- The Washington Times
Monday, June 29, 2020

An increasingly restive Iran vowed Monday to arrest and prosecute President Trump for taking out one of the country’s top generals, even as the beleaguered regime in Tehran battled economic and health woes and mounting questions over a massive but still murky explosion near a key nuclear weapons research site.

There was virtually no chance that the arrest warrant for Mr. Trump and 35 other foreign officials to Interpol would ever be enforced outside Iran’s borders, and Interpol officials said they would not act on Iran’s request.

But the move, a direct but belated response to a U.S. airstrike in January that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, shows that Iran is once again stoking tensions with the U.S. and feeling the heat from a U.S. pressure campaign on its military and economy.

The Trump administration is facing its own challenges in trying to get reluctant allies to step up pressure on Tehran. Both sides are plotting their moves as time winds down before the U.S. election in November.

A a top adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to warn of catastrophic consequences for the region if a United Nations arms embargo on Iran is allowed to expire in October, as called for in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that President Trump repudiated two years ago.

Iran announced the arrest warrant for Mr. Trump just hours before the administration’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, suggested at a news conference in Saudi Arabia that Iranian leaders wanted to capture headlines and direct attention away from what he said was mounting support for an arms embargo extension.

Mr. Hook carried the same message on a subsequent stop in Bahrain, where he warned of a “destabilizing arms race” in the region if Iran’s arms embargo is lifted.

At the press conference with Saudi officials, Mr. Hook pointed to missiles and weapons manufactured in Iran and recently captured in Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been locked in a bloody fight with a Saudi-led coalition. Mr. Hook said such weapons, along with tanks, attack helicopters, drones and warships, would flow throughout the region if the arms embargo expires in October.

“Imagine the new security challenges Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region will face if the arms embargo expires,” he said. “Iran will upgrade its legacy weapons systems. It will acquire new and sensitive technologies that it could either reexport to its proxies in the region or use to increase the range and lethality of its current stockpile of missiles and rockets.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country is working hand-in-hand with the U.S. to extend the ban and warned that Iran “will become more ferocious and aggressive” if the embargo is lifted.

Iran was sounding increasingly confident that the major powers on the U.N. Security Council, including Iran deal signatories Russia, China, Britain and France, remain committed to the deal and opposed to U.S. efforts to extend the embargo.

“The U.S. isn’t merely violating [the nuclear deal] and bullying others to do so, too. It also has dishonor of being first in U.N. history to punish law-abiding countries for NOT violating a Security Council [resolution],” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a Twitter post.

Mystery blast

Meanwhile, there are fresh questions surrounding just what happened to Iran’s nuclear weapons program after a huge explosion lit up the night sky at a military facility outside Tehran last week. Iranian officials have maintained that it was the result of a gas tank malfunction, but widespread speculation in Israeli media centered on whether there had been a major weapons accident at the site or whether it had been the target of an airstrike by a foreign military.

Sources with knowledge of the incident told The Washington Times on Monday that evidence suggests it was an accident. Still, the blast put a spotlight on secretive Iranian military sites that U.S. officials believe could be the home of illegal testing and may not be entirely open to regular inspections.

Administration officials in recent weeks have criticized Iran for refusing to fully cooperate with international inspectors. The U.S. and its allies fear that Tehran could respond to an extension of the U.N. arms embargo by restricting inspectors’ access further or perhaps by kicking them out of the country altogether.

Inspections were a key piece of the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Mr. Trump withdrew from that agreement in May 2018, though the U.S. insists Iran must live up to key commitments under the pact, such as allowing outside inspections and observing limits on uranium enrichment.

U.N. monitors have confirmed that Iran has steadily exceeded its enrichment pledges under the deal but has yet to fully abandon its constraints as it pressures European allies of the U.S. to stick with the agreement.

Analysts warn that the prospect of undeclared nuclear material in Iran or secretive testing sites should be a cause of grave concern for the U.S. and its allies.

“On the one hand, in its declared nuclear program, while by no means racing toward a bomb, Iran is systematically reducing its breakout time,” John Hannah, senior counselor at the Washington think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, wrote in a piece for Real Clear Defense on Monday.

“On the other hand, there are growing concerns that Iran may be concealing both undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities,” he said. “Put them together, and it’s an especially troubling combination that inevitability raises the uncomfortable question: What happens if the situation continues to worsen?”

Along with those concerns was the dramatic public arrest warrant.

Iranian officials said “red alerts” had been issued for Mr. Trump and 35 other officials and that Tehran is seeking the help of Interpol to apprehend them. Iran did not name the other officials but said Mr. Trump “stands at the top of the list and will be prosecuted” as soon as he leaves office.

“Thirty-six individuals who have been involved or ordered the assassination of [Soleimani], including the political and military officials of the U.S. and other governments, have been identified and arrest warrants have been issued for them by the judiciary officials and red alerts have also been issued for them via the Interpol,” Prosecutor-General Ali Alqasi Meh told Iran’s Fars News Agency.

The arrest warrant is Iran’s latest response to the Jan. 3 U.S. airstrike near Baghdad International Airport that killed Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds Force, a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Trump administration blamed Soleimani for coordinating attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq against American troops and U.S. contractors, and coordinating anti-U.S. proxy forces throughout the Middle East.

The airstrike nearly sparked an all-out war between the U.S. and Iran. Days after the incident, Iran sought to avenge the Soleimani’s killing by launching missiles at U.S. forces stationed at Iraq’s Al-Asad air base.

Dozens of American service members suffered traumatic brain injuries during the assault, but none was killed.

Mr. Trump decided against direct retaliation for that attack.

⦁ Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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