By MATTHEW LEE, AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration accused Iran on Thursday of stepping up violations of a U.N. ban on arms exports by sending rockets and other weaponry to rebels in Afghanistan and Yemen.
The new allegations come as the U.S. ramps up pressure on Iran to halt what it calls “malign activities” in the Middle East and elsewhere by reinstating sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal from which President Donald Trump withdrew in May. Iran has denied such accusations in the past.
In a presentation at a military base in Washington, the administration put on display weapons and fragments of weapons seized in Afghanistan, Bahrain and Yemen that it said are evidence Iran is a “grave and escalating threat” that must be stopped. The material was added to a collection presented by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley last December when she laid out a case for pulling out of the nuclear agreement.
Since Haley’s presentation, Iran has only increased its support for destabilizing activities, said Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran.
Hook displayed rockets, missiles, small arms and debris from an Iranian drone that he says were intended for Houthi rebels in Yemen, Shiite militants in Bahrain and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also repeated U.S. claims that Iran is boosting its supply of weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement for use in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria as well as Shiite militia in Iraq.
The material shows Iran is determined to send “even more weapons into the hands of even more of its proxies,” he said.
“We need to get serious about going after this stuff,” Hook told reporters.
Hook said an Iranian-designed surface-to-air missile with markings in Farsi, the official language of Iran, had been intended for the Houthis in Yemen but was seized by Saudi Arabia. He said it showed the brazenness of Iran’s intentions.
“The conspicuous Farsi markings is Iran’s way of saying they don’t mind being caught violating U.N. arms restrictions,” he said.
Hook did not specify when the weaponry had been seized, but the U.N. Security Council in 2007 expanded an embargo on arms sales to Iran to include arms exports from Iran. Even under the sanctions relief provided by the nuclear deal the export ban remains in place until 2021 for conventional weapons and until 2024 for missiles.