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    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference near the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 22, 2016

    Foiled Attack Near Paris Coincided With Rouhani's Visit to Europe - Researcher

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    France has accused Iran's Intelligence Ministry of efforts to organize an attack on an opposition group's rally outside Paris in June. Reuters reported, citing French diplomatic sources, that a "long, meticulous and detailed investigation" enabled the country's intelligence services to conclude that the responsibility fell on the Iranian Ministry.

    Sputnik talked about France accusing Iran of plotting an attack near Paris with Sina Azodi, a US-based expert on Tehran's foreign policy and researcher at University of South Florida's Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies.

    Sputnik: What is your take on these claims made by the French intelligence service?

    Sina Azodi: Well first of all, the target of the plot was the annual gathering of People's Mujahideen of Iran which is a terrorist organization that was on the list of the US State Department terrorist organizations, but I think the most interesting part was the timing of the operation, which coincided with President Rouhani's trip to Europe to discuss the JCPOA and bilateral relations with European countries. And just to add to that, this operation wasn't limited to France, as your report said; an Iranian diplomat in Austria had given material support to an Iranian couple in Belgium, so they go and attack the gathering in Paris, and also the French (anti-)terrorist police. They also attacked a few mosques in France which have close ties with Shia Muslims, which tells me that this is a much bigger operation if the reports are accurate.

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    Sputnik: You said that the timing was important, so what was the objective and how does it tie in with Rouhani's trip?

    Sina Azodi: There are two possibilities. One, you could argue that if this was directed from Tehran, Iranians did the operation at that time to make the claim that it wasn't us, it was only a false flag operation to make us look bad. This could be a true claim, which we don't know, so it's either somebody did the operation at that particular time to make sure that Rouhani's trip to Europe is damaged, or if the Iranians did it, they did it at that particular time so they could use it for a plausible deniability and say that this wasn't us, it was somebody else.

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    Sputnik: Let's look at Paris‘s response, it's freezing the assets belonging to the Iranian official and the intelligence ministry, would this be a common measure in such cases?

    Sina Azodi: I think the French wanted to show some sort of resolve that they will not tolerate such act on their soil, I don't know, I'm speculating, but I think there was some stronger private messages between Tehran and Paris. Probably the French said: 'Stop, we will not tolerate such acts and this is going to damage our bilateral relations.' So I'm pretty sure there were some private messages exchanged between the Iranians and the French also.

    Sputnik: Let's speculate a bit more, do you think this incident could have a significant impact on relations between Paris and Washington?

    Sina Azodi: Paris and Washington are going their separate ways. Washington has been engaged in this unilateral approach in its foreign policy that none of the European countries (which signed the JCPOA) are supporting. The French, the Germans and the Brits; they're not supporting Washington‘s approach to its current foreign policy. I think Washington could use this as an excuse to basically either convince France or pressure France to take a harsher stance on Tehran. The context of this approach is, with regard to the JCPOA, France wants to preserve the JCPOA for its own security interests, but Washington, as we all know, withdrew from the deal and is pressuring other countries to not stay in the deal and follow its sanctions on Iran.

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    Sputnik: As a separate incident, as you say, it could be used, but what about the potential of this incident growing into something bigger?

    Sina Azodi: I don't think so, because nobody's interested in escalating tensions. The Iranians are not interested in escalating tensions with France because they want the support of France for the JCPOA, and the French also don't want to escalate tensions with Iran because they don't want Tehran to use this as an excuse and potentially withdraw from the deal. Nobody's interested in escalating tensions at this point because it is extremely dangerous for Europe, for Iran and the entire Middle East is very volatile at this point.

    Sputnik: It is volatile and a lot is at stake, let's look at how important good relations with France are for Tehran at the moment and what in fact is at stake?

    Sina Azodi: As I said, Tehran is very interested in preserving the JCPOA, France has been one of the countries that has traditionally taken a harsher stance on Tehran, has been a strong critic of Iran's activities in the region and its ballistic missile program, they have repeatedly said that Iran's ballistic missile program is a serious concern to us. But again, at the end, they're happy with how the JCPOA has worked out so far. Iranians have kept their side of the bargain, Europe has tried to keep its own side, so they're all connected to each other and this incident had the potential, I think, to grow into something bigger but I think everybody wanted to stay calm and keep it isolated from the JCPOA.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Iran nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Hassan Rouhani, Paris, France, Iran
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