By Bruce McColm, originally published in Townhall.com, December 18, 2020
In April 2019, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was welcomed as an honored guest at the headquarters of the terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC has been designated by the United States as a terrorist organization. Its foreign special operations division, the Quds Force, had received that designation many years before. Zarif is on the record as saying he held weekly meetings with the eliminated Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani in order to coordinate policy.
The U.S. has also imposed economic sanctions on Zarif and limited his freedom of movement on U.S. territory during his visits to the United Nations General Assembly. Indeed, Zarif’s association and coordination with terrorist masterminds in the Iranian regime makes his role more akin to that of a “propaganda minister” than a conventional Foreign Minister.
But Zarif’s involvement in terrorism is much more far-reaching. Late last month, an unprecedented trial began in Belgium involving a high-ranking Iranian diplomat and three accomplices. Zarif’s so-called “diplomat,” Assadollah Assadi, stands accused of smuggling a bomb into Europe while traveling on an official passport, then passing the powerful TATP explosive to two operatives. The target of the terrorist plot, which was to take place near Paris in June 2018, was the annual gathering of pro-democracy activists organized by the main opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Among those activists were tens of thousands of Iranians, as well as hundreds of high-profile international dignitaries, including western national security officials, policymakers, foreign policy experts, and human rights activists in the US and Europe. The terror plot would have killed hundreds of individuals if it had not been thwarted by European authorities at the last minute. Belgian prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for Zarif’s diplomat, with the final verdict expected next month.
Assadi was not acting on his own but undertook the operation on orders from the highest levels in Tehran. Instructions reached Assadi via the Foreign Ministry. Zarif was aware of the plot. And direct involvement would come as little surprise given Zarif’s public affection for the IRGC and Soleimani, who was recognized as Iran’s top terrorist until he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in January 2020.
When Soleimani was killed, Zarif made a grand display of his grief and praised Soleimani’s global role in such a way as to make it clear that the Foreign Ministry planned to carry on his work. All of this helped to retroactively justify the US government’s efforts to exert pressure on Zarif, and yet somehow it has not motivated European governments to follow suit.
President-elect Joe Biden is not expected to return to business as usual with the Iranian regime, though it would be surprising if his administration maintained the same posture and talking points where Zarif is concerned. However, growing international awareness of Tehran’s malign behavior is sure to hold back any plans the new administration may have had to leap directly back into the nuclear deal and to start treating the regime as a normal state.
Such a reversal of policy would be all the more unlikely if the nations of Europe saw fit to apply pressure on Tehran. Like some other criminal figures in the Iranian regime, Zarif has been given far too much praise, for far too long, over his Western education and its contribution to a charm offensive which masks the regime’s true intentions. The 2018 terror plot in France, along with Zarif’s own acknowledgement of regular and non-stop coordination with Soleimani’s international terror network, should change that orientation.
Volumes of other facts exist about Zarif’s relationships with Tehran’s worst criminals, which ought to make it clear that there is little advantage to be gained by dealing with him as if he represents a rational system. This evidence stretches through some of Zarif’s early roles, as when he contributed to Iran’s UN mission in 1988 and helped to cover up the then-ongoing massacre of 30,000 political prisoners.
That position would ultimately prove to be valuable training for Zarif’s later role as a de facto propaganda minister for the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism. It should have also opened Western policymakers’ eyes to the likelihood of Zarif and all other longtime servants of the Iranian regime proceeding in lockstep with the policies and practices favored by the IRGC and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Still, for decades, Europe and the U.S. remained largely committed to conciliation in hopes of sparking moderate trends in Iran, which was an illusion.
The Iranian regime’s opponents are still waiting for the nations of Europe to hold the Iranian regime to account for its terrorism and its decades-long crimes against humanity. Figures like EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell have shown no real interest in doing so.
According to reams of evidence in Belgian courts, the 2018 terrorist plot in the heart of Europe was approved by the regime’s Supreme National Security Council, which includes Zarif as a member. Zarif then facilitated the terrorist act’s execution by assigning a “diplomat” to it and turning the regime’s “embassies” in Vienna and other European capitals into logistical hubs for terrorism.
Diplomatic chiefs in the Iranian regime are petty international peddlers of the regime’s terrorism. That is why Zarif should be shunned, the regime’s agents expelled, and the regime’s embassies, which provide strategic and tactical logistical support to the regime’s terrorists, must be shut down once and for all.
Bruce McColm, the former Executive Director of Freedom House, is the Director for Institute for Democratic Strategies.