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January 15, 2021

Pompeo’s Suspect Claims on Iran & Khamenei Greenlights JCPOA Return

This week, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo accused Iran of helping Al-Qaeda set up a “home base” inside Iran with no evidence to substantiate the claim. Also, Iran’s Supreme Leader seemed to green light a JCPOA return. Please see a breakdown and analysis of events below: 

Pompeo Accuses Iran of Helping Al-Qaeda Set Up New “Home Base”

  • He Provided No Evidence For His Claims
    • U.S. Secretary Michael Pompeo asserted on Tuesday Jan 12th that the Iranian government has assisted Al-Qaeda in building a new base of operations in Iran. However, he provided no additional evidence to back up his assertions despite the gravity of the allegations. Much of the existing evidence on the topic contradicts the Secretary’s claims.
    • Pompeo said in a speech at the National Press Club that Tehran allowed the terrorist organization to set up “a new operational headquarters, on the condition that al-Qaeda operatives inside abide by the regime’s rules governing al-Qaeda’s stay inside the country.”

    • According to the New York Times, “His conclusions were quickly tempered, and even contradicted, by some current and former American officials who said there was little new intelligence to suggest that Iran was any kind of active headquarters, much less a hub where al-Qaeda’s leaders can direct operations with the support of the government in Tehran.”
    • Pompeo also confirmed in his speech a New York Times report of the killing of a high ranking Al-Qaeda (AQ) operative, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, in Iran. Iran has a history of taking members of AQ hostage to ensure the group does not conduct attacks within Iran and to use in prisoner exchanges. Al-Masri was included in one of these exchanges in 2015, when Iran released five of AQ’s leaders, including Mr. al-Masri, in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who had been abducted in Yemen.
  • Key Takeaways

    • If Secretary Pompeo and the relevant U.S. agencies had any indication or evidence to support Pompeo’s claims, he likely would not have waited a week before Trump leaving office to make the accusation. This should be seen for what it is: another attempt to undermine the incoming Biden administration’s desire to reverse ‘maximum pressure’ and embark on a new path forward built on diplomacy.
    • Pompeo has made similar accusations before that many saw as an attempt to justify military action against Iran, all of which were equally without basis. In a comprehensive report from New America based on documents seized from the raid against Bin Laden, “Al-Qaeda views Iran as a hostile entity.” It goes on to say that “the presence of jihadis in Iran was out of necessity, not a result of strategic planning” and that “Al-Qaeda perceived Iran’s policy as one of detention/imprisonment.” The report makes clear that tolerance of AQ’s presence and at times the extortion of their members, not cooperation, is the basis of the relationship between Iran and AQ. 

Khamenei Gives Green Light for JCPOA Return in Speech 

  • Iran Notifies IAEA About Proposal to Begin Uranium Metal Production 
    • In a speech last week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei took a defiant tone in the wake of growing U.S. pressure, but also voiced his support for returning to the JCPOA if the U.S. did the same. In his speech he said, “We should assume that sanctions will not be lifted. Of course, the effects of sanctions are gradually diminishing, but we should suppose that they will remain….Of course, if [the U.S.] returns to their commitments, we will return to ours as well.”

    • Iran also notified the IAEA that it was taking another step that would further reduce their compliance with the JCPOA. Iran said it would restart the production of fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor, a facility that runs on uranium enriched to higher levels in order to produce medical isotopes.

    • To achieve this, Iran has begun manufacturing equipment to produce uranium metal, a necessary component for the research reactor’s fuel. Uranium metal, which Iran is prohibited from producing according to the JCPOA, can potentially be used in nuclear weapons. Iran has yet to produce any uranium metal, which according to previous timelines would take months.

    • Iran’s move is part of a broad suite of measures recently passed by the country’s parliament to accelerate nuclear activities in response to U.S. sanctions. For more information on the parliamentary bill that forced the Rouhani administration to take these steps, please see our breakdown HERE and a translated version of the bill HERE
    • A member of Iran’s parliament also clarified another aspect of the bill this week, saying that Iran would stop its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol (AP) on February 21st if sanctions are not lifted by then. Contrary to some reports, if Iran proceeded to stop implementing the AP, it would only reduce the access of inspectors, not kick them out wholesale, since it only gives international inspectors more access than required under Iran’s NPT obligations.
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