BRUSSELS (AFP): A Belgium regional official for Brussels, Pascal Smet, resigned on Sunday after sparking a furor by hosting an Iranian delegation led by the mayor of Tehran.
Smet’s exit came three days after Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib accused him of “sullying the image” of the capital by allowing the Iranians and a Russian delegation to attend the Brussels Urban Summit, a congress of mayors from major cities around the world.
Smet, Brussels’ state secretary for urbanism, announced in a news conference that he was stepping down.
He said he felt obliged to do so after an email from his office came to light stating that the city’s regional government was paying the accommodation costs during the conference of Tehran mayor Alireza Zakani, and that of two Russian officials.
Smet insisted he “didn’t commit a personal error”, saying one of his staff members made the accommodation commitment without him knowing.
Relations between Belgium and Iran are fraught.
Belgium last month freed an Iranian diplomat imprisoned on terrorism charges for plotting to blow up an Iranian opposition rally outside Paris in 2018, in exchange for Tehran releasing a Belgian aid worker and three other Europeans it had taken prisoner.
Zakani is aligned with the theocratic national rulers of Iran and closely linked with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, having previously headed its Basij militia unit.
Lahbib said Smet had insisted on visas for Zakani and the 13 other members of the Iranian delegation despite objections from her foreign ministry.
The two Russians also given visas to attend the urbanism gathering were the deputy mayor of the western Russian city of Kazan and an official in a Russian organization federating big cities.