Belgium-Iran treaty that could free Iranian ‘terrorist diplomat’ draws criticism

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A proposed treaty between Belgium and Iran that could potentially allow an Iranian diplomat sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges to be sent back to Tehran has drawn criticism from former and current US and European officials.

The prisoner swap treaty between Belgium and Iran, which the Belgian parliament will review this week, would allow Belgium and Iran to exchange jailed nationals.

However, it has drawn sharp criticism from former and current US and European officials, as it could facilitate the release of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat who was found guilty of attempted terrorism in February 2021 over a thwarted bomb attack in 2018 in France against a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a French-based Iranian opposition group.

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Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium and is currently serving his sentence there.

A note from Belgium’s intelligence and security agency identified Assadi as an officer of Iran’s intelligence ministry who operated under cover at Iran’s embassy in Vienna, the Associated Press reported last year.

‘Stunning mistake in progress’

In a letter to the Belgian parliament dated July 3, nine former senior members of the US law enforcement and national security community described the proposed treaty as “a stunning mistake in progress.”

Iran will use the treaty to bring Assadi and his accomplices back to Tehran, the letter said.

“To allow these people to return to the country which issued their orders undoes accountability entirely. These Iranian terrorists will not serve prison sentences, but rather be returned to their official duties,” it said.

“From the 1996 Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia, the 2011 plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC, the 2018 attempt to bomb the NCRI rally in France, to numerous other hostile acts, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to prove itself the number-one state-exporter of international terrorism. This is not going to change,” the letter added.

The letter was signed by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, former National Security Advisor James L. Jones, former Commandant of the Marine Corps James T. Conway, and former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, among others.

In a separate letter to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo dated July 3, three Republican US congressmen - Randy K. Weber and Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania - urged De Croo to “lead the Belgian Parliament in rejecting any deal between your government and the Islamic Republic of Iran that would return the terrorist, Assadollah Assadi -or any other convicted Iranian terrorist, for that matter - to the homeland.”

In another letter to the Belgian Parliament dated July 1, seven members of the European Parliament - three from Italy, two from Spain, one from Czech Republic, and one from Poland - warned that that the treaty “will pave the way for the release of Assadollah Assadi, the Iranian regime’s terrorist diplomat… and gives a green light to the religious fascism ruling Iran to continue its criminal activities and terrorism on European soil.”

“Such an agreement will result in more crimes and assassinations in Europe, and unless we all take a firm stand, this will not be the last of these deadly terrorist plots,” the letter said.

On Sunday, over 600 Iranian-Americans who attended the 2018 NCRI rally which Assadi planned to target urged the Belgian parliament to “uphold the values of human rights and the rule of law, and refrain from adopting any bills which include any language that would enable such a shameful act of returning a convicted terrorist to join his terror masters.”

“Europe will not be safe if Tehran is given a carte blanche to wage terror and easily get its terrorists off the hook,” they said.

“If the Belgian government proceeds with this [treaty], Iran’s regime will further turn Europe into a roaming ground for its terrorists, targeting not just Iranian dissidents but others also, as Tehran is essentially being told that it won’t pay a price,” Ramesh Sepehrrad of the US-based Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) told Al Arabiya English.

Cameron Khansarinia, policy director of the US-based National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI), told Al Arabiya English that if freed by Belgium, Assadi “will not only be celebrated by the regime in Iran but will [also] serve as inspiration for further terror attacks across Europe.”

“The Islamic Republic will use this sign of weakness by Brussels to respond with more strength, and it will put countless Iranian dissidents and Europeans in serious danger,” said Khansarinia.

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