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Foiled bomb plot distracts from Iranian president's EU trip

July 4, 2018

Hassan Rouhani has met with Austrian Chancellor Kurz and President Van der Bellen in a bid to save the Iran nuclear deal. But his trip has been overshadowed by an alleged bomb plot against critics of Iran's regime.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Austrian Chancellor Sebstian Kurz during a press conference in Vienna
Image: Reuters/L. Niesner

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been doing his best to pressure European leaders and other signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, to guarantee benefits for his country in the face of increasingly hardline threats from the USA.

Two months ago, US President Donald Trump announced that the US would pull out of the deal and impose harsh sanctions on companies that continue to do business with Iran. Rouhani called the sanctions, "a crime and aggression."

Read more: Trump's Iran policy pushes Tehran into the arms of China

During his trip to Vienna — where China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union and the United States signed the deal with Iran in 2015 — Rouhani said: "Iran will survive this round of sanctions as it has survived before. This US government will not stay in office forever … But history will judge other nations based on what they do today."  

The remaining signatories are set to meet with Rouhani in Vienna on Friday to discuss the future of the deal. In an effort to salvage the accord, European leaders have prepared an economic package in the hopes of protecting Iran from the brunt of US sanctions. Rouhani said, "If the other signatories, apart from the United States, can guarantee Iran's interests then Iran will stay in the JCPOA."

Later on Wednesday, after meeting with Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rouhani suggested that Iran might reduce its cooperation with the body. "The responsibility for the change of Iran's cooperation level with the IAEA falls on those who have created this new situation," he said, in reference to Trump.

Read more: Donald Trump and the Iran nuclear deal – a crisis in the making

In a separate statement, Ismail Kowsari, a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, said Iran would block oil transports through the Strait of Hormuz if the United States carried out its threat of banning Iranian oil exports: "If they want to stop Iranian oil exports, we will not allow any oil shipment to pass through the Strait of Hormuz." 

'Europe is key' to survival of Iran deal

Foiled bomb attack causing difficulties

Rouhani's trip has been overshadowed by a foiled bomb plot against a large rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which was held last weekend in Paris. The NCRI is an umbrella organization of opposition groups that seek to overthrow the Shiite leadership in Tehran.

The incident has proven a great distraction leading Iran to summon France's ambassador to, "strongly protest against the French support of activities of the terrorist group," referring to the NCRI rally. 

The NCRI is the political arm of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, or MEK, which was engaged in armed conflict with the Iranian government in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Although neither Rouhani nor Kurz took reporters' questions when they appeared together in Vienna, Kurz addressed one of the plot's more difficult issues regarding Tehran.

A Belgian police robot inspects suspects's car in Brussel
A Belgian police robot in Brussels inspects the car of a couple suspected of plotting a bomb attack at the Paris rally of an Iranian exile opposition group Image: Imago/CrowdSpark

Speaking about a Vienna-based Iranian diplomat who was arrested in Germany on Sunday and is accused of having ties to the Belgian-Iranian couple behind the plot, Kurz said: "We expect full clarification and I would like to thank you, Mr. President, that you have assured us of your support for this this clarification."

Iran summons European ambassadors

On Wednesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned both the French and Belgian ambassadors in Tehran as well as Germany's charge d'affaires to protest the diplomat's arrest, demanding that he be unconditionally and immediately released.

Details about the plot and who was behind it remain murky. NCRI members say that Tehran is clearly to blame, whereas Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it was a "false flag ploy" designed to sabotage Rouhani's trip.

On Monday, Austria summoned the Iranian ambassador and announced that it would strip the diplomat of his immunity. Meanwhile, French and German authorities said they would comply with Belgium's request for the diplomat's extradition, as well as the extradition of another Iranian man being held in France.

The two are suspected of being involved with a Belgian couple of Iranian origin who were arrested with explosives and a detonator in their car by Belgian authorities.

js/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)