The EU placed sanctions on Iran this week accusing it of being behind assassination plots of political opponents in Europe. However, it offered little evidence to substantiate its claims, and sanctions can threaten the Iran nuclear deal.

Right at the time that the international community was waiting for the EU members to launch the expected Payment Channel for Iran to avoid US sanctions, the EU placed their own sanctions on the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, on Tuesday.

According to the letter on the website of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, two Iranian citizens, as well as the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, are the targets of these sanctions “on the grounds of undesirable interference.” 

The letter by the Dutch ministry accuses the sanctioned individuals and organisation of “two assassinations in Almere in 2015 and The Hague in 2017, a thwarted bomb attack in Paris and a thwarted assassination in Denmark in 2018.”

A day after the EU sanctions, on 9 January 2019, Bahram Qassemi, the spokesperson of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned these sanctions as an “illogical and surprising” decision and rejected the accusations as “unfounded allegations.” The evolving tension between the European Union and the Iranian officials continued on Twitter.

The Danish Foreign minister, and Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, have also responded to these sanctions. Zarif, accused the European powers of hosting a violent terrorist group, Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), who have killed thousands of Iranians.


After the withdrawal of the United States from the Iranian nuclear deal, EU officials have repeatedly emphasised the importance of the deal for Europe and international security and tried to depict an independent posture on the part of the European Union.

Iranian officials were also hopeful that working with the EU will be an indication of their commitment to the nuclear deal. However, the timing of the newly imposed sanctions is a meaningful message. 

Preparations over the last few months waiting for the EU to introduce its financial tool to preserve its financial ties with Iran and international and businesses could have been for nought.

Despite these efforts, the recent developments seem to be endangering an already fragile trust between the two parties. If the imposed sanctions interrupt the launch of the Payment Channel, then, one cannot expect the Iranian government to remain committed to the nuclear deal.

Such developments may also confirm the warnings of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian Supreme Leader, in May 2018 when he expressed his concerns over the promises of European powers and reminded government officials “not to trust three European powers.”

Furthermore, the new EU sanctions could also be interpreted as a signal to the United States and the Trump administration. A “get back together” message which of course raises serious doubt the EU’s political acumen and also can be interpreted as a failure of a historical opportunity for the independence of the European Union.

Double standards

Regardless of the outcome of these sanctions and its impact on the future of the Iranian nuclear deal, these sanctions are a clear indication of the double standards the European Union possesses on such sensitive and controversial issues.

The first incident that reveals these double standards, is the recent controversy on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. One would have expected the European Union decision-makers to impose similar sanctions on the government of Saudi Arabia since there was plenty of evidence on the involvement of high ranking government officials in the murder plot, the Saudi government has admitted as much.

Instead, the EU hesitated to impose any sanctions on the government of Saudi Arabia or any Saudi nationals that were involved in the murder on the soil of a major ally, Turkey. Individual EU member states like Germany, Finland and Denmark punished Saudi Arabia unilaterally, but the bloc as a whole did not show the same united stance. 

Yet, despite the fact that Danish officials have not presented clear evidence of Iranian involvement in the incidents, the EU did not hesitate to impose sanctions against Iran at this critical time.

Another indication of the EU’s double standard is their welcoming attitude towards members of violent armed group despite their involvements in acts of violence against the Iranian Government, officials, and also a large number of civilians.

The MEK is a previously black-listed group that was delisted by the US government in 2012 as a terrorist organisation, without any changes made by the movement itself. Its members are largely located in Albania, a NATO member, with the assistance of the US government.

High rank officials from the MEK hold meetings freely in European territories. However, their activities and violent past, as mentioned in Javad Zarif’s tweet, does not seem to bother European policymakers.

What now?

The withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal was a historic opportunity for European powers to stand on their own feet for the first time after World War II and exhibit an independent position in world politics and especially towards Iran. 

However, the controversial sanctions imposed on the basis of clumsy evidence, while they choose to remain passive over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, seems to signal Europe’s “back together” with the United States and further complicates Iran-EU relations. 

Albeit, it did not seem to surprise the Iranian officials as they have been under various sanctions for the last 40 years.

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