On January 8th, the EU adopted sanctions against Iran’s intelligence services for its alleged assassination plots on Dutch, Danish And French soil. Sanctions include the freezing of funds and other financial assets of the Iranian intelligence ministry and individuals, officials say.
The decision was announced by Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen:
Important day for European Foreign Policy! EU just agreed to enact sanctions against an Iranian Intelligence Service for its assassination plots on European soil. Strong signal from the EU that we will not accept such behavior in Europe.
— Anders Samuelsen (@anderssamuelsen) January 8, 2019
Earlier he tweeted the decision in Danish, with a harsher rhetoric, calling them “terrorist sanctions”:
Vedtaget! Efter en massiv indsats fra Danmark og partnere har EU netop vedtaget terrorsanktioner imod iransk efterretningstjeneste efter attentater og planer i Europa og Danmark. En stor dag for resolut dansk og europæisk udenrigspolitik. #dkpol
— Anders Samuelsen (@anderssamuelsen) January 8, 2019
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen also praised the decision on Twitter:
Very encouraging that EU has just agreed on new targeted sanctions against Iran in response to hostile activities and plots being planned and perpetrated in Europe, including Denmark. EU stands united – such actions are unacceptable and must have consequences. #dkpol #eudk
— Lars Løkke Rasmussen (@larsloekke) January 8, 2019
“Adopted! Following a massive effort by Denmark and partners, the EU has just adopted terrorist sanctions against Iranian intelligence following the attacks and plans in Europe and Denmark. A great day for resolute Danish and European foreign policy. #dkpol”
The move is more symbolic than anything since one of the assassination plot suspects is in prison in Belgium. However, it marks the first sanctions the EU imposes on Iran since it lifted a plethora of them following the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal.
The decision, which includes designating the unit and the two Iranians as terrorists, follows last year’s allegations by Denmark and France that they suspected an Iranian government intelligence service of pursuing assassination plots on their soil.
France already sanctioned the two men and the ministry unit said there was no doubt the Iranian intelligence ministry was behind a failed attack near Paris.
On January 8th, Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok, and the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Kajsa Ollongren submitted a letter to the Dutch President demanding sanctions on Iran.
The EU and the Netherlands take strong action against Iranian unlawful interference in Europe. Targeted sanctions and a clear message underline that this behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop immediately. https://t.co/aBDOq24Atm
— Stef Blok (@ministerBlok) January 8, 2019
The letter publicly accused Iran of the plots, as well as two killings in 2015 and 2017, sending a letter to parliament to warn of further economic sanctions if Tehran did not cooperate with European investigations.
“When the sanctions were announced today, the Netherlands, together with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Denmark and Belgium met with the Iranian authorities to convey their serious concerns regarding Iran’s probable involvement in these hostile acts on EU territory. Iran was informed that involvement in such matters is entirely unacceptable and must be stopped immediately. Iran is expected to cooperate fully in removing the present concerns and, where necessary, in aiding criminal investigations. If such cooperation is not forthcoming, further sanctions cannot be ruled out,” the letter said.
Iran denies any involvement in the alleged plots, saying that the accusations served only the purpose of attempting to damage EU-Iran relations.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted the following response, saying that “accusing Iran won’t absolve Europe of responsibility for harboring terrorists.”
Europeans, incl Denmark, Holland & France, harbor MEK—who killed 12000 Iranians & abetted Saddam's crimes against Iraqi Kurds—as well as other terrorists staging murder of innocent Iranians from Europe. Accusing Iran won't absolve Europe of responsibility for harboring terrorists pic.twitter.com/pUXmSjmgyB
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2019
The decision to impose the sanctions was taken without debate at an unrelated meeting of Europe ministers in Brussels and the asset freeze comes into effect on Wednesday, EU officials cited by Reuters said.
The Danish Foreign Ministry named the two employees as the deputy minister and director general of intelligence, Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, and a Vienna-based diplomat, Assadollah Asadi. They are supposed to appear in the EU’s Official Journal on January 9th.
Meanwhile, in the US, Democrats in the US Senate blocked a new bill of Syria sanctions. This, however, does not express any support for Syria, it was done to spite the Republican-led chamber, which needs to take up legislation to end the government shutdown.
The sanctions measure failed on the evening of January 8th in a procedural vote, 56 to 44, with 60 votes needed to advance, just hours before President Donald Trump is set to deliver an address on the partial government shutdown.
Democrats said they refuse to support any legislation unrelated to reopening the government and the vote against the Syria sanctions was to express their discontent with the shutdown that began on December 22nd.
The movement to only support a reopening bill began by a tweet from Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen.
Senate Democrats should block consideration of any bills unrelated to opening the government until Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans allow a vote on the bipartisan bills the House passed to open the government. Mitch, don’t delay. Let’s vote!
— Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) January 5, 2019
The sanctions on Syria are part of a package of security-related bills, introduced by Florida Republican Marco Rubio and supported by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell voiced his frustration with the tactic on the Senate floor, saying “America’s vital interests in the Middle East have been challenged by chaos” and that the package of legislation would allow the Congress to address “all of this head on.”
“I expected these actions to be a big bipartisan vote, not a partisan showdown,” he said.
Thus, at first glance it may appear that the block of the Syria sanctions bill is a sign of US policy changing on Syria’s government, however that would be false.