US says Iran remains world’s top terror sponsor
LONDON — Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, the Trump administration said Wednesday in an annual report that also highlighted another drop in terrorist attacks worldwide.
The State Department’s annual survey of global terrorism accused Iran of intensifying numerous conflicts and trying to undermine governments throughout the Middle East and beyond. Iran’s “terrorist affiliates and proxies,” the report said, “demonstrated a near-global terrorist reach.”
The number of worldwide terrorist attacks dropped by 23 percent last year compared with 2016, according to the report, a change largely due to gains against the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Iraq. The number also had declined in 2016 over the previous year.
The report comes as the Trump administration is toughening its stance against Iran. President Donald Trump withdrew from the landmark nuclear accord with Iran earlier this year and has begun to dismantle sanctions relief granted under the 2015 deal.
Re-imposing sanctions is one part of a larger effort by the US to cut Iran off from funds used to support proxy forces and support other “malign activity” in the region, including terrorism, according to Trump administration officials.
“Iran uses terrorism as a tool of its state craft, it has no reservations about using that tool on any continent,” Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, told journalists Wednesday. He cited Iran-linked fundraising networks in West Africa, weapons caches in South America and operational activity in Europe.
The report specifically cited the activities of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, the powerful Revolutionary Guard commander.
Iran used the Revolutionary Guard “to provide support to terrorist organizations, provide cover for associated covert operations, and create instability in the Middle East,” the report stated.
Also in the Middle East, Iranian fighters and Iran-backed militias, like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, emerged emboldened from the war in Syria with valuable battlefield experience they seek to leverage elsewhere, according to the report.
US seeking to negotiate a treaty with Iran
The United States is seeking to negotiate a treaty with Iran to include Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional behavior, the US special envoy for Iran said on Wednesday ahead of UN meetings in New York next week.
Iran has rejected US attempts to hold high-level talks since Trump tore up a nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers earlier this year.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed a dozen demands in May that he said could make up a new agreement, although Hook’s reference to a treaty, which would have to be approved by the US Senate, appears to be a new focus.
“The new deal that we hope to be able to sign with Iran, and it will not be a personal agreement between two governments like the last one, we seek a treaty,” envoy Brian Hook told an audience at the Hudson Institute think tank.
Among Pompeo’s demands was the release of Americans jailed by Tehran, an end to its nuclear and missile programs and for Iran to withdraw its forces and end financial support for sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
But Hook acknowledged Iranian leaders have not been interested in talks despite statements by Trump this year that the administration was willing to meet.
The 2015 deal was an executive agreement that was not ratified by the US Senate and covered only Iran’s nuclear program. A treaty would require approval by the Senate.
Some opponents of the nuclear agreement have argued that Obama’s failure to seek Senate approval of the deal allowed Trump to unilaterally withdraw.
“They did not have the votes in the US Senate so they found the votes in the UN Security Council. That is insufficient in our system of government if you want to have something enduring and sustainable,” Hook said, adding that Washington hoped US sanctions would force Tehran to negotiate.
Iran views the United States as acting in bad faith by withdrawing from a deal and has longed blamed Washington for stoking instability in the Middle East. It has said Trump’s offer to negotiate contradicts his actions and accused Washington of trying to foment regime change.
Trump will chair a session on Iran during the UN General Assembly meetings in New York next week. In July, Trump said he was willing to meet Iran’s leaders “anytime they want” prompting speculation that a meeting might take place at the UN meetings next week.
“The Ayatollah, the president and foreign minister have all indicated they are not interested in talking,” Hook said, referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“We respect that though that does not change our plans. We have a sanctions regime that is underway, stronger measures are yet to come,” he added.
Hook said the administration was expanding its diplomatic efforts to ensure that purchases of Iranian oil are drastically reduced by November 4 when Washington reimposes oil sanctions against Tehran.
Hook said Iran posed an international threat to peace and security that went beyond the six major powers that signs the initial nuclear deal. European and Asian countries have been trying to salvage the nuclear deal despite new US sanctions against Tehran.
“If we want to have a stable and prosperous Middle East it starts with constraining Iran,” Hook said.
Iran asks UN to condemn Israeli threats
Iran has asked the United Nations to condemn Israeli threats against Tehran and to bring Israel’s nuclear programme under its supervision, state media reported on Thursday.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a visit to a secretive Israeli atomic reactor in late August to warn the country’s enemies that it has the means to destroy them, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to its assumed nuclear arsenal.
“The United Nations’ members should not turn a blind eye to these threats and must take firms actions to eliminate all Israeli nuclear weapons,” Fars news agency quoted Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations Gholamali Khoshrou as saying in letters to the UN secretary general and the security council.
Khoshrou asked the United Nations to force Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and bring its nuclear programme under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN atomic watchdog.
Israel, which is outside the NPT, neither confirms nor denies having the bomb, a decades-old ambiguity policy.
Israel is trying to lobby world powers to follow the United States in exiting the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The Israelis deem the agreement insufficient for denying their arch-foe the means to eventually get the bomb – something that Tehran, which is a signatory to the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), denies wanting.
Since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has preached Israel’s destruction.
(AW and agencies)