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Source: Foreign Policy

Sep 19, 2023

Europe’s Relationship With Iran Has Never Been Worse
The EU is still trying to rekindle the nuclear deal—for now.

By Anchal Vohra

In a debate last week European parliamentarians from across the political spectrum ripped into EU foreign minister Joseph Borrell’s Iran policy. They accused Borrell of having “failed’’ to change the behavior of the Iranian regime and called on him to abandon attempts at rapprochement and instead downgrade ties.

Borrell’s Iran policy has thus far been dominated by his efforts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran at the insistence of Germany, France and the United Kingdom or the E3, the European partners to the agreement.  But as Iran continues to repress people at home despite mass protests calling for change, sell drones to aid Russia against Ukraine, and continue to incarcerate European tourists to extract political and economic concessions in exchange for their release, representatives of the European people say it is time for a rethink.

David Liga, a Swedish parliamentarian from the conservative grouping European People’s Party (EPP) who called for the debate, said the European Union (EU) must refuse “any negotiations with the Iranian regime” presumably in reference to Borrell’s mediation to resurrect the deal.

The debate was called to commemorate the first anniversary of the killing of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Iranian woman arrested for allegedly “improperly” wearing her hijab and killed in police custody. But the parliamentarians were particularly enraged at the recent revelation that the Swedish national held hostage by Iranian authorities since last year was a government official, a European diplomat at Borrell’s External Affairs Service (EEAS).

Foreign Policy has learned that Borrell sees no urgency among member state governments— whom he ultimately answers to in the EU—to change his existing strategy. “If the member states want a change in the policy, they can raise it. But so far there is no real push to rethink,” an anonymous source aware of the workings at the EEAS told FP.

Yet Borrell’s policy is increasingly under public scrutiny. Cornelius Adebahr, Nonresident Fellow at Carnegie, argued that since September last year, the month Amini was killed, public mood in Europe has become a deciding factor. “For decades, Iran policy was made outside of the public view,” he responded to FP in an email, but it might now have to be taken into consideration.

The EU parliamentarians were incensed at Iran’s audacity in abducting a Swedish diplomat last year—and at EU authorities for keeping it under wraps for more than 500 days. (The news was first reported by the New York Times earlier this month.)

Johan Floderus, a member of the Afghanistan delegation at the EU’s diplomatic Corps, returning from a trip to Iran with friends last April when he was arrested at the Tehran airport on spurious charges. He has been held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison with less than half an hour of fresh air a day, and only one phone call per month since February. His abduction has added impetus to calls for reassessing and amending EU’s Iran policy.

Few doubt that Iran intends to exchange Floderus for Iranian official Hamid Noury, convicted in Sweden last year for playing a key role in the killings of thousands in 1988. He was tried under universal jurisdiction which allows countries to prosecute foreign nationals for crimes against humanity.

Nastran, an Iran-based activist of opposition group Mojahedin-e-Khalq  (MEK), spoke from Tehran via encrypted communications with FP, through an Europe-based intermediary. Nastran, too, was imprisoned in Evin in solitary confinement and said Floderus’ abduction is a result of Europe’s “appeasement” policy.

Last month the US succumbed to Iran’s hostage diplomacy. In exchange for five Americans held hostage in Iran the US not only released five Iranian prisoners but waived restrictions on international banks to transfer $6 billion in withheld oil revenues from South Korea, through Qatar, to the Islamic Republic. A few months ago the Belgian government gave in and released Iranian diplomat Assadullah Assadi who had been convicted of plotting a terror strike in France on a rally of MEK  to secure the release of a Belgian aid worker.

“We all noticed that Asadullah Asadi was exchanged in return for the Belgian hostage,” Nastran said in Farsi. “It is obvious the regime wants to use the Swedish diplomat who works for the European Union to get Hamid Noury.”

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