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Belgium’s parliament on Wednesday voted to pass through committee a treaty with Iran that would swap prisoners in a controversial exchange that some fear will set a dangerous precedent.
The agreement still needs to make its way through the full 150-member chamber later this month, but opponents of the treaty argue it could pave the way for the release of a convicted terrorist.
Iran has repeatedly called for the release of Assadollah Assadi, a former Iranian diplomat who was sentenced to 20 years in prison over his role in a thwarted 2018 bombing plot in France.
The conference that was targeted was held in Paris by The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI,) a leading Iranian opposition group. It’s leader Maryam Rajavi, who along with many American dignitaries spoke that day, condemned the proposed law.
“We will refer to the Constitutional Court of Belgium and the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary, to prevent what the lawyers described as ‘mocking of the rule of law and the immunity of the Iranian regime and its officials involved in terrorism and crimes against humanity.’’
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the NCRI warned, “Capitulating to terrorism by Belgium begets more terrorism and hostage taking by the Iranian regime in the whole of Europe and beyond.”
The Belgium government has not detailed why they are considering this treaty with Iran, though a Politico EU report Tuesday suggested it may be linked to a Belgium national who has been imprisoned in Iran since February.
Opponents of the treaty fear it may enable Tehran to amplify its hostage-taking effort.
“The passage of this treaty by Belgium would mark a dangerous precedent for the international community, serving as a clear indicator for Iran that its abominable hostage-taking policy is a legitimate and effective means to get what it wants,” United Against Nuclear Iran Chairman Joseph Lieberman said in a statement. “The regime deliberately targets Westerners to take hostage to serve as bargaining chips in negotiations to extract concessions from other countries.”
Lieberman, a former U.S. Senator from Connecticut, argued the problem was rooted in the fact that Assadi would not finish out the remainder of this sentencing in Iran but would instead likely be welcomed as a “hero.”
“The bomb plot for which Assadi was convicted would have murdered former U.S. and European officials, as well as a former prime minister of Canada, if successful,” he continued. “Releasing terrorists in exchange for innocent hostages signals to the Iranian leadership that the price to be paid for terrorism in Europe is minimal.”
Lieberman argued the treaty would unjustly validate Iran’s legal system which routinely targets not only Westerners but Iranian citizens on “trumped-up, fabricated charges.”
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla tweeted out their opposition to the proposed change in the law.
Rubio tweeted in part, “Belgium’s proposed treaty with #Iran cannot allow the return of Assadollah Asadi, a convicted terrorist, to his homeland.”
Belgium’s Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne on Wednesday countered the objections saying the treaty was an attempt to build trust between the two nations.
“Contrary to what you say, this treaty will not open the door to hostage-taking and will not provide immunity for criminals,” he said, according to Iran International.
State Department press secretary Ned Price said the U.S. would not comment on Belgium’s pending treaty, but noted Iran’s arbitrary detentions and frequent hostage-taking “practices are outrageous.”
“We too are working with our allies and partners around the world to condemn them and to do what we can to counteract them,” he added.