On the visas of the Iranian delegation

The departure of Brussels Foreign Minister Pascal Smit is putting pressure once again on Foreign Minister Hajja Lahbib (MR). Did you make the right decision to grant visas to an Iranian delegation?

Bruno Strauss

“Pascal (…) informed me yesterday about his conversation with Lahbib. He said he had no problem in inviting Iranian and Russian cities,” according to one of the emails from his cabinet that was published by outgoing Foreign Minister Pascal Smit (Fouruet).

And it appears that Foreign Minister Hajja Lahbib gave her approval to Pascal Smit (Foruit) on May 10, at least according to the latter. On May 10, the two spoke on the phone for four minutes and several seconds while Habib was on assignment in Tunisia.

Accounts of that conversation vary slightly, but the bottom line is that Lahbib said the visas had to go through normal procedures.

But after his resignation on Sunday, Pascal Smit made it clear he believes she should also take responsibility. It is true that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs obtained these visas through the embassy in Tehran. There wasn’t much time. Only on June 8, the Brussels administration confirmed that 13 people from Iran had registered for the event in Brussels that started on June 12.

The main reason there is a debate about visas for Iranians is that the Russian visitors obtained a visa from another country in the Schengen area and can travel to Belgium in this way. If Lahabib had any doubts about visa applications from Iran, she would have left the scholarship to the Immigration Department.

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According to information from the morning Lahbib did not and so it is possible that Federal Minister of State for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Maur (CD&V) will remain unaffected. This is not unusual: On average, diplomatic missions handle 80 percent of short-stay visa applications themselves.

As a general rule, Belgian diplomatic missions abroad issue visas if the conditions are met. Perhaps this is Lahbib’s defense in parliament: the visas went through the normal procedures and met all the criteria. Just as promised to fellow Brussels Smit in May.

human rights vs. Diplomacy

“The Secretary of State is more than just a stamp maker,” says N-VA Member of Parliament Peter De Roover. “He has to cut the political knot at some point.”

Many MPs would set her on fire on this matter, not just from the opposition. In Vooruit, Smit’s party, they don’t want to respond publicly now, but MPs will ask crucial questions on Wednesday. Smit gave a transcript and explanation at the party office on Monday.

And Ikolo, who has an MP for Samuel Cogolatti who often stands in violation of international human rights, doesn’t want to let this pass that way. “The transparency that has come through the Brussels Parliament about Pascal Smit’s role should also be introduced in the Chamber,” he says.

Not unimportant is the recent forced departure of Green Secretary of State Sarah Schlitz to personally sign official documents. President Georges-Louis Bouchez, who presented the need for Habib as minister, then made a sway, but according to Cogolatti, revenge does not play a role in the stimulus.

Central to the visa scandal is the tension between human rights and diplomacy. “Those who prioritize human rights over diplomacy often come back from a barren journey,” says Professor Emeritus of International Relations Rick Colsett (UGent).

Foreign policy is about looking after our interests and this sometimes conflicts with human rights. Our government once struggled a lot with the question: Are you talking to Mobutu or not? ”

The example of Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary under Tony Blair, is well known. He will become the man who puts moral principles at the center of foreign policy. As a result, he had to resign when his government invaded Iraq.


Smit says he cut out the moral dilemma in favor of what he calls “city diplomacy.” Perhaps an error in judgment. A visit by a delegation from Tehran, with a photo opportunity at the Brussels City Hall, differs from a diplomatic meeting between Lahbib and her Iranian counterpart.

“This is about the mayor and his entourage, so the stakes are much smaller,” says Colsette. “If this is not critical, then you should not do it, given the current geopolitical situation.”

This is an assessment Pascal Smit could have made and it should become clear this week whether this is a shared responsibility. Could Hebeeb be more proactive and refuse visas?

“If someone comes from a suspicious system, the Foreign Office should ask itself if there are good reasons to bring these people in,” says Marc Bossuyt, former Commissioner-General for Refugees and Stateless Persons.

Lahbib’s government could not be reached for comment.

Ans Persons succeeds Pascal Smit

Anas Persons, 44, a Brussels alderman to date, succeeds his party colleague Pascal Smit as state minister for the Brussels region. Smit resigned on Sunday after the scandal involving an Iranian delegation he had brought to Brussels.

Fouruet has not yet announced who will succeed Peersons within the Brussels City Council. For the time being, Mayor Philip Close (PS) will assume her powers until a new alderman is appointed. Discussions about this are still ongoing.

Megan Vasquez

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