Assadollah Assadi is accused of being a senior agent in the Iranian regime’s sinister Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and 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 550g TATP bomb on a commercial flight to Vienna from Tehran in his diplomatic bag and passed it, together with an envelope containing 22,000 euros, to two co-conspirators.
The court was told that Assadi had instructed them how to prime and detonate the device. A third co-conspirator was allegedly posted at the Villepinte rally as a lookout. All four are likely to get long terms of imprisonment if convicted.
There is no doubt in my mind that Assadi’s terrorist plot was ordered from the highest echelons of the regime, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the president Hassan Rouhani and the 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 (EEAS), 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 President Rouhani and foreign minister Zarif. Borrell pledged to “preserve” the deeply flawed nuclear deal which President Trump had unilaterally withdrawn America from, promising that Iran would “benefit economically from sanctions lifting".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 warmongering 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 UN special inquiry. Not a mention of the 1,500 unarmed protesters who had been gunned down just weeks earlier by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the regime’s Gestapo, in the nationwide uprising which had erupted across Iran.
The promise of an end to sanctions, so that EU businesses could re-open trade with the theocratic regime, was the message conveyed by Borrell. His signal to the mullahs was clear; for the EU, trade matters, human rights don’t.
Even as the Iranian diplomat was on trial, Borrell announced 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 December 13, was postponed at the last minute after the theocratic 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.
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 (NCRI), the main democratic opposition movement to the mullahs, led by the charismatic Maryam Rajavi, had revealed the existence of the Iranian regime’s top-secret nuclear programme. 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 programme. But when the mullahs heard that Maryam 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 Mrs Rajavi’s visit. Learning that she could be blamed for undermining Solana’s negotiations, Mrs 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”.
Solana’s disastrous term in office was followed by two further equally ignominious high representatives. Baroness Catherine Ashton was nominated by Tony Blair and 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 evidence presented at the trial of Assadi is simply the tip of a massive terrorist iceberg. The theocratic regime 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 re-opening diplomatic relations with this pariah regime. The US, 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 and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association