Belgian PM defends controversial Iran deal: "no lessons from anyone"

"Our country has no lessons to be learned from anyone," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said this Thursday afternoon in the Federal Parliament House of Representatives.

The statement came after he was questioned about the controversial bill that makes possible for Belgium and Iran to extradite prisoners to each other. "You are on the wrong side of history", N-VA faction leader Peter De Roover threw at him.

The House's Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved a draft law by Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) in which the Federal Parliament gives greenlight to an agreement with Iran on the transfer of convicts, which the government concluded in March. 

That deal could pave the way for a prisoner exchange with Iran, and is controversial because Tehran is said to campaign for the release of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium last year for his involvement in a thwarted bomb attack in Paris. 

The Belgian government aims to release of Belgian NGO employee Olivier Vandecasteele, who has been in jail in Tehran since February.

Opposition party N-VA believes that Belgium can be blackmailed by concluding such an agreement with Tehran's regime.

"Countries like Iran now know that they are rewarded when they take Belgians captive," he said in the House on Thursday. 

De Roover also highlighted that several letters from foreign leaders to the House of Representatives and to the Federal government with an appeal to stop the deal.

"You are on the wrong side of history," he objected to the Belgian PM.

De Croo defended the Belgian agreement with Iran, then.

"Our country has no lessons to be learned from anyone," he said. "When it comes to tracking down, indicting, convicting and imprisoning terrorists, even if they are diplomats, we do it." 

According to the Belgian PM, the treaty should ensure that Belgium has a stronger negotiating position vis-à-vis Iran. He also asked De Roover what his message would be to Olivier Vandecasteele's family. 

"What is your solution for Belgians who are innocently imprisoned abroad," De Croo asked back. "Because that is also the reputation of our country. And that is also the message I give to all compatriots who are in trouble abroad: people who wrongfully imprisoned abroad, let's not forsake," the Belgian PM added. 

Yesterday the N-VA voted against the bill, which also included the agreement with four other international acts. Vlaams Belang and PVDA abstained on the whole, although Vlaams Belang did vote against the treaty with Iran through the articles. The text will be placed on the plenary agenda before the recess.




© BELGA PHOTO (NICOLAS MAETERLINCK) N-VA's Peter De Roover and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo at the Federal Parliament in Brussels, 7 July 2022.

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