It is a scandal that the UK, Germany and France are helping firms avoid US sanctions against Iran, writes Struan Stevenson.
It is astounding that Britain, France and Germany have collaborated on a deal to help companies that wish to continue trading with Iran avoid American sanctions. Announced jointly by the foreign ministers of the three European countries, the proposed sanction-dodging mechanism – referred to as an Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (Instex) – will enable businesses to bypass dealing directly with Iran, by operating a sort of barter-system. Exports to and imports from Iran will be channelled through Instex, neatly side-stepping the US sanctions.
French, German and British support for Instex is particular extraordinary given recent revelations regarding alleged Iranian terror plots in Europe. In late June last year, German police arrested a diplomat from the Iranian embassy in Vienna in a joint operation involving the police and judicial and security authorities from Germany, France and Belgium. Two suspected would-be bombers and the diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, who is accused of giving them the bomb and instructing them to detonate it at a major Iranian opposition rally near Paris, have been charged with acts of terrorism and are being held on remand awaiting trial.
Subsequently, similar action was taken against alleged Iranian terrorist plots in the United States, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and several other European nations, who are now imposing their own sanctions on the Iranian regime and blacklisting some of its agents. In late December, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, expelled Iran’s ambassador and first Secretary on the grounds that they posed a security risk to Albania.
It seems clear that Iran uses its embassies as bomb factories and terror cells, plotting atrocities in Europe and America and yet here we have three EU nations, who were signatories to the failed nuclear deal with Iran, willing to ignore Iran’s terrorist plots, overlook their appalling human rights record, disregard their aggressive exploitation of proxy wears in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon and seek to continue to sign trade deals as an act of craven appeasement of the vile Iranian regime.
President Trump’s tough stance on renewed sanctions is absolutely justified, given that senior officials in Iran last week admitted that they lied and concealed key parts of their nuclear programme during the negotiations to sign the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Obama’s US administration, Russia, China, Germany, France and the UK. To ignore these facts in a desperate bid to appease Iran’s clerical dictatorship, is an insult to the 80 million beleaguered citizens who have been protesting in towns and cities across Iran for the past 13 months, demanding regime change and the restoration of freedom and justice.
For Germany to join this toxic sanction-busting deal when their police arrested the Iranian diplomat accused of a terrorist bomb plot is extraordinary. For France to join the deal, when the alleged Iranian terror plot would have killed and maimed dozens of men and women on French soil, is even more astonishing; and for Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt to hail the arrangement with France and Germany as a way of demonstrating the UK’s “commitment to the nuclear deal” is outrageous. Has Mr Hunt already forgotten about the Iranian regime’s cruel detention of the young British mother, Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran for almost three years on trumped-up charges?
EU nations who wish to trade with Iran should realise that they are trading directly with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the equivalent of Iran’s Gestapo. They control the Iranian economy. Iran’s monetary and financial institutions are in the hands of the regime’s leaders. On 28 February 1979, immediately following the revolution, the regime established the Foundation of the Underprivileged. Twenty-eight private banks and industries covering steel, aluminium and vehicles were all confiscated by the state, together with the properties of all of the biggest businessmen, who were the backbone of the Iranian economy. All were nationalised and handed over to the Foundation of the Underprivileged, which was wholly controlled by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei. In 2013, this foundation was valued at $95 billion. It pays no tax and has no accountability on how it spends its money. The IRGC controls this foundation.
The IRGC’s stranglehold on the Iranian economy has been disastrous. They channel funds directly to support Bashar al-Assad’s bloody civil war in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq and the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. The mullahs and the leading IRGC commanders line their pockets from these funds. Very little is invested in the economy. The resulting devastation of Iran’s production capabilities has been massive.
Thirty-eight cotton companies closed down last year; 1,000 factory units building fridges, TVs and producing textiles have also closed down. Mass unemployment has been the inevitable result. There are 1.2 million more unemployed, mostly young people, in Iran every year. The regime’s own statistics say the average monthly wage of a worker today is only enough to last for one week. The nationwide strikes by truck drivers, sugar-cane workers, teachers, merchants, shopkeepers, students and others, are testament to the widespread disillusion with the regime and the demand for change. People are even selling their organs, kidneys and bone marrow to try to avoid starvation. Twenty-thousand people are sleeping rough in Tehran alone, of which 5,000 are women.
The US should now take robust action against France, Germany and the UK to penalise them for their gutless attempts to appease the mullahs. EU companies who trade with Iran should be aware that they are simply bolstering one of the most evil regimes in the world. They should perhaps pause to reflect on the Italian company who sold dozens of mobile cranes to the Iranian regime. These cranes are now routinely utilised by the IRGC to hang political prisoners and human rights activists in public.
Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change, president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association, and a former MEP for Scotland