A conference of Iranian opposition groups met in Paris this weekend to discuss their strategies for regime change and to hear from luminaries such as Rudy Giuliani. According to police in several European capitals, the Iranian regime plotted to wipe out their enemies in a terror attack on the hotel complex where the conference took place. Security officials have several of the plotters in custody just as Iran’s envoy on the nuclear deal arrives to discuss the future of their relationship:
European security services arrested four people, including an Iranian diplomat, for allegedly planning to bomb an annual gathering of Iranian opposition groups outside Paris last Saturday and are examining whether Tehran ordered the attempted attack. …
Belgian police on Saturday arrested a husband and wife of Iranian origin after stopping their vehicle in Brussels, authorities said Monday. In the Mercedes, police said they found an ignition device and 500 grams of TATP, a homemade explosive.
German police arrested a 46-year-old diplomat at the Iranian embassy in Austria, whom police described as a “contact person” for the couple. And French police arrested a 54-year-old described as an accomplice. Authorities said they had monitored communications among the individuals.
A Belgian law enforcement official said investigators suspect the couple took orders from the Iranian diplomat.
Doesn’t the Iranian diplomat have immunity from arrest and prosecution? No one’s quite sure about that yet. Austria has stripped “Assadollah A” of diplomatic status, and has summoned the Iranian ambassador for discussions of his status. Depending on the news source, either Austria has requested that Iran waive immunity, or has waived it unilaterally, as the Washington Post reports:
Austria says it will lift the immunity of an Iranian diplomat detained in Germany over a plot to attack an Iranian opposition group.
Matthias Forenbacher, a spokesman for Austria’s foreign minister, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Iran was notified the man’s diplomatic status will be canceled within 48 hours.
A day earlier, Iran’s ambassador in Vienna was summoned to the ministry and asked to “contribute to clarifying the situation.”
That may be a confusion between diplomatic status and immunity, however. AFP reports that Austria has urged Tehran to waive immunity immediately:
Vienna delivered the request to “lift the immunity of the Iranian diplomat” to Iran’s ambassador to Austria, who was summoned to the foreign ministry after news of the alleged plot emerged on Monday, a ministry spokesman said.
Austria also informed Iran on Tuesday that the diplomat would be “deprived of his diplomatic status within 48 hours because of the existence of a European arrest warrant” against him, said the spokesman, Matthias Forenbacher.
The diplomat was one of six people arrested in Belgium, France and Germany over the alleged plot.
It seems unlikely that Austria would unilaterally waive immunity to arrest someone under diplomatic immunity. Doing so invites retaliatory arrests of their own diplomats in Tehran, which is how and why diplomatic immunity works. They can detain the diplomat by confining him to quarters and then expel him, but that’s all they can do if Iran won’t lift diplomatic immunity — and they won’t. The mullahs can’t afford to have him talk.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif doesn’t sound as though he’s inclined to cooperate in an investigation. Zarif accused the opposition groups of a “false flag ploy” to disrupt the talked over the JCPOA just as Hassan Rouhani is about to arrive:
The Iranian government reacted angrily to the arrests, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeting: “How convenient: Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its ‘plotters arrested. Iran unequivocally condemns all violence & terror anywhere, and is ready to work with all concerned to uncover what is a sinister false flag ploy.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani began a two-day visit to Switzerland on Monday and is expected to travel to Austria next.
If it was just the opposition groups making the claims, this response might be understandable. However, it seems highly unlikely that any European police force would arrest an Iranian diplomat without serious probable cause to do so, let alone demand his extradition as the Belgians are doing at the moment. Zarif might as well accuse European leaders of a “false flag ploy,” and perhaps that was his intent.
Put simply, it’s insane, and it shows the insanity of dealing with the mullahs on their own terms as a legitimate government. Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, designed to both expand their influence and shore up their crumbling regime. With protests escalating in the streets, they saw this conference in Paris as a threat, and dealt with it the way they do with all threats — with terrorism. The mullahs won’t hesitate to deploy terrorism even in the sovereign territories of their trading partners. Maybe that’s something that the Europeans should keep in mind when dealing with Rouhani on the JCPOA — or perhaps it’s something the entire Western alliance should have kept in mind before signing it in the first place.