Thursday , 22 February 2024

Belgian FM in Turmoil over Visas Granted to Iranian, Russian Delegates

Iranwire – Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib is facing calls for resignation after approving visa requests for citizens from Iran and Russia under international sanctions.

Lahbib is under scrutiny for having granted visas to delegations from Iranian and Russian cities to attend a mayors convention in Brussels last week, only three weeks after Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele was released from Iranian custody.

On June 18, state secretary for external relations and foreign trade of the Brussels government Pascal Smet resigned for inviting the mayors of Tehran and Kazan to the Brussels Urban Summit. The accommodation costs for these officials were paid by the Brussels region.

The mayors from more than 300 international cities and members of the European Commission and the European Parliament attended the gathering to discuss challenges cities are facing. A total of 15 Iranian delegates participated.

Iran-born Belgian lawmaker Darya Safai, from the opposition N-VA party, said on June 19 that her party is asking for Lahbib’s resignation.

“We need a minister who accepts her responsibility,” she told Matin Premiere radio.

“The pending question is why did she agree to give these visas? Why only three weeks after the release of Olivier Vandecasteele, she accepts that terrorists come to Brussels? And why must the name of Belgium always be sullied by foreign relations which it cannot manage to control?” Safai asked.

Vandecasteele, 42, was arrested on a visit to Iran in February 2022 and sentenced in January this year to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on charges including spying.

He was freed last month in a prisoner swap with an Iranian diplomat who had been imprisoned in Belgium in connection with a failed bomb plot.