(CNSNews.com) – The Trump administration on Tuesday welcomed a European Union decision to impose its first sanctions against the Iranian regime since the 2015 nuclear deal, in response to terrorist activity in Europe.
France and Denmark last year foiled two plots to kill dissidents on European soil, and the Netherlands on Tuesday attributed the earlier murders of two Iranian dissidents to the regime.
The Trump administration has sought to persuade European allies to take a tougher line on Iran since the president – in a move strongly opposed by the E.U. – withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement last May.
Results of the U.S. effort have been mixed up to now: France last October did freeze the assets of two senior Iranian officials and a regime security department over a disrupted bomb plot, and Denmark weeks later recalled its ambassador from Tehran after exposing an assassination plot, but this is the first post-JCPOA E.U.-wide punitive measure taken.
“By taking action today, European nations sent Iran a clear message that terrorism will not be tolerated,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “The U.S. strongly supports the new sanctions and stands with our European allies as we counter this common threat.”
The sanctions are believed to be the first ever E.U. measures targeting an institution of the Iranian state.
The move mirrors the French measures taken last fall, imposing sanctions against the same two regime officials, Assadollah Assadi and Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, and against the internal security division of the ministry of intelligence (MOIS).
Moghadam is described as a top MOIS official in Tehran, while Assadi, a diplomat at Iran’s embassy in Vienna, is behind bars in Belgium, facing trial for his alleged role in a plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally near Paris last summer.
Attendees at the rally included former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former FBI Director Louis Freeh, all supporters of the hosting group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)/Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK).
NCRI’s secretariat on Tuesday called on the E.U. to beyond the targeted sanctions, saying it should blacklist the MOIS and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in their entirety, shut down Iranian embassies, and expel what NCRI called its “diplomat-terrorists.”
‘Assassinations and attacks on E.U. territory’
The foiled plot in Denmark targeted another dissident group, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), which wants an autonomous state in the oil-rich Khuzestan province, home to Iran ethnic Arab minority.
ASMLA was also the target in one of the murders in the Netherlands – the Nov. 2017 gunning down in The Hague of the group’s exiled leader, Ahmad Mola Nissi.
Two years earlier, another exiled Iranian was shot dead in the Netherlands. The target of the shooting in the city of Almere, living under an alias, was Mohammad-Reza Kolahi Samadi, an MEK member wanted by the regime in connection with a deadly bombing in Tehran in 1981.
Dutch authorities last June expelled two Iranian diplomats, but gave no official reason for the move.
On Tuesday, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok finally did so, saying the Dutch intelligence service AIVD has uncovered “strong indications” that Iran was involved in the killing of Nissi and Samadi, both Dutch citizens.
In a letter to parliament, Blok referred to the wider E.U. action in response to Iranian “assassinations and attacks on E.U. territory,” and said if the regime does not “remove the present concerns” and cooperate in criminal investigations, further sanctions are possible.
But Blok also said that the E.U. was making a distinction between the terror dispute with Iran and the JCPOA, and that as long as Iran complies with its obligations under the nuclear agreement, the E.U. will do so too.
The E.U., which played a convening role in the marathon talks that produced the JCPOA, views the deal as one of the E.U.’s first big diplomatic victories, as well as an economic coup.
To Washington’s annoyance, it has been looking for ways to continue doing business with Iran without falling foul of U.S. sanctions, restored last year after President Trump exited the agreement.
The E.U. sanctions decision is being taken pursuant to a 2001 E.U. “common position” document whose annex comprises a list of organizations and individuals deemed as terrorist.
Currently the annex lists 13 individuals and 31 organizations whom all E.U. member-states agree should be listed for terror activity.
Five Iranians are listed: IRGC-Qods Force head Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and four other men accused by the U.S. government of involvement in a foiled Qods Force plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. by bombing a Washington restaurant in 2011.
No Iranian entities are currently named, although the list does include the “military wing” of Hezbollah, Iran’s Shi’ite proxy in Lebanon. (The U.S. draws no distinction between Hezbollah’s supposed “wings” but has outlawed it in its entirety.)
Iran’s government has repeatedly denied the European governments claims. Responding to reports of the latest sanctions move, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif pointed a finger back at the E.U., accusing it of sheltering terrorists wanted in Iran, including MEK members.