Iranian president's Europe tour marred by diplomat's arrest

Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi was arrested over an alleged bomb plot targeting exiled Iranian opposition figures in Paris.
Wednesday 04/07/2018
Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) arrive for a joint press conference following a meeting on July 4, 2018. (AFP)
Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) arrive for a joint press conference following a meeting on July 4, 2018. (AFP)

TUNIS - Iranian President Hassan Rohani embarked on the second day of a European tour designed to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, as controversy grew over a suspected bomb plot targeting exiled Iranian opposition figures in Paris. 

Rohani told reporters in Vienna on Wednesday that his country would remain party to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as long its interests are guaranteed.

“Insofar as it is possible for Iran, we shall remain party to the accord, we shall not quit the JCPOA  on condition that we can also benefit from it,” Rohani said. “If the other signatories, apart from the United States, can guarantee Iran’s interests then Iran will stay in the JCPOA.”

Rohani’s stop in Vienna comes as he strains to keep the nuclear deal alive after the US unilaterally pulled out of in May, angering its European allies. However, the trip has been marred by a suspected bomb plot targeting exiled Iranian opposition figures in Paris, which Vienna-based Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi has been arrested over. 

Assadi was detained Sunday near the German city of Aschaffenburg on a European arrest warrant after a couple with Iranian roots was stopped in Belgium and authorities reported finding powerful explosives in their car. 

Those individuals were suspected of plotting a a bomb attack on a July 2 meeting of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) - an umbrella bloc of exiled opposition groups that seek to end Shia clerical rule in Iran.

Hours before receiving Rohani in Vienna, the Austrian government summoned Iran’s ambassador and announced that Assadi’s diplomatic immunity would be withdrawn.

Iranian officials first dismissed the attack a “false flag” organised by opposition activists themselves to undermine Rohani’s diplomatic efforts

“How convenient: Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its ‘plotters’ arrested,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said two suspects in Belgium were members of the People’s Mujahideen, the main opposition group of the NCRI. 

“The detainees in Belgium are known members of this terrorist organisation and Iranian authorities … are prepared to provide the necessary documentation to clarify the dimensions of this scenario,” Qasemi was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying. 

On Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he had discussed the Iranian diplomat’s alleged role in the suspected bomb plot with Rohani during a long-scheduled meeting.

“We expect full clarification and I would like to thank you, Mr. President, that you have assured us of support for this clarification,” said Kurz, speaking alongside Rohani.

Rohani did not mention the case in comments to reporters.  

(Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)