With just 12 days left in the office, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning to mount pressure on Joe Biden administration with accusation that Iran had ties to al Qaeda, insiders said on Tuesday.
Pompeo will use newly declassified intelligence that allege that Tehran has given safe havens to al Qaeda leaders and offered support to the group, the sources said.
However, it was not immediately clear how much detail Pompeo will give in his speech to the National Press Club in Washington.
Sources say Pompeo could cite declassified information on the killing of al Qaeda’s suspected second-in-command in Tehran in August.
The New York Times reported in November that Abu Muhammad al-Masri, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa, was killed by Israeli operatives in Iran. Tehran denied the report, saying there were no al Qaeda “terrorists” on its soil.
Trump administration and Pompeo had been harsh on Iran in the past and further ratcheted up pressure on Tehran in recent weeks with more sanctions and fierce rhetoric.
Advisers to President-elect Joe Biden believe the Trump administration is trying to make it harder for him to re-engage with Iran and seek to rejoin a deal on its nuclear programme.
Pompeo has accused Iran of links to al Qaeda but did not provide concrete evidence when he was director of CIA in 2017.
Ironically, the George W. Bush administration had dismissed allegations of Iranian links to al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. But there have been reports in the past that al Qaeda terrorists were hiding out in Iran.
A former senior US intelligence official denied that Iran and al Qaeda had ever been on friendly terms before or after the attacks and any claims of current cooperation should be viewed warily.
Shi’ite Iran and Sunni militant organisation al Qaeda have never been friendly to each other.
Relations between Tehran and Washington deteriorated in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
Trump imposed sanctions on Iranian officials, politicians and companies soon after assuming office in an effort to force Tehran to negotiate a broader deal to further limit its nuclear capabilities. Though sanctions piled on economic hardships on Iran, they failed to bring it back to the negotiating table.
And there are apprehensions that more sanctions will be placed before Trump leaves office.
President-elect Biden has said the United States will rejoin the nuclear deal “if Iran resumes strict compliance.”