US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to publicly accuse Iran of ties to al-Qaeda in the waning days of the Trump presidency, according to a Monday report.
Pompeo intends to use recently declassified US intelligence in the announcement, Reuters reported, citing “two people familiar with the matter.” He is expected to disclose details on Iran allegedly sheltering al-Qaeda leaders and supporting the terror group, the report said.
Pompeo is expected to make some of the accusations during a speech to the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday. Pompeo has made accusations of Iranian ties to al-Qaeda in the past, but without citing evidence.
There are some misgivings about publicly discussing the information among lawmakers and the intelligence community, the report said.
The announcement will likely further complicate the incoming Biden administration’s stated goal of reengaging with Tehran.
The White House has waged a years-long campaign against Iran that has included crippling sanctions, withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Donald Trump is set to leave office in eight days, on January 20.
The expected announcement could include information on the assassination of al-Qaeda’s second in command in Tehran in August, reportedly by Israel, Reuters said.
The New York Times reported in November that Israeli agents carried out the hit on Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah at the behest of the US. Abdullah, who used the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was accused of being one of the chief planners of devastating attacks on two US embassies in Africa in 1998 and a 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya.
Iran denied the report of the Israeli assassination.
Iran also accused Israel of killing its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran in November in another assassination expected to complicate the Biden administration’s talks with Iran.
It’s unclear why Iran would harbor al-Qaeda operatives. Iran is a Shiite state, and has fought with al-Qaeda, a Sunni jihadist organization. Experts told The New York Times that Iran may hold al-Qaeda members to prevent attacks in Iran, or to allow them to conduct operations against the US.
Iran cooperates with the Gaza-based Sunni terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The US and Iran have engaged in an ongoing exchange in recent weeks as the Trump administration draws to a close and Iran marked the one-year anniversary of Soleimani’s killing.
The back and forth has included threats, military maneuvers, legal action and escalating Iranian violations of the nuclear deal.
Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent last week, well in excess of the threshold set out in its landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog warned Monday that there were “weeks” left to salvage the nuclear deal with Iran.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unveiled on Friday one of its “strategic missile bases” located on the “shores of the Persian Gulf,” according to the corps’ Sepahnews website.
Iran’s inflammatory steps may also be aimed at increasing its leverage for negotiations before Biden takes office.
Biden has said that if Iran returns to the terms of the nuclear agreement, he too would rejoin, removing the crushing economic sanctions that have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy over the past two years.
The US president-elect has indicated that he wants to negotiate more broadly with Tehran if Washington returns to the deal, notably over its missiles and influence across the Middle East.
Iran has said it could welcome the return of the Americans to the agreement, but only after they lift sanctions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his opposition to the US rejoining the Iran deal on Thursday during a meeting with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.