- Associated Press - Thursday, November 29, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Trump administration on Thursday accused Iran of stepping up violations of a U.N. ban on arms exports by sending rockets and other weaponry to rebels in Afghanistan and Yemen.

The new allegations come as the U.S. ramps up pressure on Iran to halt what it calls “malign activities” in the Middle East and elsewhere by reinstating sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal from which President Donald Trump withdrew in May. Iran has denied such accusations in the past.

In a presentation at a military base in Washington, the administration displayed weapons and fragments of weapons seized in Afghanistan, Bahrain and Yemen that it said are evidence Iran is a “grave and escalating threat” that must be stopped. The material was added to a collection presented by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley last December when she laid out a case for pulling out of the nuclear agreement.

The weapons presented “irrefutable evidence” that Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region “is a problem that’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told journalists in a briefing after the presentation. Hook added that he hoped the display would rally international support for re-imposed U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“It’s important for all nations to understand that this is a global threat that requires a global response,” Hook said, “it would be an act of negligence for us to be in possession of these arms and not to publicize it.”

The United States’ European allies continue to support the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and are opposed to the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions.

Hook did not specify when the arms on display had been seized. When asked for data that would support administration claims that Iran is increasing support for destabilizing activities in the region, Hook said Iran has spent over $16 billion since 2013 supporting militia forces in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but did not specify if that spending has increased in recent years.

In Yemen, Iran supports rebel forces battling a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Amid increased calls from lawmakers to limit U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, top administration officials have emphasized the conflict as key to containing Iranian regional influence.

At the presentation in Washington, Hook displayed rockets, missiles, small arms and debris from an Iranian drone that he says were intended for use by Houthi rebels in Yemen, Shiite militants in Bahrain and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also repeated U.S. claims that Iran is boosting its supply of weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement for use in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria as well as Shiite militia in Iraq.

“We need to get serious about going after this stuff,” Hook told reporters.

Hook said an Iranian-designed surface-to-air missile with markings in Farsi, the official language of Iran, had been intended for the Houthis in Yemen but was seized by Saudi Arabia. He said it showed the brazenness of Iran’s intentions.

“The conspicuous Farsi markings is Iran’s way of saying they don’t mind being caught violating U.N. arms restrictions,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council expanded an embargo on arms sales to Iran in 2007 to include arms exports from Iran. Even under the sanctions relief provided by the nuclear deal the export ban remains in place until 2021 for conventional weapons and until 2024 for missiles.

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