Growing concerns that France will bow to Iranian pressure to restrict Iran’s opposition in France
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday. The rare conversation lasted for 90 minutes, fueling speculation about the future of relations between the two countries, and between Iran and Europe in general, as tensions remain high over Tehran’s provocative nuclear activities, support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, and crackdown on protests that have spanned the entire Islamic Republic since last September.
Amidst that speculation, some observers of Western foreign policy have expressed concern that Macron and other European leaders may be willing to provide long-sought concessions to Tehran. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one expert on Iranian affairs highlighted prior instances of European governments granting Tehran’s requests for restrictions on activists and dissidents within the Iranian expatriate community, while receiving comparatively little in return.
The same source indicated such requests have been a constant feature of negotiations between Iranian officials and their Western counterparts.
Kazem Gharibabadi, the Iranian deputy judiciary chief for international affairs and human rights, stated last year that since 2021 “there has been no meeting between us and European delegations where we haven’t discussed” the leading opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK). The official described this trend as part of “a very good and joint campaign to put heavy pressure on countries that were hosting” the MEK.
According to multiple diplomatic sources and Iran experts, that campaign was evident during Saturday’s conversation between the Iranian and French presidents, with the former using that opportunity to once again demand that Paris take measures against MEK members and the organization’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has its headquarters in the Parisian suburb of Auvers-sur-Oise.
The opposition has called for a major protest on July 1 in Paris, against the wave of executions and in support of the protests in Iran. Persons familiar with the Iranian situation said that they had expected Tehran would demand restrictions on the protest, which will be attended by Iranian expats from all over the world.
It was not immediately clear how Macron responded to these requests, but Iranian state media appeared to express confidence in Tehran’s ability to extract concessions from the French president. This is consistent with a narrative that Iranian officials have been promoting for years, namely that economic sanctions and other Western pressures on the Iranian regime have “failed,” necessitating a conciliatory shift in European and American foreign policy.
Agance France Presse news agency reported on Sunday that a local office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in the suburbs of Paris was targeted by an incendiary device on Saturday night. While quoting a police source and local prosecutor’s office, AFP reported the attack caused no injury. Apparently, a similar incident occurred at the same location on May 31.
In 2021, Belgian authorities took the unprecedented step of sentencing an Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, to 20 years in prison for his leading role in a plot to set off explosives at a major expatriate rally north of Paris, organized by the NCRI in June 2018. Late last month, Brussels released Assadi in exchange for a Belgian aid worker whom Tehran had taken hostage in retaliation. The exchange caused a flurry of criticism, with many activists saying it would only embolden Tehran to carry out more terror attacks on European soil.
After news of Saturday’s attack, activists repeated this point on social media, linking the attack to Assadi’s release.
The Islamic Republic witnessed a wave of anti-government protests since September. The Protests were widely described as the most serious challenge to the regime since the 1979 revolution.”. The protests were sparked by the killing of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, by “morality police,” but quickly became an outlet for explicit demands of regime change. Slogans such as “death to the dictator” were reportedly heard in as many as 300 cities and towns, spanning all 31 Iranian provinces, over a period of several months.
These demonstrations continued even after authorities had killed hundreds of protesters, including women and children, and arrested tens of thousands.
Last month, more than 100 former government officials from the US, UK, European Union, and Latin America signed a letter urging the current leaders of those countries to “stand with the Iranian people in their quest for change and to take decisive steps against the current regime.” The letter emphasized the view that better outcomes could be achieved in future negotiations by increasing rather than alleviating pressure on that regime.
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