Albania has expelled Iran’s ambassador and another diplomat for “damaging its national security”, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday. Albania did not identify the two, and did not say when they were expelled or if they had left the NATO member country, but told Reuters it had consulted its alliance partners on the decision.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who played a major role in Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran, backed Albania’s decision.
“Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania just expelled the Iranian ambassador, signaling to Iran’s leaders that their support for terrorism will not be tolerated,” Bolton said in a Twitter post.
“We stand with PM Rama and the Albanian people as they stand up to Iran’s reckless behavior in Europe and across the globe,” he said.
Albanian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Edlira Prendi told reporters that the diplomats were suspected of "involvement in activities that harm the country's security" and for "violating their diplomatic status."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement described the diplomats as "two Iranian agents who plotted terrorist attacks in Albania."
News agencies identified Iran’s ambassador to Tirana as Gholamhossein Mohammadnia.
The private Top Channel television station said the Iranians were suspected of links to an alleged plot to attack a World Cup qualifying match in 2016 between Muslim-majority Albania and Israel two years ago in Albania. About 20 people were arrested in Albania and Kosovo following the match.
Albania's relations with Tehran have been strained since an estimated 2,000 members of the Iranian exile opposition group, the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) arrived in the Balkan country in 2013.
Albania took in the members of the group, also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), at the requested of the United States and United Nations after they were forced out of Iraq.
Most of the PMOI member are housed at a large camp near the village of Manze on the Adriatic Sea.