(CNSNews.com) – The Iranian regime’s charm offensive in Europe has suffered a double blow with a decision by France to freeze the assets of two suspected intelligence operatives, shortly after a German court approved the extradition of one of the two – an accredited diplomat – who is accused of planning a terror bombing on European soil.
The developments are a setback to the regime’s attempts to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Europe over their dealings with Tehran in the aftermath of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal and the restoration of U.S. sanctions.
Iran’s foreign ministry blamed “dissidents, ill-wishers and saboteurs” for the French decision, and reiterated its denials of any involvement in an alleged plot to bomb an Iranian dissident group’s rally in Paris last June. Earlier Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called it “a sinister false flag ploy.”
The group targeted in the alleged conspiracy, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), welcomed the developments and renewed its call for Europe to expel suspected Iranian intelligence agents.
The NCRI rally was attended by prominent foreign visitors, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
In a joint statement Tuesday, France’s foreign, interior and finance ministers said the government was freezing the assets of Assadollah Assadi and Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, and those of Iran’s ministry of intelligence (MOIS) internal security division.
Assadi, a diplomat accredited to the regime’s embassy in Vienna, was arrested in Germany a day after the aborted attack. Moghadam is believed to be a senior MOIS official in Tehran.
The ministers said the “extremely grave attack” that was planned to take place near Paris on June 30 “cannot go unanswered.”
The discovery of the plot, said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, “confirms the need for a tough approach in our relations with Iran.”
A tough approach is precisely what Washington has been advocating since even before events of June 30. Trump last May pulled out of the JCPOA, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a subsequent policy speech laid out a campaign designed to pressure Tehran to change its behavior at home and abroad.
The U.S. and Israel have both voiced frustration at European attempts to salvage the JCPOA and circumvent U.S. sanctions, despite the regime’s support for terror and “malign” regional activities.
At the U.N. General Assembly last week, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used the word “appeasement” to describe Europe’s approach.
“Think about this: The same week Iran was caught red-handed trying to murder European citizens, European leaders were rolling out the red carpet for President [Hassan] Rouhani, promising to give Iran even more money,” he said.
Also in New York last week, Pompeo in a speech noted that the Paris plot occurred even as the regime was “putting a full-court press on European countries to stay in the nuclear deal.”
The incident directly affects Tehran’s relations with four separate European countries – including two of the remaining JCPOA parties:
--France, as the location of the planned terror attack;
--Belgium, because an Iranian couple allegedly working with Assadi were arrested in Belgium on the day of the NCRI rally, in possession of explosives and a detonation mechanism. Belgium is leading the investigation;
--Germany, because Assadi has been under arrest there since July 1, pending action on a European arrest warrant issued by Belgium; and
--Austria, because Assadi was accredited to the embassy there, until Austrian authorities stripped him of his diplomatic status and immunity from prosecution.
Tehran has tried both public condemnation and quiet persuasion to put the matter to rest and have Assadi returned home – most recently when Zarif met with Le Drian on the sidelines of the U.N. session in New York last week.
But on Monday, a court in the German state of Bavaria announced that Assadi can now be sent to Belgium for trial. The court ruled that he was not immune from prosecution, since he had not been arrested while in transit between his home country and country of accreditation, Austria, but in a third country, Germany.
The court said prosecution authorities would now proceed with his extradition.
‘The evil hands of ill-wishers’
In Tehran, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi decried “plots aimed at straining relations between Tehran and Paris.”
“The whole scenario is a conspiracy aimed at tarnishing the good and growing relations between Iran and Europe, and is in line with the objectives of the U.S. and Israeli regime and managed by a terrorist group residing in France,” the ministry said in a statement, referring in the latter instance to the NCRI.
Qassemi repeated calls for Assadi’s release, and said that Iran warns “about the evil hands of ill-wishers that aim to ruin the age-old ties between Iran and France and other influential European countries.”
The NCRI’s secretariat welcomed the German court ruling, saying since Assadi’s arrest Tehran had attempted, with “threatening, intimidation and pressure,” to have him returned.
The exiled opposition group said in a statement the regime’s lobbyists and allies were trying to distance Iran’s president and foreign minister from terror plotting.
“The decision to commit this major terrorist crime was taken at the highest level of the regime, i.e. the Supreme Security Council, with the presence of Rouhani and Zarif,” it charged.
The NCRI said European governments should expel suspected Iranian intelligence agents, shut down Iranian embassies and recall their ambassadors from Tehran.
The NCRI says its aim is to replace the clerical regime with a democratic republic. It was designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization until 2012, and outlawed as a terrorist group by the E.U. until 2009.