U.S. Lawmakers’ Letter:
WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- Four American lawmakers have sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump expressing concern that he was "inflating threats and bending intelligence” on Iran, the Foreign Policy magazine reported on Thursday.
The letter, from Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen, Ed Markey, and Jeff Merkley as well as Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, underscores how rattled Democrats are by the administration’s overall Iran strategy, it said.
Last week, two other Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Tom Udall, published an op-ed in the Washington Post that delivered similar warnings.
The Trump administration "is doing a dreadful job of consulting with Congress and keeping the vast majority of members of Congress informed about what’s happening,” Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday.
In the letter, Van Hollen, Markey, Merkley, and Sanders argue the Trump administration’s Iran strategy is "increasingly inconsistent and counterproductive” and express concern its assessments of threats from Iran "fit into a larger pattern of inflating threats and bending intelligence to justify dangerous, predetermined policies.”
They asked Trump to respond to their letter by June 15 with more clarification on his Iran strategy, including how sanctioning nonproliferation projects being monitored by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) fulfill the administration’s objectives, what the administration’s plan is to "constrain Iran’s nuclear program if the limits under the (Iran deal) are terminated,” and what progress the administration has made on the new Iran strategy that it rolled out in 2018.
The four senators say the administration’s threat assessments on Iran’s nuclear program are "inconsistent,” based on two examples. In January, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a congressional hearing that Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapons program. In February, the IAEA backed up Coats’s assertion and verified that Iran’s nuclear program was peaceful.
"Your administration, however, is making assertions that are at odds with these findings,” the letter reads, citing Pompeo’s casting of Iran as engaging in "nuclear blackmail” and a new State Department report on international arms control compliance that hinted Iran was not in compliance with obligations on nonproliferation.
U.S. officials privately raised alarm bells over the State Department report, according to Reuters, when a senior Trump appointee in the State Department pushed to include opinion pieces and select news stories in the Iran section of the report, which normally only includes information from U.S. intelligence and legal analysis. That official, Assistant Secretary of State Yleem Poblete, is departing her job in the coming weeks following disagreements with other senior officials, the Washington Post reports.
"In sum, we fear that your administration is leading the United States down the path to another war in the Middle East, while spurning our allies and misleading the United States public,” the senators write.
The latest flare-up in tensions started earlier this month, when the Trump administration highlighted an unspecified threat from Iran that endangered the lives of U.S. forces in the region.
The administration’s grave warnings were met with skepticism and exasperation in Europe, where Trump has alienated allies with his hardline stance on Iran by tightening sanctions on the country after withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Since the administration flagged the new threat, the State Department ordered all nonemergency personnel withdrawn from the U.S. Embassy and consulate in Iraq and put other embassies in the region on alert.
Two key pro-Iran Iraqi armed groups Thursday rejected the U.S. claim of an "imminent” threat against American personnel.
Nasr al-Shomari, a military commander for the Harakat al-Nujaba, told AFP the claim was "a pretext” by Washington to create "an uproar” in Iraq.
A leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq group, Layth al-Azari, said the allegations were part of a "psychological war” by the United States.
The two groups are key factions within the Hashed al-Sha’abi organization which played a key role in the battle to defeat the Daesh group in Iraq.
Senior U.S. State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed the threat came from Iraqi militia "commanded and controlled” by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.
But Shomari dismissed the allegations, telling AFP the United States "is trying to create an uproar in Iraq and in the region under any pretext.”
"If we put out a statement concerning the United States, they consider it a threat, but if the United States carries out an attack, isn’t that a threat?” he added.
Azari echoed his remarks, saying the U.S. claim and its recent action in the region "are a provocation aimed at escalating a psychological war” due to the prevailing tensions with Iran.
Iraq has been under pressure from the U.S. to limit its ties with neighboring Iran, particularly after Washington last year withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran and hit it with sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif on Thursday hit out at the United States for an "unacceptable” escalation of tensions. He said Iran was exercising "maximum restraint.”