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Source: Politico

May 26, 2024

The EU’s pathetic crocodile tears for Iranian hangman

Europe bends over backwards not to offend murderous mullahs, more interested in potentially reopening trade than in human rights.


BY MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG


BERLIN — Diplomacy, as one 20th century American journalist put it, “is to do and say the nastiest things in the nicest way.”


European statesmen from Machiavelli to Metternich to Bismarck perfected the form. But as this week’s sudden, unlamentable demise of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (a.k.a. “The Butcher of Tehran”) proved, the diplomatic rapier thrust cloaked in the mannerly prose of a note verbale is a lost art in Europe.


“The EU expresses its sincere condolences for the death of President Raisi and Foreign Minister Abdollahian, as well as other members of their delegation and crew in a helicopter accident,” European Council President Charles Michel wrote on X.


“Sincere condolences” for a man who as the leader of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s so-called death committee ordered the execution of hundreds, if not thousands, of dissidents, many of whom were hanged from cranes in the public square; a man responsible for the brutal crackdown against Iran’s “women, life, freedom” movement; a holocaust denier who vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.


Not to be outdone, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell chimed in to express his regrets over “the tragic helicopter crash.” (A dyed-in-the-wool apologist for the mullahs, Borrell has made no secret of his ennui over American claims that Iran posed a serious threat to global security: “Iran wants to wipe out Israel? Nothing new about that,” he told POLITICO in 2019 when he was still Spanish foreign minister. “You have to live with it.”)


National governments across the EU also weighed in with earnest declarations of their own. Slovenia expressed its “sympathies to the bereaved victims’ families.”


Alas, it wasn’t referring to Raisi’s victims.


Strange bedfellows

While Michel and Borrell were wiping away their tears alongside the likes of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, people across Iran celebrated behind closed doors, danced and even shot off fireworks.


How could the Europeans be so tone deaf?


The stock answer is that at the high table of global diplomacy, “this is how things are done.”


Except that’s not really true. In its response, the U.S. expressed “official condolences,” but added: “We reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”


Even that muted message drew the ire of Republicans, who accused Secretary of State Antony Blinken of going soft on the mullahs.


EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell chimed in to express his regrets over “the tragic helicopter crash.” | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images


But in contrast to the Europeans, Blinken at least acknowledged the obvious: that Iranians were, in his words, “probably better off” without Raisi.


So why are Europeans so feckless?


In their own minds, it’s diplomatic cunning; in the real world, it’s plain cowardice.


First the cunning: Europe is still holding out hope that it can somehow resurrect the failed nuclear deal with Iran that relaxed sanctions on Tehran in return for allowing international inspections of its atomic activities.


To keep the door open, European leaders, whose countries also stand to benefit from a resumption of trade with Iran, have taken pains not to offend the regime. By this logic, a failure to express condolences over Raisi’s death would be considered an unnecessary provocation.


Leaving aside the continued viability of the nuclear deal at this stage, it’s worth recalling the details of Iran’s malevolent behavior, not just toward its own people and neighbors, but toward Europeans.


While Borrell (or a minion) was crafting his condolences tweet, one of his diplomats, Johan Floderus, is locked up in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where he has spent the past two years. His crime? Visiting Iran on holiday.

While Borrell was crafting his condolences tweet, one of his diplomats, Johan Floderus, is locked up in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where he has spent the past two years. | Koosha Mahshid Falahi/Mizan News Agency/AFP via Getty Images


Iran officially accuses the Swede of “corruption on Earth,” a wide-ranging set of charges that includes allegedly spying for Israel.


In reality, he’s simply been taken hostage. Like Russia and other rogue nations, Iran has turned taking Westerners hostage into something of a cottage industry. It uses the hostages as bargaining chips to either win the release of Iranian prisoners in the West or other concessions.


Just ask Michel, who served as Belgian prime minister before becoming Council president.


One of the most significant cases of Iranian hostage-taking in recent memory involved Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who was detained in Iran in 2022 and sentenced to nearly three decades in prison on spurious spying allegations.


Following a campaign by his family, the Belgian government agreed to exchange an Iranian intelligence officer convicted of trying to stage a terrorist attack in France. The plot was foiled following a tip from American intelligence. Had it gone ahead, dozens could have been killed.  


On the spectrum of Iran’s European victims, the hostages are the lucky ones. Since 2015, Iran has carried out more than a dozen operations in Europe, killing at least three people and abducting several others, security officials say. 


Many of the regime’s European victims have Iranian roots. Jamshid Sharmahd, a German citizen, was born in Iran before emigrating. He operated a small radio station in the U.S. critical of the Iranian regime. During a flight stopover in Dubai in  2020, Iranian agents kidnapped him and spirited him back to Iran, where the 69-year-old has since been sentenced to death.


Yet that didn’t stop German Chancellor Olaf Scholz from sending “condolences to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran” this week.


European leaders weren’t always so weak-kneed.


Upon the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il in 2011, for example, Germany’s then-foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said, “We hope that a window of opportunity will open for the people of North Korea.”


The French foreign ministry put out a statement saying, “our thoughts go to North Korean people who have been suffering for years from misery and lack of human rights.”


Back then, the EU followed the adage that if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.


“The EU takes note of the announcement by North Korean state media that Kim Jong-il died during the weekend, probably following a heart attack,” a spokesperson for the bloc said.


No need for “sincere condolences” there. Only Raisi gets those.






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