Bomb plot suspicions overshadow Rohani’s Europe tour

On July 6, the same day as the Vienna meeting, the Netherlands expelled two Iranian staff members.
Sunday 08/07/2018
Back to the wall. Iran’s President Hassan Rohani arrives at the Austrian Chancellery in Vienna, on July 4. (Reuters)
Back to the wall. Iran’s President Hassan Rohani arrives at the Austrian Chancellery in Vienna, on July 4. (Reuters)

LONDON - Allegations of Iranian involvement in a bomb plot in Paris cast a shadow over Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s efforts to sway European leaders to continue to support the Iran nuclear deal and limit impending US economic sanctions.

An Iranian diplomat was arrested, accused of involvement in a foiled attack against Iranian opposition activists in France. There were arrests in several other countries of people suspected to be involved in a plot to bomb an Iranian opposition meeting.

Iranian state media described Rohani’s visit to Switzerland and Austria as “crucial” as the Iranian president sought support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), following a US withdrawal and indications that Washington would sanction European companies doing business in Iran.

Austria holds the rotating EU presidency and Iranian officials hoped that Rohani could gain backing from Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

However, two Belgian nationals — a husband and wife of Iranian origin — were apprehended in Brussels on June 30 allegedly with half a kilogram of homemade explosives along with a detonator. The couple was accused of planning to attack a rally in Paris organised by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

An Iranian diplomat was later arrested by German police in connection with the alleged plot. Arrests in France and expulsions of Iranian diplomats from the Netherlands were believed to be linked to the subsequent investigation.

The diplomat, identified as Assadollah Assadi, is based in Vienna and Germany asked Austria to lift Assadi’s diplomatic status. Assadi is thought to have been the head of intelligence at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna since 2014.

The plot seriously complicated Rohani’s European tour, particularly considering that several Western officials, including US President Donald Trump’s lawyer and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and many European MPs, were to attend the NCRI rally.

Kurz, appearing at a news conference July 4 with Rohani, said: “We expect full clarification in connection with this [plot] and I thank you, Mr President, for assuring us that you will support this clarification.”

Foreign ministers of the remaining signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal — Iran, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China — met in Vienna on July 6 to discuss salvaging the accord but only agreed to continue talking amid a lack of any concrete solution.

Earlier that day, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he was in Vienna “to listen to practical solutions, rather than slogans.”

“The objective is to save the deal. We’ve made some progress, including on safeguarding some crude [oil] sales, but it’s unlikely to meet Iranian expectations,” a senior European diplomat told Reuters.

The Iranians appeared frustrated with the lack of progress over saving the JCPOA; however European officials expressed their own dissatisfaction with Iranian sabre-rattling.

“They (Iranian officials) must stop threatening to break their commitments to the nuclear deal,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French radio, arguing that Tehran’s tough talk made it difficult for the Europeans to secure economic compensation.

Few observers explicitly blamed the bomb plot for the lack of agreement but it certainly didn’t help Tehran’s case when Iran’s detractors claimed it as an example of Iranian subterfuge.

“The Iranian regime’s embassies and representative offices in Europe are centres of espionage and terrorism and the Iranian resistance once again reiterates the need to shut them down,” said NCRI spokesman Shahin Gobadi.

He said the group had “warned time and again” about alleged “plots and preparations” by the Iranian regime, the Ministry of Intelligence and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ al-Quds Force.

The same day as the Vienna meeting, the Dutch Intelligence service AIVD said two Iranian Embassy staff members had been expelled from the country. There was speculation that move was tied to the foiled Paris bomb plot but Tehran claimed it was the victim of a conspiracy.

“All these arrests and expulsions are part of our enemies’ attempts to harm efforts to salvage the nuclear deal,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.

“How convenient. Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, alleged Iranian operations and its ‘plotters’ arrested,” tweeted Zarif. “Iran unequivocally condemns all violence and terror anywhere and is ready to work with all concerned to uncover what is a sinister false flag ploy.”