EU warns Iran about ballistic missiles, hostile activities

"Iran continues to undertake efforts to increase the range and precision of its missiles, together with increasing the number of tests and operational launches," the European Union said in a statement.
Wednesday 06/02/2019
Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier-General Amir Hatami stands by the next-generation, short-range ballistic missile in Tehran, last August. (AFP)
Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier-General Amir Hatami stands by the next-generation, short-range ballistic missile in Tehran, last August. (AFP)

LONDON - Despite establishing a special purpose vehicle (SPV) designed to insulate Tehran from US economic sanctions, the European Union said it was “gravely concerned” by Iran’s missile launches and tests.

"Iran continues to undertake efforts to increase the range and precision of its missiles, together with increasing the number of tests and operational launches," the European Union said in a statement. "These activities deepen mistrust and contribute to regional instability."

The European Union called on Iran to end espionage and assassination plots in Europe after France, Denmark and the Netherlands accused Iranian intelligence apparatus of planning attacks against Iranian opposition figures.

“[The European Union is] deeply concerned by the hostile activities that Iran has conducted on the territory of several member states,” the statement said also criticised Iran's "provision of military, financial and political support to non-state actors in countries such as Syria and Lebanon."

The European Union stressed its "unwavering" resolve to saving the Iran nuclear deal, which has come under pressure after Washington unilaterally withdrew from the agreement last year.

Tehran was quick to bat away the European Union criticism with the Iranian Foreign Ministry saying it would never negotiate over its missile programme.

“Clear threats against the Islamic Republic are not constructive, efficient or helpful and they are not in line with regional security and the real interests of Europe,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“Raising such baseless and hollow accusations while known terrorist and criminal groups are free in Europe, is not constructive at this stage and is in line with the goals of enemies who seek to undermine Iran’s relations with Europe,” the statement added.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry’s allusion to “known terrorist and criminal groups” is likely a reference to the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (MEK), a major Iranian opposition group that is outlawed in Iran.

Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi is awaiting trial in Belgium on charges stemming from an alleged terrorist plot targeting an MEK rally last year in Paris. Assadi, who had been a diplomat based in Austria, is alleged to have tasked two would-be bombers to attack the rally and provided them with explosives.

Subsequent espionage and terrorist plots reportedly involving Iranian agents were reported in Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Germany. Several European countries imposed unilateral sanctions on Tehran, its intelligence apparatus and specific senior intelligence officers.

The back and forth between the European Union and Iran was less than a week after Europe announced the launch of the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), the SPV meant to assist Iran circumvent US sanctions. While the financial understanding only concerns food and medicine, INSTEX could be expanded to include other trade items.

“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,” said Struan Stevenson, coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change, during a visit to the European Parliament.

“It is 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, [that] 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 wars 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,” he added.

While many criticised the European Union for establishing INSTEX while Iran’s behaviour on the continent remains problematic, some in Tehran complained that the SPV did not go far enough.

Chief Justice of Iran Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani described INTEX as imposing “humiliating conditions” on Tehran, Iran’s state-run Press TV said.

“After nine months of dawdling and negotiations, European countries have come up with a limited-capacity mechanism not for exchange of money with Iran, but to supply food and medicine,” Larijani said at a meeting of high-ranking judicial officials.

“These [European] countries must know that the Islamic Republic of Iran will by no means accept these humiliating conditions and will not give in to any demand in return for a small opening [in sanctions] like INSTEX,” he added.