- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2022

Iran‘s hardline Islamist government on Sunday accused President Biden of stoking “Iranophobia” and provoking regional tensions on his Middle East tour that wrapped up over the weekend after visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Tehran also ramped up its efforts to level sanctions over the weekend against current and former American officials it says are supporting an exiled Iranian opposition group that has influence in Washington.

U.S. officials say an overall goal of Mr. Biden’s Mideast trip was to promote stronger security coordination between Arab powers and Israel amid widening U.S., Arab and Israeli concerns over threats emanating from Iran.

Mr. Biden made the trip last week after months of failed attempts at diplomacy with Iran, which has refused to embrace the administration’s invitation to return to the Obama-era nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2018.

Mr. Biden made headlines Saturday in Saudi Arabia by saying the option of diplomacy remains on the table, but that “no matter what, the United States is committed to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.”

The president also expressed frustration over Iranian military efforts in recent years to block key commercial waterways in the Persian Gulf, including the Strait of Hormuz.

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The U.S. will “not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardize the freedom of navigation through the Middle East’s waterways,” Mr. Biden said. “Nor will we tolerate efforts by any country to dominate another in the region through military buildups, incursions, and/or threats.”

Administration officials also sought to draw attention to growing ties between Iran and Russia, and Iranian support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, pointing specifically to intelligence on Iran‘s supply of military-capable drones to Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is slated to visit Iran over the coming days. But Iranian officials claimed Sunday that Mr. Biden is the one who should be blamed for engaging in regional provocations.

Iranian state media accused Mr. Biden of intentionally pushing “groundless allegations” to stir tensions.

“Once more, the United States is trying to create tension and crisis in the region by resorting to its failed policy of Iranophobia,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kana’ani was quoted as saying by Iran’s Fars News Agency.

The rhetoric coincided with Iran‘s efforts over the weekend to blacklist dozens of current and former U.S. officials for publicly supporting an exiled Iranian opposition group that Tehran characterizes as a “terrorist” organization.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Saturday published a list of 61 current and former American officials who it said have provided “deliberate support” to the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), according to Reuters.

The MEK, which openly calls for overthrowing the theocratic regime in Tehran, holds annual rallies often attended by former U.S. political figures from both sides of the aisle and was known to have had sympathizers within the Trump administration.

Reuters reported that several of the individuals sanctioned by Iran over the weekend, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, were previously blacklisted by the government in Tehran for other reasons.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican; Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican; and Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, were among current officials sanctioned by Tehran on Saturday.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the state represented by Sen. Cory A. Booker.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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