Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote on diplomacy was: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Ireland and every other civilised nation should wield the big stick when dealing with the Iranian regime. The time for diplomacy is over.
Struan Stevenson was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014). He is a writer and international lecturer