…Iran summons Western diplomats over parade attack that killed 25***
On the same day Arab separatists killed at least 25 people in an attack targeting a military parade in southwestern Iran, President Donald Trump’s lawyer mounted a stage in New York to declare that the government would be toppled.
“I don’t know when we’re going to overthrow them. It could be in a few days, months or a couple of years, but it’s going to happen,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Saturday. “They are going to be overthrown. The people of Iran obviously have had enough.”
For Iran’s Shiite theocracy, comments like these only fuel fears that America and its Gulf Arab allies are plotting to tear the Islamic Republic apart.
Those threats so far haven’t led to a military confrontation or violence, but the risk is rising.
“Undoubtedly the Islamic Republic of Iran will not ignore this crime. It is absolutely clear for us who did that, what group they are and with whom they are affiliated,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned before leaving for New York for the United Nations General Assembly. “All of those small mercenary countries that we see in this region are backed by America. It is Americans who instigate them and provide them with necessary means to commit these crimes.”
Rouhani is a relative moderate who was elected twice on promises to improve relations with West, and who signed the 2015 nuclear agreement. At the U.N. General Assembly that year, he declared that “a new chapter had started in Iran’s relations with the world.”
“For the first time, two sides rather than negotiating peace after war, engaged in dialogue and understanding before the eruption of conflict.”
An eruption now seems more likely. What changed in the meantime seems to be the politics of the region and the U.S. While America’s Sunni Gulf Arab allies in the region criticized the nuclear deal, many later acknowledged that it did what it was designed to do.
Iran limited its enrichment of uranium, making it virtually impossible for it to quickly develop nuclear weapons, something the government insists it has never sought. In exchange, some international sanctions were lifted, allowing Iran to rejoin the global financial system and sell its crude oil to American allies.
Over time, however, Gulf states adopted an increasingly harder tone with Iran. Officials in Tehran point to comments by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now next in line to the throne in Iran’s Mideast archrival.
“We know we are a main target of Iran,” Prince Mohammed said in a 2017 interview, shortly before becoming crown prince. “We are not waiting until there becomes a battle in Saudi Arabia, so we will work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”
He did not elaborate, though the kingdom and its allies were mired then as they are now — in a war in Yemen against Iran-aligned Shiite rebels. While Iran denies arming the rebels, known as Houthis, U.N. investigators, analysts and Western nations all say Tehran supplies weapons ranging from assault rifles to the ballistic missiles, which have been fired deep into Saudi territory.
After Prince Mohammed’s comments last year, Saudi-aligned satellite news channels began playing up stories about Iranian opposition and exile groups. They also began publicizing the nighttime pipeline attacks by Arab separatists in Khuzestan, Iran’s oil-rich southwestern province, which Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tried to seize in his 1980s war with Iran.
Those separatists claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack in Ahvaz, Khuzestan’s capital, which struck one of many parades in the country marking the start of the 1980s war. Iranian officials, who blame the separatists for the attack, say the militants wore military uniforms and hid their weapons along the parade route ahead of time — showing a level of sophistication previously unseen by the separatists.
There has been no direct evidence linking the separatists to Saudi Arabia. However, Iranian officials have seized on the fact the separatists immediately made their claim of responsibility on a Saudi-linked, Farsi-language satellite news channel based in Britain.
The United States has meanwhile been ramping up pressure on Iran since Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May, restoring crippling sanctions and voicing support for anti-government protests fueled by economic woes.
The Trump administration has said its actions aren’t aimed at toppling Iran’s government. But in the meantime, Giuliani has continued speaking before meetings of an exiled Iranian opposition group. Before being appointed national security adviser earlier this year, John Bolton gave impassioned speeches calling for regime change.
“The declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” Bolton told Iranian exiles in July 2017. “The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change, and therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself.
He added, to cheers: “And that’s why before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran.”
In the meantime, Iran summoned diplomats from Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands early Sunday for allegedly harboring “members of the terrorist group” that launched an attack in the country’s oil-rich southwest, killing at least 25 people and wounding over 60.
Women and children scattered along with once-marching Revolutionary Guard soldiers as militants disguised as soldiers opened fire on an annual Iranian military parade in Ahvaz on Saturday, the chaos captured live on state television.
The region’s Arab separatists, once only known for nighttime attacks on unguarded oil pipelines, claimed responsibility for the brazen assault and Iranian officials appeared to believe the claim.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed regional countries and their “U.S. masters” for funding and arming the separatists, issuing a stark warning as regional tensions remain high in the wake of the U.S. withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal.
“Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
President Hassan Rouhani ordered Iran’s Intelligence Ministry to immediately investigate the attack.201800:18
Speaking before leaving Tehran on Sunday to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Rouhani accused the United States of being a “bully” that wants to create insecurity in the Islamic Republic.
Rouhani also accused U.S.-backed Gulf Arab states of providing financial and military support for anti-government ethnic Arab groups.
“The small puppet countries in the region are backed by America, and the United States is provoking them and giving them the necessary capabilities,” said Rouhani.
The attack was one of the worst ever against the Guards – the most powerful military force in the country – and is bound to ratchet up tensions with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.
“Our people will resist and the government is ready to confront America. We will overcome this situation (sanctions) and America will regret choosing the wrong path,” said Rouhani.
An Iranian ethnic Arab opposition movement called the Ahvaz National Resistance, which seeks a separate state in oil-rich Khuzestan province, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the attack as exposing “the atrocity and viciousness of the enemies of the Iranian nation.”
“Their crime is a continuation of the conspiracies by the U.S.-backed regimes in the region which have aimed at creating insecurity in our dear country,” Khamenei said in a statement. “However, to their dismay, the Iranian nation will persist on the noble and prideful path they have taken and will — like before — overcome all animosities.”
The assault targeted a viewing stand where Iranian officials had gathered to watch an annual event marking the start of the Islamic Republic’s 1980-88 war with Iraq, state television said.
Tensions have been on the rise between Iran and the U.S. The Trump administration in May pulled out of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, and since then has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal. It also has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what Washington calls “malign activities” in the region.
Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Saturday said that U.S. sanctions are leading to economic pain that could lead to a “successful revolution,” contrasting with administration comments that government change in Tehran is not U.S. policy.
“I don’t know when we’re going to overthrow them,” said Giuliani, who spoke in his own capacity though he is a Trump ally, at an Iran Uprising Summit held by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, which opposes Tehran’s government.
“It could be in a few days, months, a couple of years. But it’s going to happen,” Giuliani told a crowd at a hotel in Times Square.
Giuliani’s comments were in contrast with the Trump administration’s policy of not seeking a change of government even though it is reimposing sanctions that are crippling Iran’s economy.
Despite that, the U.S. government strongly condemned the attack and expressed its sympathy, saying that “the United States condemns all acts of terrorism and the loss of any innocent lives.”
ABC with additional report from NBC