The State Department said there’s a growing unity among nations to confront the Iranian regime after a report revealed that operatives linked to Hezbollah, an Iran-backed terrorist group, were caught in London stashing tons of bomb-making material in 2015.
The department also commended the UK for expanding its designation of Hezbollah as a terror group.
“This Iran-sponsored terrorist group has American blood on its hands and continues to plot and carry out attacks not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe and around the world,” a department spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “It is clear that international unity to confront the Iranian regime continues to grow, and we call on all European countries to follow the UK’s example.”
State Department spokesperson’s response to report on Hezbollah terrorist bomb plot in UK: pic.twitter.com/NJiUQbmv18
— Ivan Pentchoukov (@IvanPentchoukov) June 10, 2019
The UK marked Hezbollah a terror group as a whole in February, while previously it differentiated between the group’s political and terrorist aspects. More than a dozen other countries have designated the Lebanon-based group as such, including Israel, Canada, Australia, the European Union, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
The United States has taken a tough stance on Iran under the administration of President Donald Trump. The president reimposed sanctions on multiple sectors of Iran’s economy after he withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.
Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions also set up the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team to investigate “individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah.”
In October 2018, he also created a task force to go after Hezbollah and other transnational criminal organizations.
In April, Trump announced he would designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization—the first time the United States has marked a branch of a foreign country’s military as such.
Trump also announced in April that the government wouldn’t renew waivers from the sanctions for countries importing Iranian oil, in an effort to shut down of the regime’s main financial lifelines.
The administration laid out 12 demands that Iran must meet before the United States lifts the sanctions: Iran must stop enriching uranium, distributing ballistic missiles, and developing nuclear-capable missiles. It must release detained citizens of the United States and its allies and stop supporting terrorist groups and militias including Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Additionally, it must withdraw its forces from Syria and stop threatening U.S. allies, including its threats to destroy Israel and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that the United States has attributed to Iran. It must also stop cyberattacks and threats to international shipping.
Iran has so far refused to negotiate.
The busted bomb-making cache in London was reported by the Daily Telegraph on June 10 after months of investigation. The report said the MI5 and Met police made the discovery in fall 2015, but the public wasn’t told at the time.
Iran’s misbehavior was a politically sensitive topic back then. The Iran nuclear deal was already settled on by the United States, Russia, China, the UK, France, Germany, and Iran, but it only took effect through an executive order signed by then-President Barack Obama in January 2016.
The deal aimed to postpone Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon by about a decade, in exchange for lifting economic sanctions and releasing some $120 billion in frozen Iranian assets.
Obama was so invested in the deal that his administration “derailed” a law enforcement operation that uncovered a billion-dollar Hezbollah operation involving weapons trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, and other crimes, Politico reported in 2017.
After the deal went into effect, Iran announced boosting its military budget by at least 150 percent—developing long-range missiles, armed drones, and cyberwar capabilities.
In April 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented what he said were Iranian documents obtained by Israeli intelligence that proved Iran’s development of nuclear weapons before the 2015 deal, while the regime claimed its nuclear program didn’t seek to build arms.
Moreover, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic agency, said on Jan. 22 that the regime secretly bought components for its heavy water reactor near Arak, a crucial component in the production of weapons-grade plutonium, even though the nuclear deal required the regime to disable the reactor.
Aside from the United States, the other parties to the Iran deal still voice commitment to it, though their efforts to defy the U.S. sanctions have largely fallen flat.
The head of the United Nations atomic watchdog said on June 10 that Iran has followed through on a threat to accelerate its production of enriched uranium in response to the sanctions.
Iran said in May that it was still abiding by the deal, but would quadruple its production of enriched uranium—a move that could take it out of compliance if stockpiles rise too far. It demanded European countries do more to shield it from sanctions.
Reuters contributed to this report.