Britain and other European nations are at risk from Iranian terror attacks on home soil and must do more to deter the regime, America’s counter-terrorism coordinator has warned.
Nathan Sales said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that Iran has carried out a slew of assassination plots in Europe in recent years and could do so again.
He praised the UK government for recently designating Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist group backed by Iran, as a terrorist organisation and urged other EU countries to match the move.
Mr Sales also pointed the expulsion of Iranian ambassadors from European countries in the early 1990s after a bomb attack, saying that playbook could be “instructive” for dealing with today’s threat.
“It is unacceptable that Iran would regard the European continent as fertile ground for its campaign of terrorism,” Mr Sales warned.
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.”
The comments reflect the hard line Donald Trump’s administration has taken on Iran in the two years since he took over the presidency.
Mr Trump pulled America out of the Iran nuclear deal struck by his predecessor Barack Obama, which limits Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The move triggered a clash with America's European allies, who have remained committed to the deal alongside the other signatories of China, Russia and Iran.
Speaking in London near the end of a European visit, Mr Sales expressed alarm at the growing number of terror plots allegedly carried out by Iran or its proxies in recent years in the region.
He blamed Iran for a recent foiled bomb attack targeting a political opposition rally in Paris and an alleged plot to murder an exiled political leader in Denmark.
Mr Sales also cited the 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Jewish tourists in Bulgaria and political assassinations in Holland which the Dutch government has blamed on Iran.
Asked why Iran was allegedly carrying out the attacks, he said: “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.”
Mr Sales said Britain was not immune from the threat, warning: “I think the regime regards Europe as a whole, the UK included, as fertile ground for its operations.”
One part of the stronger response Mr Sales is calling regards the designation of Hezbollah, which considers itself both a political party and a military group based in Lebanon.
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 is refusing to do so, instead stripping the fighters of their UK citizenship when possible.
Mr Sales, whose full title is US ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counter-terrorism, said: “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.”
Mr Sales expressed his gratitude to Britain for last month classifying the whole group, including its political arm, a terrorist organisation and urged other European countries to do the same.
“Hezbollah is one organisation. 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.
Mr Sales also hinted at other measures European nations could take to increase the pressure on Iran, noting the fallout from a 1992 bombing of a Berlin restaurant.
European countries expelled Iran ambassadors, recalled their own ambassadors from Iran and suspended dialogue with the regime after that attack. The result, Mr Sales said, was more than two decades of “calm and security” in terms of Iran attacks in Europe.
He added: “What we need now is the same sort of robust, assertive response to signal to Tehran this is unacceptable and if you do it, we’re going to make you pay a price.”
Mr Sales acknowledged that unlike the US, EU countries remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal, but indicated they could still irregardless take steps to punish the regime over the terror plots.
On a separate issue - what should happen to Isil foreign fighters captured in Syria - Mr Sales, who is involved in the talks, also delivered a firm line from America.