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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

There is no safe haven for the opponents of the Iranian regime

As the Austria bomb plot shows, the regime in Tehran must be urgently held to account

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference during his official visit in Bern, Switzerland, 03 July 2018. EPA/PETER KLAUNZER
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference during his official visit in Bern, Switzerland, 03 July 2018. EPA/PETER KLAUNZER

For Iranian dissenters, exile has never been a guarantor of safety from the state’s methodical global assassination operations. In 1990s, for instance, a string of high-profile Iranian activists clamouring from abroad for political reform at home were murdered. In all, the Iranian regime stands accused of carrying out more than 160 political assassinations in 19 countries. The arrest this week in Germany of an Iranian diplomat posted to Austria, on suspicion of involvement in a plot to blow up a gathering of the regime’s opponents in Paris – at a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran addressed by Rudi Giuliani, the former New York mayor and adviser to US President Donald Trump – fits a pattern. Tehran has long sought to annihilate the NCRI, an umbrella group of exiled opposition groups; in 1997, it deployed warplanes to bomb its camps in Iraq.

The plot seemingly foiled this week in Europe looks like a brazen resumption of an incomplete campaign. Its timing, occurring just before Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was poised to arrive in Europe, meant that the regime could deny culpability by shrieking “false flag” and blaming mysterious adversaries intent on discrediting it – and that is exactly what Iran’s foreign minister has done. In truth, a horror in the French capital appears to have been averted by professional police forces. Mr Rouhani’s visit to Austria and Switzerland to stimulate trade and rescue the doomed nuclear deal following Washington’s withdrawal is already tarnished. The “moderate” face of the Iranian president can scarcely conceal the malignancy of his regime.

As Mr Rouhani was soliciting foreign investment, the unfolding protests in south-western Iran over the quality of water raised other urgent questions: where have the funds that have poured into the country thanks to the nuclear deal gone? Why can’t a government that runs a nuclear programme supply clean water to its people? The ugly truth is that the only beneficiaries of recent cash inflows have been the leaders of Iran and their terrorist clients in the region and beyond.

US state department officials are scheduled to visit the region soon to confer with allies, including the UAE, to coordinate the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran. This is an important occasion to forge a comprehensive architecture to curb Iran’s misconduct. Sanctions relief should be offered as a reward if Iran changes its behaviour – not as a bribe, as it was in the past, in the vain hope that Iran might do so. For four decades, the people of Iran have endured economic mismanagement, corruption, stifling oppression and gratuitous brutality. This opportunity to hold the regime to account should not be squandered.