The Netherlands has recalled its ambassador to Iran for talks following Tehran’s decision to expel two of its diplomats amid a dispute over an alleged plot to assassinate political opponents of the Islamic Republic on Dutch soil.
In a letter to the Dutch parliament on Monday, Foreign Minister Stef Blok said he told Iran’s ambassador in The Hague last month that the expulsions, which were not previously publicly announced, were “unacceptable” and “negative” for the relationship of the two countries.
Iran informed the Dutch authorities of its decision to expel the diplomats on February 20 and the pair returned to the Netherlands on Sunday, Blok added.
The foreign minister said Iran’s move was a tit-for-tat response to the Netherlands’ expulsion of two Iranian embassy workers in June 2018 due to suspicions that Tehran was involved in the assassination of two Dutch Iranian citizens in the Netherlands.
Tehran has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder of the two dissidents and alleged the accusations were intended to damage Iran’s relations with the EU, which early this year announced sanctions against an Iranian intelligence unit and two officials allegedly linked to the deaths.
The spat between the two countries is taking place as the 28-nation EU, of which the Netherlands is a member, is scrambling to contain the fallout from US President Donald Trump’s decision in May last year to pull out of a landmark multinational nuclear deal with Iran.
Under the 2015 agreement, brokered between the United States, Iran, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union, Tehran agreed to scale back its uranium enrichment programme and pledged not to develop nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance with the accord, with the most recent endorsement coming on Monday.
But Trump said Iran was violating the spirit of the deal, despite the UN’s nuclear watchdog repeatedly confirming Iran’s compliance with the accord, and argued the Islamic Republic was working against US interests in the Middle East.
His move to withdraw from the agreement led to Washington reimposing sanctions on Iran and pressuring European partners to also abandon the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Last month, US Vice President Mike Pence said the “time has come” for the UK, France and Germany to quit the accord and support Washington’s efforts to “bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve”.
London, Paris and Berlin have so far shown no inclination of abandoning the agreement, however, and instead, have sought to provide Iran with enough economic incentives to make it work. Russia and China have also remained publicly committed to the existing accord.
However, Iran has threatened to also pull out of the deal unless the European powers enable it to receive economic benefits, amid ongoing feuds between officials in Tehran over the merits of the accord and the extent of European signatories’ efforts to nullify the effects of Washington’s sanctions.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last year voiced doubts during a closed-door speech over the Iranian government’s overtures to its European partners in the deal, a statement published on Monday by Khamenei’s personal website revealed.
Khamenei warned in the speech that Tehran “should not tie down the economy of the country to European packages”.
His speech was published a week after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who championed the 2015 nuclear deal, and casts renewed doubt on the latter’s ongoing efforts to keep the accord alive.
Also on Monday, Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency once again confirmed Iran’s compliance with the pact, telling reporters in Vienna that Tehran was “implementing its nuclear-related commitments” under the JCPOA.