United States authorities have accused an alleged member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of plotting to assassinate former US National Security Advisor John Bolton, probably in retaliation for the killing Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani in 2020.
The US Department of Justice revealed the charges against Shahram Poursafi, of Tehran, on Wednesday, accusing him of offering an unidentified US-based individual $300,000 to carry out the killing in Washington, DC or neighbouring Maryland.
Bolton, a foreign policy hawk and vocal advocate of regime change in Iran, served as national security adviser under former President Donald Trump, but he left the job before a US drone attack killed Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020.
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“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, through the Defendant, tried to hatch a brazen plot: assassinate a former US official on US soil in retaliation for US actions,” Matthew Graves, US attorney for Washington, said in a statement.
“Iran and other hostile governments should understand that the US Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners will do everything in our power to thwart their violent plots and bring those responsible to justice.”
Tehran dismissed the US charges as “ridiculous and baseless” later on Wednesday.
“Iran strongly warns against any action against Iranian citizens under the pretext of these ridiculous and baseless accusations,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said, as reported by the Reuters news agency.
According to the Justice Department, the Iranian operative “had an additional ‘job,’ for which he would pay $1 million”. It did not provide details on what the job was or whom it may have targeted.
Glenn Carle, a former CIA intelligence officer, told Al Jazeera any response for Soleimani’s killing would have needed to target those of a “reasonably commensurate ranking” to the general “to get someone hostile to Iran and to make a statement short of actually targeting the president.”
The Justice Department said Poursafi “remains at large abroad”, so he is unlikely to stand trial for the two charges he is facing, including “providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot”, which carries a sentence of as many as 15 years in jail.
Meanwhile, the White House warned Tehran of “severe consequences” if it targets Americans.
“We have said this before and we will say it again: the Biden Administration will not waiver in protecting and defending all Americans against threats of violence and terrorism,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
“Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences.”
Wednesday’s charges come as Washington and Tehran push to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions against its economy.
Trump nixed the agreement in 2018 and started piling sanctions on various Iranian industries and individuals. In response, Tehran has been advancing its nuclear programme well beyond the limits set by the 2015 pact.
Indirect talks between Tehran and the administration of US President Joe Biden resumed briefly in Vienna last week, with the European Union offering a “final text” to reinstate the deal.
I wish to thank the Justice Dept for initiating the criminal proceeding unsealed today; the FBI for its diligence in discovering and tracking the Iranian regime’s criminal threat to American citizens; and the Secret Service for providing protection against Tehran’s efforts. pic.twitter.com/QDjkX6gUWM
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) August 10, 2022
On Wednesday, Bolton thanked law enforcement agencies for foiling the alleged plot and hit out at the current US administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear pact.
“Iran’s nuclear weapons and terrorist activities are two sides of the same coin. No responsible US government should think otherwise,” Bolton said in a statement.
“America re-entering the failed 2015 Iran nuclear deal would be an unparalleled self-inflicted wound, to ourselves and our closest Middle East allies. I remain committed to making sure it does not happen.”
Bolton returned to news headlines last month when he boasted during a TV interview that he had “helped plan coups d’etat” abroad.
Biden and his top aides have defended the nuclear deal against concerns that it does not address Tehran’s ballistic missile programme or regional activities by arguing that a nuclear-armed Iran would be much more dangerous.
Iran denies pursuing nuclear weapons and accuses the US of militarising the Middle East by selling and providing billions of dollars worth of weapons to Israel and Gulf Arab states.