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Foiled Iranian bomb plot overshadows Tehran's European charm offensive

On the eve of a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Europe, two suspects in Belgium were detained and charged with preparing a terrorist attack. A diplomat from the Iranian Embassy in Austria was arrested in Germany.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif claimed the arrests were part of a “sinister false flag ploy,” and designed to sabotage Iran’s attempt to court Europe to stick with the Iran Deal.

However, the arrests will overshadow Tehran’s attempts to court European countries as the US pushes sanctions.

The arrest of terror plotters in Europe comes amid increasing pressure on the Iranian regime. Tehran has faced more than a week of protests that cap more than six months of unrest in Iran.

"We strongly condemn the Iranian regime's support for terrorism which clearly continues to threaten out European allies. The recently announced US sanctions on Iran are designed specifically to stop this kind of destabilizing activity," US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said in reaction to the arrests.

Since the US announced the withdrawal from the JCPOA, or Iran Deal, Washington has been announcing sanctions and the US Treasury and State Departments have sent officials to Europe to discuss the return of sanctions. State Department Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook said Sunday that officials would continue to visit European countries and the US would not hesitate to punish sanctions violators. Major European companies such as Peugeot, Siemens and Total were reported on Monday by The Financial Times to be prepared to halt operations and dealing with Tehran.

The plot uncovered in Belgium involved a husband and wife in their thirties detained with 500 gr. of a home-made explosive and a detonator in their car. The diplomat, stopped on a road in Bavaria on Sunday night was allegedly in contact with them. The target of the lot was a meeting on June 30 of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

The NCRI is connected to the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which opposes the regime in Tehran. Pictures of the Saturday event in Villepinte near Paris showed tens of thousands of activists under a banner calling for regime change in Iran.

Opposition groups like the NCRI have gained more prominence recently as the US ramps up pressure on Iran.

European politicians attended the meeting and several advisors close to Trump have spoken at NCRI events. Rudy Guiliani spoke to the NCRI meeting and said that if the US cuts off Iran’s economic links then the regime would collapse.

European intelligence services are taking the plot seriously.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the arrests show “once more the good cooperation between countries.” Austria stripped the diplomat of his status after his arrest.

On Monday, The Jerusalem Post revealed that the German intelligence report from the state of Bavaria accused the Islamic Republic of seeking to turn its conventional military weapons into weapons of mass destruction in April. Iran was also accused of a plot against former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

The regime in Iran is trying to confront these reports by putting on a positive face.

Rouhani was in Switzerland on Tuesday and Zarif claimed that the Iranian business delegation was going well.

Swiss President Alain Berset welcomed Rouhani and said he was ready to discuss strengthening bilateral relations.

Rouhani warned on Tuesday that oil exports might be threatened in the region if the US sought to stop Iran’s exports. This is thought to be a quiet way to threaten other countries and their exports.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Maj.-Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid also warned on Monday that the IRGC would answer any threats to Iran with a “firm and crushing response,” according to the regime’s Press TV.

Iranian opposition activists wonder how Rouhani can visit Austria on July 4 in the wake of the arrest. However, the Iranian Foreign Ministry says that its meetings with the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China on Friday in Vienna will go ahead.

However, the arrest of the diplomat, who Bjorn Stritzel of Bild reports is an Iranian intelligence agent, will overshadow the meeting.

It is not the first time Iranian state agents have been investigated or accused of plots in Europe.

In January, German police raided apartments looking for 10 Iranian “state spies,” according to a report. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Tehran’s Quds Force of conducting “covert assassination operations in the heart of Europe,” during his May speech.