He cautioned Europe, saying that Iran has carried out several assassination plots in Europe, and could do so again. He also praised the UK government for designating the Shia Islamist group, Iran-backed Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization, and urged other EU countries to do the same. “Hezbollah is one organization. Its leaders, its members, do not differentiate between their military terroristic activities on the one hand and their so-called political activities on the other,” he said.
Sales remarked, “It is unacceptable that Iran would regard the European continent as fertile ground for its campaign of terrorism.” He added, “If there are no costs, Iran is going to keep at it. So it’s incumbent on us to impose those costs so that we can deter future acts of terrorism.”
Speaking in London near the end of a European visit, Sales blamed Iran for a recent foiled bomb attack targeting a political opposition rally in Paris, as well as an alleged plot to murder an exiled political leader in Denmark. He also cited the 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Jewish tourists in Bulgaria, and the political assassinations in Holland that the Dutch government has blamed on Iran.
He believes that Iran carries out these attacks, “Because terrorism is fundamental to the Iranian regime’s raison d’etre. They regard the export of their revolution as absolutely fundamental and central to the regime’s identity.”
US President Trump has taken a hard line on Iran since his election. Trump pulled America out of the Iran nuclear deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Meanwhile, America’s European allies have remained committed to the deal alongside the other signatories of China, Russia, and Iran.
Sales warned Britain that it was not immune from the threat, saying, “I think the regime regards Europe as a whole, the UK included, as fertile ground for its operations.” He thinks that the EU countries should take steps to punish the regime over the terror plots, regardless of their commitment to the Iran nuclear deal.
Regarding the ISIL foreign fighters captured in Syria, he reiterated the Trump administration’s demand that Britain and other European allies take back people who fled their countries to join ISIL, and prosecute them in their own courts. Britain strips the fighters of their UK citizenship instead.
He elaborated, “There is no secret to how you do counter-terrorism in a law enforcement context. In the United States but more broadly European and other advanced democracies, civilian courts have proven themselves to be entirely capable of meeting this challenge.
“We [the US] can put people in jail for their terrorism-related crimes and ensure that they’re not re-engaging on the battlefield. And we’re asking our allies to do the same.”
Sales’ full title is US Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism.