December 19, 2018 / 10:54 PM / 2 months ago

Albania expels Iranian diplomats on national security grounds

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania has expelled Iran’s ambassador and another diplomat for “damaging its national security”, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday. Albania did not identify the two, and did not say when they were expelled or if they had left the NATO member country, but told Reuters it had consulted its alliance partners on the decision. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday the move was made under pressure from Israel and the United States.

“I believe that this is a step aimed at harming Iran’s ties with Europe at such a sensitive time,” the state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

“Obviously this is a measure which has been taken under Israel and America’s pressure .... We expect Albania to respect its own independence,” he said.

Israel regards the Islamic republic as its most dangerous enemy and has backed U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in May to exit a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers that followed reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.

The European Union, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, participants with the United States in the 2015 deal that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, have been trying to find ways to circumvent the U.S. limitations.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who played a major role in Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran, backed Albania’s decision.

“Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania just expelled the Iranian ambassador, signaling to Iran’s leaders that their support for terrorism will not be tolerated,” Bolton said in a Twitter post.

“We stand with PM Rama and the Albanian people as they stand up to Iran’s reckless behavior in Europe and across the globe,” he said.

Reporting by Benet Koleka in Tirana; additional Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Grant McCool and Jon Boyle

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