(CNSNews.com) – The European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee is raising eyebrows with a decision to host a senior Iranian lawmaker and regime stalwart on Tuesday, despite simmering concerns over Iran’s violent crackdown on protests.
The committee’s invitation to Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who chairs the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs and security body, comes at a time when the European Union has taken flak for what some see as a tepid response to the crackdown. At least 23 people have been killed and some 3,700 protestors have been detained.
The E.U. parliamentary committee, known by the acronym AFET, has announced that Boroujerdi will take part in an “exchange of views.” Topics will include “the Iranian position on regional developments, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the current political situation in Iran.” The JCPOA is the controversial nuclear deal reached with Iran in 2015.
Then on Wednesday, the Iranian delegation is scheduled to hold a three-hour “seminar” with AFET, discussing E.U.-Iran relations and “issues of common interest.”
Danish E.U. lawmaker Anders Primdahl Vistisen, one of the four vice-chairs of the 75-member committee, slammed the decision. On Twitter, he called it “outrageous” that MEPs would host an “Iranian delegation to talk about climate change, counter-terrorism and trade. Anything but #humanrights and #Iranprotests.”
In another tweet, Vistisen described Boroujerdi as a “key figure of violent crackdown on peaceful protests” and questioned a decision to hold a counter-terrorism seminar with the “biggest sponsor of terror in region & against [its] own people.”
Boroujerdi is no representative of the purported “moderate” element in Tehran. He has held his senior post for more than a decade, during which time he has been an outspoken supporter of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hard line former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and others.
In recent years, Boroujerdi has parroted Khamenei’s charges that the U.S. campaign against ISIS is a farce – implying that the U.S. is in fact supporting the Sunni jihadist group.
Earlier, when Ahmadinejad in 2010 charged that the 9/11 terror attack was orchestrated by elements inside the U.S. government, Boroujerdi spoke out in support of the conspiracy talk, saying that if the U.S. failed to support an independent probe into the attacks it would “strengthen the hypothesis that the U.S. and Zionists” were responsible.
Also during Ahmadinejad’s tenure, Boroujerdi defended his pick for defense minister, Ahmed Vahidi, after Argentina criticized the nomination of a man it accuses of responsibility for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Far from stymie the cabinet appointment, Boroujerdi said at the time, the accusations against Vahidi would merely strengthen Vahidi’s popularity as Ahmadinejad’s defense minister.
(Vahidi was commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force at the time of the 1994 bombing and is one of eight senior Iranians accused by prosecutors in Argentina of involvement. Iran has consistently denied having a hand in the terror attack.)
Israeli opposition lawmaker Yair Lapid was quoted by the Times of Israel as saying the European Parliament should cancel its invitation to “a man who supported the violent crackdown against peaceful protesters, is a central voice in the aggressive foreign policy of Iran – which exports terror and calls for the destruction of Israel – and who represents the antithesis of Western values.”
Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute, called the Boroujerdi invitation an “absurdity.”
Schwammenthal has been critical of the E.U.’s response to the crackdown against protests that begin in the city of Mashhad on December 28 and later spread to scores of cities and towns across Iran.
Observing cautious public responses from E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and some European foreign ministers, he argued in an op-ed early this month that “Europe’s voice has been strangely missing.”
“This late and muted reaction contrasts with the strong and quick response by the U.S. president, vice president, secretary of state, and numerous members of Congress from both sides of the aisle,” Schwammenthal wrote.
On January 9, the U.S. House of Representatives approved in a 415-2 vote a measure “supporting the rights of the people of Iran to free expression [and] condemning the Iranian regime for its crackdown on legitimate protests.”
Three days later, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on key regime-related entities and officials, including its powerful judiciary chief, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declaring that the U.S. “will not stand by while the Iranian regime continues to engage in human rights abuses and injustice.”
In a weekend op-ed in The Hill, Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Iran analyst Tzvi Kahn also criticized the E.U. reaction to the Iranian clampdown.
Kahn attributed the European approach to a flawed effort to bolster President Hasan Rouhani, viewed in some circles as a moderate.
“Europe has fundamentally misjudged the political objectives of Rouhani, who seeks not to reform Iran, but to advance the Islamist agenda of its ultimate decision-maker, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,” he wrote.
“Rather than continue to equivocate about Tehran’s true nature, Europe should recall its prior commitments [to prioritize human rights] – and advance a dialogue that is genuinely critical, open and frank.”
A recent survey by McLaughlin & Associates found strong backing – including across party lines – for the U.S. to support the right of Iranians to “peacefully demonstrate” against the regime, and to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran.