New EU sanctions put more strain on French-Iranian relations

The European Union has hit Iran's intelligence services with sanctions, accusing Tehran of being behind plots to assassinate opponents on Dutch, Danish and French soil. The move by the 28-nation bloc was announced as the Dutch government said it believed Iran was behind the murders of two dissidents in 2015 and 2017.

Alamolhoda Photo: Nima Najafzadeh

Sanctions include the freezing of funds and other financial assets of the Iranian intelligence ministry and individuals. Denmark was first to impose the measures over allegations that Iranian officials tried to kill three dissidents on Danish soil.

A manhunt related to the alleged plot against three Iranians suspected of belonging to the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) led to the shutdown of bridges to Sweden, as well as ferries, on 28 September.

France last year imposed sanctions on two suspected Iranian agents and others from Iran's intelligence and security ministry.

In October last year, French security services concluded that the head of operations at the Iranian intelligence ministry had ordered a plot to bomb a rally of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) opposition group in a suburb of Paris in June last year.

In a statement on 2 October 2018, France's Interior Ministry said that it had taken "targeted and proportionate preventative measures" in the form of adopting national measures to freeze the assets of Assadollah Assadi and Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, Iranian nationals, as well as the Internal Security Directorate of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.

However, a case treating the suspects of the Villepinte bombing is still pending and a trial, to be held in Antwerp, has not come out with a verdict.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pointed the finger at European nations he said were harbouring terrorists.

"Accusing Iran does not release Europe from its responsibility for hosting terrorists," he said in a tweet.

Iran accuses the MEK and its subsidaries of mass killings in the 1980s and 90s, including the 1981 attack on the headquarters of the Islamic Republic Party – seen by Tehran as the biggest attack in the political history of Iran – killing 73 senior officials including the supreme judge Ayatollah Mohammad Behesti.

The Dutch Parool newspaper reported that the Iranian man who was killed in 2015 near Amsterdam, was likely Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi, who was sentenced to death in Iran in absentia, suspected of being the mastermind behind the 1981 attack.

Sanctions tighten strain on France-Iran relations

A relative thaw, starting in 2015 after the G5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) accepted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or "Nuclear Deal" that would put a gradual end to UN sanctions imposed as retaliation against Iran's suspected uranium enrichment program that according to critics was aimed at developing nuclear arms.

Western companies were quick to go to Iran and close deals, one of the biggest being the 4 billion euro deal made by French energy giant Total to develop the South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf.

But after US President Donald Trump unilaterally decided to walk away from the nuclear deal and announced that sanctions would continue, western investors walked away from their deals with Iran, fearing that they might be hit by US retaliation. Total withdrew from the South Pars gas project in August 2018.


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