Washington slams EU for sending ‘wrong message’ with Tehran aid package
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Washington slams EU for sending ‘wrong message’ with Tehran aid package

Echoing Netanyahu, new envoy for Iran says ‘more money in the hands of the Ayatollah means more money to conduct assassinations’ in Europe

Brian Hook, State Department director of policy planning, fields questions from journalists during the announcement of the creation of the Iran Action Group at the State Department in Washington on August 16, 2018. (Rod Lamkey/Getty Images/AFP)
Brian Hook, State Department director of policy planning, fields questions from journalists during the announcement of the creation of the Iran Action Group at the State Department in Washington on August 16, 2018. (Rod Lamkey/Getty Images/AFP)

The United States on Friday lambasted the EU for providing financial aid to Iran, amid American efforts to tighten the screws on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program and support for armed groups in the Middle East.

The criticism comes a day after the European Union released an 18 million euro ($21 million) payment to Iran intended to help preserve the 2015 international accord meant to curb the Iranian nuclear program.

In May, US President Donald Trump withdrew from that deal, and began restoring US sanctions. The move has exacerbated a financial crisis in Iran that has sent its currency tumbling.

The State Department’s newly appointed special representative for Iran said the EU aid package to Iran “sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”

“Foreign aid from European taxpayers perpetuates the regime’s ability to neglect the needs of its people and stifles meaningful policy changes,” Brian Hook said in a statement.

“More money in the hands of the Ayatollah means more money to conduct assassinations in those very European countries,” he added.

Hook, who is also the State Department’s director of policy planning, was named last week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the head of the newly formed Iran Action Group, which is tasked with coordinating and implementing US policy toward Iran following the departure from the nuclear deal.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Brian Hook, special representative for Iran, walk to a podium to announce the creation of the Iran Action Group at the State Department, in Washington, on August 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Since withdrawing, the administration has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal and has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what it describes as “malign activities” in the region. In addition to its nuclear and missile programs, the administration has repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, Shiite rebels in Yemen and anti-Israel groups.

It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran’s human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil.

“The Iranian people face very real economic pressures caused by their government’s corruption, mismanagement, and deep investment in foreign conflicts,” Hook said in the statement.

He added that the US and EU “should be working together instead to find lasting solutions that truly support Iran’s people and end the regime threats to regional and global stability.”

The statement came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the EU’s financial support to Iran as a “big mistake” and said it was like a “poison pill” for the Iranian people.

“I think that the decision yesterday by the EU to give 18 million euros to Iran is a big mistake. It’s like a poison pill to the Iranian people and to the efforts to curb Iranian aggression in the region and beyond the region,” Netanyahu said, speaking during a visit to Lithuania.

“Iran attempted to conduct a terror attack on European soil just weeks ago… That is incredible,” he told a press conference following a meeting with three Baltic prime ministers — Lithuanian Saulius Skvernelis, Estonia’s Juri Ratas and Maris Kucinskis of Latvia.

Netanyahu was apparently referring to a suspected bomb plot against an Iranian opposition rally in France in late June that was thwarted by authorities. An Iranian diplomat is suspected of involvement.

“Giving money to this regime, especially at this time, is a big mistake and it must be stopped. [The regime] isn’t going to use it to solve their water problems, it’s not going to help an Iranian truck driver,” he said.

“After all, where is their money going? For missiles, and to the Revolutionary Guard. All countries need to act together to renew sanctions on Iran,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a remembrance ceremony at the Paneriai Holocaust Memorial near Vilnius, Lithuania, on August 24, 2018. (AFP Photo/Petras Malukas)

Netanyahu added that the Iran nuclear deal threatened the security of Europe, because, he said, it never addressed Tehran’s long-term nuclear ambitions.

He said the Obama-era deal would have eventually allowed Iran to resume its uranium enrichment and “within a few years they would have not only one nuclear weapon, but a whole arsenal.”

A day earlier, Netanyahu praised the decision by British Airways and Air France to end their direct flights to Iran’s capital of Tehran in September, citing low profitability due to the re-imposed US sanctions.

“That’s good. More should follow, more will follow, because Iran should not be rewarded for its aggression in the region, for its attempts to spread terrorism,” Netanyahu told a news conference in Vilnius.

Netanyahu arrived Thursday in Vilnius on a four-day visit, the first to Lithuania by an Israeli prime minister.

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