Iran asks France for talks to clear bomb plot ‘misunderstanding’
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Iran asks France for talks to clear bomb plot ‘misunderstanding’

Tehran looking to mitigate anger in Paris after officials say Iranian intelligence ordered attack on exiled opposition group near French capital

Bahram Ghasemi, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, gives an interview with AFP in the capital Tehran on October 2, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)
Bahram Ghasemi, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, gives an interview with AFP in the capital Tehran on October 2, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

Tehran called on Tuesday for talks with Paris to clear a “misunderstanding” over an alleged bomb plot targeting an exiled opposition group near the French capital.

“If there is a misunderstanding… about a thing that does not exist, be it a conspiracy by others or a mistake, we can sit down and talk about it,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told AFP in an interview.

The only way to overcome the issue was through “the art of diplomacy,” he said. “We know of no other way.”

French authorities on Tuesday accused Iran’s intelligence ministry of being behind a foiled plot to bomb a meeting of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), according to a French diplomatic source.

Tehran considers the MEK a “terrorist group.” The group is one of several that make up the Iran National Council of Resistance (NCRI), which organized the June 30 rally.

France also announced it was freezing the assets of two suspected Iranian intelligence operatives and those belonging to Iran’s ministry of intelligence and security.

One of the operatives is an Iranian diplomat who was arrested in Germany.

People attend the “Free Iran 2018 – the Alternative” event on June 30, 2018 in Villepinte, north of Paris during the Iranian resistance national council (NCRI) annual meeting. (AFP/ Zakaria ABDELKAFI)

“This extremely serious act envisaged on our territory could not go without a response,” France’s interior, foreign, and economy ministers said in a rare joint statement.

Ghasemi, however, said that “I vehemently deny” all these accusations “completely and forcefully.”

“When the base issue is wrong and no more than an allegation, basing other hypotheses on such a claim is totally useless and wrong,” he said.

“You cannot accuse the intelligence ministry or anyone else working at it of being involved in an unconfirmed thing.

“Iran can definitely cooperate to fix any misunderstanding between France and Iran, or any other country in the region or Europe,” said Ghasemi.

The alleged bomb plot came to light two days after thousands of Iranian opposition supporters gathered at an exhibition center outside Paris on June 30.

The meeting was attended by two allies of US President Donald Trump, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The People’s Mujahedeen was formed in the 1960s to overthrow the Shah of Iran and it continues to organize opposition to the current leaders of the Islamic republic who took power following the 1979 revolution.

Illustrative: French police officers stand guard outside the Iranian embassy in Paris Tuesday, May 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

Belgium announced in July that it had arrested a couple in a Brussels suburb who were suspected of preparing to drive a car packed with explosives to the French rally.

But a total of six people were then detained in coordinated raids by European police. Israel’s Hadashot news reported Tuesday that intelligence provided by the Mossad spy agency led to the arrests of the suspects.

One of the detained men was an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna who was stopped by German police.

The diplomat, Assadollah Asadi, was targeted by the asset freezes announced by French authorities Tuesday, as well as Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, who the French diplomatic source said was head of operations at the intelligence ministry.

Asadi is set to be extradited to Belgium to face trial, German authorities announced on Monday.

“We deny the accusations and forcefully condemn the Iranian diplomat’s arrest, and call for his immediate release,” a statement from the Iranian foreign ministry said earlier Tuesday.

Diplomatic strains

The measures announced Tuesday come as French President Emmanuel Macron and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani are at odds on a host of issues.

Macron, who hoped to improve ties with Tehran at the start of his presidency last year, has allied with Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal which limits the Islamic Republic’s atomic program.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in New York, September 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Ludovic Marin)

While Trump has pulled out of the agreement and denounced it, Macron has been a vocal supporter and has worked to keep the accord alive despite US sanctions.

But Macron is at loggerheads with Rouhani over the wars in Syria and Yemen, in which Iran is a major player, and has raised concerns about the country’s ballistic missile program.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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