Mar 3, 2023 - World

Lithuanian FM: "Growing consensus" for EU to designate IRGC as terrorist group

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Foreign Minister of Lithuania, in Nov. 2022.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis in 2022. Photo: Carsten Koall/picture alliance via Getty Images

There is a "growing consensus" among European Union member states to designate the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization over its military support for Russia in the war in Ukraine, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told Axios.

Why it matters: Until recently, most of the EU focus was on Iran's nuclear program and not on the IRGC military activity abroad. But the bloc has been seriously alarmed by Iran's move to supply Russia with drones for its war in Ukraine, as Axios previously reported.

  • Iran has acknowledged it delivered some drones to Russia before the war started, but denies doing so after the invasion began. That's despite growing evidence to the contrary.

What they're saying: “There is a very serious conversation happening in Brussels about designating the IRGC as a terror organization," Landsbergis told Axios in an interview at the end of his trip to Israel this week.

  • "There is a growing consensus towards this decision. There are practical and legal issues that need to be sorted out but I think we might be getting there," he added.

State of play: The EU Parliament last month called for the European Union executive institutions to designate the IRGC as a terror organization.

  • EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said the EU high court needs to rule on this issue before such a decision can be made.
  • IRGC commander Hussein Salami threatened earlier this week that Iran could increase the range of its weapons and target EU member states.

Behind the scenes: Last November, Landsbergis met with Hadas Wittenberg Silverstein, the Israeli ambassador to Vilnius, and said he wanted to visit Jerusalem to discuss strengthening cooperation between the countries on Iran, a senior Israeli foreign ministry official said.

  • In the classified cable sent by the Israeli ambassador at the time to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and obtained by Axios, Wittenberg Silverstein wrote that Landsbergis told her that for far too long the EU looked the other way when it came to the Iranian threat.
  • Speaking to Axios, Landsbergis didn’t confirm or deny the content of the cable but stressed there is a need for the EU to take action to counter the Iranian threat against Europe.
  • "We didn’t expect, as European Union, to have Iran knocking on our door. We thought it is a Middle East issue that we need to keep an eye on but what we are seeing now is that there is growing cooperation between Iran and Russia. Iran is coming closer to us. We need to have a reaction about that," he said.

Landsbergis said that what has been a threat to Israel for a long time has become a threat to Lithuania.

  • "There is a good opportunity for further cooperation. We want to exchange know-how and information about Iran," he said.
  • He stressed that Lithuania wants to deepen its ties with Israel in the field of air defense and military cooperation.
  • Landsbergis said that during his trip to Israel, he urged his Israeli counterparts to give military assistance to Ukraine. "Especially when it comes to countering Iranian drones," he said.

The big picture: The Lithuanian foreign minister said he also used his meetings in Jerusalem with President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen “to express the concern that is brewing in Europe” about the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plan.

  • “Countries are attentively looking at what is happening in Israel," he said.
  • “As EU and as a country which is outspoken about rule of law based environment in the EU, definitely this [the future of Israel’s democratic institution] is something that we are worried about and I had a chance to express that,” he said.
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