The Biden administration is taking seriously a string of recent threats and sanctions from Iran against Trump administration officials around the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 3, 2020 strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s actions may indicate Iran is plotting to assassinate the officials.
On Saturday, Iran announced sanctions against 51 Americans, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley as well as several individuals who worked with the Trump administration, like former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and private military contractor Erik Prince. While sanctions typically yield economic punishment, current and former U.S. officials told the Washington Examiner that Iran’s sanctions are being treated as a threat of physical harm.
One U.S. official told the Washington Examiner that the Iranian sanctions amount to an assassination threat.
“In essence, a government official in the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism invited Americans to partake in domestic terrorism against one another,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) senior fellow Behnam Ben Taleblu also told the Washington Examiner.
Taleblu said Iran has used intimidation, harassment, the threat of violence, and actual acts of violence, including kidnapping, terror, and assassination, to intimidate critics abroad for decades. He said, “In this regard, its latest ‘sanctions’ can be seen as another vector in its terror campaign.”
In a Sunday statement, the Biden administration warned against Iranian attacks on any Americans.
“Yesterday, Iran purported to impose sanctions on 51 Americans,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said. “They do so as Iran’s proxy militias continue to attack American troops in the Middle East, and as Iranian officials threaten to carry out terror operations inside the United States and elsewhere around the world.”
“Make no mistake: the United States of America will protect and defend its citizens,” Sullivan continued. “This includes those serving the United States now and those who formerly served.”
Former White House Deputy National Security Advisor Victoria Coates, who specialized in Middle East and North African issues and who was among the 51 Americans listed on Iran’s sanctions announcement, told the Washington Examiner that Iran has been making threats like this for years. “So far, they haven’t been successful, but they only have to be successful once,” she said.
Coates agreed that seeing her name appearing on an Iranian sanctions list is “a euphemism for something more concrete” than an economic punishment.
Coates said she welcomed Sullivan’s statement on Sunday. “They’ve been pretty busy. There’s been a lot going on … I’m very glad he’s focused on it.”
In his Sunday remarks, Sullivan said while Americans may disagree on political matters, as the Trump and Biden administrations have, the Biden administration would not tolerate Iranian attacks on any Americans.
“As Americans, we have our disagreements on politics. We have our disagreements on Iran policy,” Sullivan said. “But we are united in our resolve against threats and provocations. We are united in the defense of our people.”
“We will work with our allies and partners to deter and respond to any attacks carried out by Iran,” Sullivan added. “Should Iran attack any of our nationals, including any of the 51 people named yesterday, it will face severe consequences.”
The sanctions announcement comes days after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called for President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be tried and convicted under Islamic law for ordering the strike on Soleimani, and threatened revenge attacks if Trump and Pompeo were not tried. Pompeo himself described those comments by Raisi as a call for him to either be put on trial or assassinated.