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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

It's time that Europe woke up to Tehran's true intentions

Pursuing a 'business as usual' approach to Iran is misguided and not in the EU's best interests

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has sought to maintain links with Iran. AFP/Martin Ouellet-Diotte
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has sought to maintain links with Iran. AFP/Martin Ouellet-Diotte

It is a source of bewilderment to the Trump administration – and America’s Gulf allies – that European powers have continually failed to take a firm stance on Iran. A punishing US sanctions regime, designed to curb Iran’s regional military overreach, has already borne fruit, with anger towards the regime fizzing on the streets of Tehran. But European powers have defied the US at every turn, in spite of mounting evidence of Iranian malice. This week the disparity between their apparent perceptions and the reality has been particularly stark.

After a thorough investigation, the French government on Tuesday froze the assets of two senior Iranian officials, director general of intelligence Saeid Hashemi Moghadam and diplomat Assadollah Assadi, for planning a bomb attack in the north Paris suburb of Villepinte in June.

It reveals a concerted Iranian effort to wreak havoc on European soil and follows revelations – reported in August by The National – that Mr Assadi was running a European spy ring to acquire missile technologies, disrupt opposition groups and carry out assassinations.

But while the diplomatic spat with France was intensifying, the Iranian regime was busy signing a $460m power plant deal with the Syrian regime, designed to deepen its economic influence in the country. Iranians have protested in their thousands this year over failing public services, and yet Tehran has again devoted revenue to growing its military and economic footprint across the Middle East.

On a deeper level, it is becoming increasingly clear where Tehran’s allegiances lie – not with the European nations trying to insulate it from US sanctions, but with violent regimes such as that of Bashar Al Assad.

The timing is critical, as Europe searches feverishly for ways to salvage economic ties with Tehran, following US President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal this year. Their desperation to salvage the agreement, which freed up revenue for the Iranian regime to spend on its regional adventures, has even prompted plans for a dedicated payments channel between EU states and Iran, to bypass US sanctions. The bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has advocated a “business as usual” approach to Tehran.

But following investigations into the foiled Villepinte attack, those calculations must now start to change. “This act of extreme gravity contemplated on our territory could not be left unanswered,” said a French government statement on Tuesday. In turning a blind eye to Iran’s behaviour in order to preserve the nuclear deal, the EU is turning its back on its US and Gulf allies – as well as one of its members.

Only integrated economic and diplomatic pressure can bring the regime in Tehran to heel. Europe must now realise that.