By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department failed to meet a deadline on Thursday to provide information to three congressional committee chairmen looking into whether an annual arms control report slanted and politicised assessments about Iran, a congressional aide said.
In a May 16 letter, the Democratic chairmen of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to provide a State Department briefing and documents no later than Thursday.
The chairmen’s letter cited a Reuters article on April 17 about how the administration’s annual report to Congress on global compliance with international arms control accords provoked a dispute with U.S. intelligence agencies and some State Department officials.
The dissenting officials, sources said, were concerned that the document politicised and skewed assessments against Iran in a bid to lay the groundwork to justify military action.
A U.S. official familiar with the issue and speaking on condition of anonymity said the chairmen were to be invited to a briefing by State Department and other government experts about the report on “adherence to and compliance with arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament agreements and commitments.”
The congressional aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said no such communication had been received.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S.-Iranian tensions rose following U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal last year from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and his reimposition of tough economic sanctions. They sharpened earlier this month after Trump tightened sanctions to try to eliminate Iran’s oil exports.
Strains further deepened with Saudi Arabia accusing Iran of ordering armed drone attacks on two oil pumping stations and the May 12 sabotage of four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
U.S. government sources said Washington strongly suspects militias with ties to Tehran were behind those attacks as well as a rocket strike in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
Iran denied involvement in the incidents.
In their May 16 letter to Pompeo, the three chairmen said they were “deeply concerned” the arms control report may have been produced by political appointees “disregarding intelligence or distorting its meaning.”
The State Department, they noted, was legally bound to submit to Congress a “detailed report” on compliance by the United States and other countries with international arms control accords.
Instead, they wrote, this year’s report was only 12 pages long, “contains no meaningful discussion” of U.S. and Russian compliance with such agreements and “consists largely of hypotheticals or opinion.”
Several sources told Reuters that the report made them wonder if the administration was painting Iran in the darkest light possible, much as the George W. Bush administration used bogus and exaggerated intelligence to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)