Homeland Security

White House Looks on Bright Side of Iran Arms Smuggling

The White House said today that interdiction of an Iranian vessel shipping arms to Yemen showed that they’re not ignoring Iran aggression after implementation of the P5+1 nuclear deal.

According to the U.S. Navy, the Cyclone-class patrol craft USS Sirocco first spotted a dhow in the Persian Gulf that was packed with weapons. With the help of the guided missile destroyer USS Gravely, American forces seized cargo including 1,500 AK-47s, 200 RPG launchers and 21 .50 caliber machine guns.

The U.S. 5th Fleet said it was the third time since late February that ships originating in Iran were caught smuggling weapons across the water with Houthi rebels being the “likely” recipient.

On Feb. 27, the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Darwin intercepted a dhow with nearly 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 100 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 49 PKM general purpose machine guns, 39 PKM spare barrels and 20 60mm mortar tubes.

On March 20, the French Navy destroyer FS Provence seized nearly 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 64 Dragunov sniper rifles, nine anti-tank missiles and “other associated equipment.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked at the daily briefing if this was “an example of the Iranians following the letter of the agreement, but not necessarily the spirit of it” or “a violation.”

“Well, I think one thing that this illustrates is the commitment on the part of the United States to countering Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” Earnest replied.

“We obviously work with a whole host of other countries in that effort. And one of the things that President Obama will discuss at the G.C. Summit in Saudi Arabia next month — or I guess it’s later this month, now — will be ramping up our efforts to — to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. And one example of their destabilizing activities is their ongoing materiel support for Houthi rebels in Yemen.”

Earnest added that the administration is “obviously… concerned about this development, because offering up support to the rebels in Yemen is a — is something that is not at all consistent with U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

“And I’m confident that the United States and our other partners on the Security Council will take a close look at this incident, consider the available evidence,” he said. “And if and when it’s appropriate, raise this for other members of the Security Council.”

Pressed on whether Iran should face consequences for their latest “destabilizing behavior,” Earnest replied, “I think at this point, it’s too early to say exactly what we would suggest.”

“But again, I think this is a clear illustration that the United States is quite serious about working with other countries in the region to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East,” he added.

At the State Department today, spokesman Mark Toner was asked about the administration’s “sort of weaselly language” on Iran’s violations in regards to its ballistic missile tests — saying that the actions are “inconsistent with” the rules but not directly calling the tests a violation.

“They were found to be inconsistent with, again, a separate piece of the JCPOA, but we always said we were never going to back away from other behavior, bad behavior on the part of Iran, even if it’s not part of the JCPOA. And we’re going to continue to apply sanctions as — and we’ve retained that ability to apply sanctions as appropriate,” Toner said.

Toner later acknowledged “it is very parsed and diplomatic language” being applied.

“It reflects the consensus that it took to reach agreement on how we would move forward in addressing some of our concerns about Iran’s behavior,” he said. “But again, what is really critical in all of this is that we have given up no ability to carry out, where we see a need to, sanctions or our ability to sanction Iran when it acts, as I said – I mentioned a number of areas, but you mentioned ballistic missiles – when it acts in a way that we believe undermines regional stability.”

A trio of GOP congressman sent Secretary of State John Kerry a letter late last week noting that “your decision to cease labeling the launches a violation is alarming” and raising concern about “reports that the administration is stifling voices within its ranks for stronger action against Iran.”

That, argued Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), is “putting the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and political legacy above the safety and security of the American people.”

“Unfortunately, Iran is finding little international resistance to its ‘provocative and destabilizing’ missile tests, to use U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power’s words,” the lawmakers wrote.

“…More than three weeks have passed since the Islamic Republic of Iran’s dangerous missile launches, yet there has still been no U.S. declaration of a ‘violation,’ only that the tests are ‘inconsistent with’ and just ‘in defiance of’ UNSCR 2231. The seeming American refusal to name these Iranian tests as violations is in direct conflict with the administration’s earlier commitments.”