The top U.S. envoy on Iran has criticized a European Union decision to give 18 million euros in aid to Tehran, saying it sends "the wrong message at the wrong time."
"Foreign aid from European taxpayers perpetuates the regime's ability to neglect the needs of its people and stifles meaningful policy changes," Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, said late on August 24 in a statement.
"The Iranian people face very real economic pressures caused by their government's corruption, mismanagement, and deep investment in terrorism and foreign conflicts," he said.
"The United States and the European Union should be working together to find lasting solutions that truly support Iran's people and end the regime's threats to regional and global stability."
The EU has said it is providing the $20.7 million in aid to Iran to offset the impact of U.S. economic sanctions as European countries try to salvage the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers that the United States abandoned in May.
The payment comes about a week after the United States started reimposing sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the nuclear accord.
The EU funding is part of a wider package of 50 million euros earmarked in the bloc's budget for Iran, which has threatened to stop complying with the nuclear accord if it no longer sees any economic benefit from it.
Hook called on the EU to abandon its efforts to meet Iran's demands and join the United States in putting economic pressure on the Shi'ite Muslim clerics who rule Iran.
"More money in the hands of [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] means more money to conduct assassinations in those very European countries," he said.
Hook may have been referring to a suspected bomb plot against an Iranian opposition rally in France in late June that was thwarted by European authorities. An Iranian diplomat is suspected of involvement.
Iran did not immediately respond to Hook's accusations.
'Stronger Impact Than Expected'
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told Reuters earlier this week that the return of U.S. sanctions was having a stronger impact on Iran's economy and popular opinion than the White House expected.
The threat of sanctions for months has seen the Iranian rial slump to record lows against the U.S. dollar, helping to stoke street protests against rising prices and economic hardship in Iran.
The U.S. sanctions revived this month target Iran's car industry, trade in gold and other precious metals, and purchases of U.S. dollars crucial to support its oil exports and other global trade.
Further U.S. sanctions are due to go into effect in November specifically targeting Iran's banking sector and oil industry, which drives growth in the Iranian economy.
U.S. officials have said their goal is to reduce Iran's oil exports to "zero" and have demanded that other countries that import Iranian oil comply with the sanctions.
Hook's criticism of the EU over its aid payments to Iran came on the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed them as a "big mistake" and claimed the money would be used to build weapons and fund conflicts in the Middle East, rather than help the Iranian people.
"I think giving money to this regime at this time is a big mistake and should be stopped. It's like a poison pill to the Iranian people and to the efforts to curb Iranian aggression in the region," Netanyahu said on a visit to Lithuania.
"Where will the extra money go? It is not going to go to solve the water problem in Iran, it is not going to go for Iranian truck drivers," he said. "It is going to go to the missiles and the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East."
Netanhyahu, speaking at a press conference that followed a meeting with three Baltic prime ministers -- Lithuania's Saulius Skvernelis, Estonia's Juri Ratas and Maris Kucinskis of Latvia -- said "Iran attempted to conduct a terror attack on European soil just weeks ago... That is incredible."
"All countries should join the efforts to restore sanctions on Iran in order to press them to stop their aggression and desist on their terrorist activities," he said.