In Latest Tehran-Washington Escalation, Iran Issues Arrest Warrant For Trump Over Killing Of Top General

In the latest escalation between Tehran and Washington, Iran has issued an arrest warrant for U.S President Donald Trump and other officials it believes responsible for the drone strike that killed a top Iranian general earlier this year. 

The U.S killed Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, in a January airstrike near Baghdad International Airport. Washington accused Soleimani of orchestrating attacks on U.S troops by Iranian-backed militias and described the airstrike as “decisive defensive action to protect U.S personnel abroad.”

Tehran Prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said that Trump, along with 35 other officials Iran accuses of involving in the airstrike, face “murder and terrorism charges”, ISNA news agency reported June 29. Although Alqasimehr did not identify any of the other 35 people sought by Iran, he claimed that Iran would pursue Trump’s prosecution even after his presidency concludes. 

Iran also requested Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, to issue a Red Notice for Trump. Interpol describes a Red Notice as “a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.” However, compliance with Red Notices is entirely voluntary as the organization does not have the authority to make arrests or compel countries to arrest people on behalf of other governments.

In response to Iran’s appeals, Interpol said it would not consider “requests of this nature” in a statement made to CNN. The organization explained that the request was not in accordance with its constitution, which states “it is strictly forbidden for the organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.”

U.S Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook called Iran’s actions a “political stunt” during a news conference in Saudi Arabia. “This has nothing to do with national security, international peace, or promoting stability, so we see it for what it is — it’s a propaganda stunt that no one takes seriously and makes the Iranians look foolish,” Hook said.

The January drone strike marked a major escalation in regional tensions between Tehran and Washington, raising questions of further violence and regional destabilization. 

In the months preceding the attack, the U.S and Iran had been engaged in a tit-for-tat conflict, which many have attributed to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A.Trump abruptly announced the US’ withdrawal on Twitter in May 2018, undoing one of the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy accomplishments. 

Although Iran initially said in 2018 that it would continue to abide by its commitments, following the January attack, Iran announced that it would no longer adhere to all stipulations made in the deal. Since then, Iran has failed to adhere to several notable promises, including a limit on centrifuges.

After the U.S withdrew from the deal, the Trump administration quickly moved to reimpose crippling economic sanctions, inducing an Iranian policy of “maximum resistance” in response. 

As a result of the policy from both sides, relations between the U.S and Iran deteriorated militarily during the latter portion of 2019. 

In December, a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base outside Kirkuk killed an American civilian contractor and wounded several United States military service members, according to the American military command in Baghdad. The rocket attack was part of an uptick in rocket attacks by Shia militia against Iraqi bases hosting U.S forces. For years, the Iranian government has been accused of using Iraqi Shia militias as proxy forces against Iranian adversaries, including the U.S. 

Previously, Trump opted for limited miliary force against Iran despite his tough language, including when Iran shot down an aircraft in June 2019. 

“We had nobody in the drone,” Trump said. “It would have made a big difference.” 

Even after Iran was blamed for 2019 attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, Trump did not pursue reciprocal military action. His decision to order U.S warplanes to strike the militia responsible for the attack that killed the U.S contractor came as a shock to many. 

Iran responded to the attack by sending unarmed militiamen to swarm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and killing 25 people — a move that drew comparisons to the overrunning of the consular office in Benghazi by Libyan militants in 2012. 

Despite the pattern of equivalent retaliation, Trump’s decision to order an airstrike against Soleimani was an unanticipated escalation. 

In statements made by the Pentagon, officials blamed Soleimani and his Quds Force for attacks on coalition bases in Iraq in recent months and for the deaths of hundreds killed in Soleimani’s time as a commander. 

In the days following the attack, officials within the Trump administration, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, claimed they acted because Soleimani had plans for a wider, systematic assault on American diplomats.

“It was a very straightforward decision by the President to make the call on this,” Robert O’Brien, Trump’s National Security Adviser, told reporters following the airstrike. 

However, Esper later said he did not see specific evidence from intelligence officials that Iran was planning to attack four U.S. embassies. 

The decision to pursue an airstrike against Soleimani also drew heavy criticism in Congress. “He has the ability to prevent an imminent attack against the United States without coming to Congress,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told NPR’s Morning Edition. “I think we need to see the fact that that is, in fact, true. He does not have any other standing authorization to take out a strike against a country that we have not declared war against.”

Furthermore, other officials quested the particular targeting of Soleimani — a top official in a national government. 

Although assassinations have largely been banned, legal scholars from both U.S political parties have argued that the ban does not apply to terrorists who pose an imminent threat to the U.S. 

In April 2019, Trump designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — the larger group Soleimani was connected to — as a foreign terrorist organization. However, Murphy questioned whether Soleimani’s high position in the Iranian government differentiated the situation. 

“Did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?” Murphy asked. 

Following the airstrike, Iranian forces launched a save-face measure using a ballistic missile barrage against two Iraqi military bases, but there were no American casualties. Since then, U.S officials have waited to see Iran’s main response to Soleimani’s death. 

Although the U.S-Iran relationship is unlikely to improve within the next few months given Iran’s issuing of Trump’s arrest warrant, some have pointed toward the U.S 2020 presidential election as a possible turning point for the future relationship. 

Former U.S Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for President, has signaled that he wants to renegotiate the international agreement with Iran.

“If Iran comes back into compliance with the deal, then yes, Joe Biden said we would do the same thing, but we would use that as a platform to try to build a stronger and longer deal working with our partners,” Anthony Blinken, Biden’s top foreign policy advisors, told CBS News in a May interview. 

Blinken explained that the U.S would have to rejoin the original deal before asking for a new one — a move that is dependent upon Iranian compliance. Until Iran is in full compliance, all sanctions, including the ones put in place under Trump, would remain in place, Blinken said during the American Jewish Committee Virtual Global Forum. 

“If we come back into compliance, we would use that as a platform with our partners and allies who would be on the same side with us again to negotiate a longer and stronger deal,” continued Blinken. “President Trump’s actions have had the unfortunate result, among others, of isolating the United States, not Iran. We need to flip that.”

Catherine Buchaniec

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