Pascal Smet has said it was a “mistake” for the Brussels government to fund the all-expenses-paid trips
Pascal Smet, the regional foreign affairs minister for the Belgian capital Brussels, has resigned after igniting a political firestorm by issuing invitations to delegates from Russia and Iran to attend an urban growth summit.
Smet, a member of the Flemish socialist party Vooruit, was criticized in Belgium for inviting the ultra-conservative Tehran mayor, Alireza Zakani, as well as 14 Iranian officials to the Brussels Urban Summit. Smet also extended invitations to two Russian delegates from Kazan to the convention, which ran from June 12 to 15.
“I have decided to resign,” Smet said at a news conference on Sunday. He also claimed that it had been a “mistake” for the Brussels government to fund the all-expenses-paid trips.
“With Belgian money, we’re paying for hotel nights for the Iranian mayor and a Russian representative – this is unacceptable,” Smet said. He blamed the situation on an “employee [who] made the wrong call,” and said he had asked the organizers of the event to “bear these costs.”
Smet told the Brussels parliament last week that he had had no contact with the Iranians at the summit, and that he would have withdrawn the invitation had he been notified of objections by Belgian lawmakers. However, he was met with criticism from members of his own party as well as opposition politicians, ostensibly for failing to request an explanation from the Tehran officials for perceived abuses conducted by Iran.
Meanwhile, Belgium’s foreign affairs minister, Hadja Lahbib, is also facing calls to resign after granting visas to the Iranian and Russian visitors. The scandal came not long after Belgian NGO worker Olivier Vandecasteele was released from prison in Iran.
Vandecasteele had been accused by Tehran of spying in February of last year and was sentenced in January to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes. He was released in a prisoner exchange arrangement which also saw Iranian national Asadollah Assadi return to Iran. Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2021 in connection with a failed bomb plot in France.
Both countries claimed that the charges against their citizens were spurious.
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