Both the Biden Administration and its critics have condemned Iran’s ballistic missile attack on Erbil in Iraq, but they differ on how to react toward Tehran.
The White House issued a statement by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Monday, saying, “The United States stands with Prime Minister [Mustafa] Kadhimi and the leaders of the Kurdistan Region, President Nechirvan Barzani, and Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, in condemning this assault on the sovereignty of Iraq and its Kurdistan region”.
It expressed US support for “the full sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Iraq”, noting, “We will support the Government of Iraq in holding Iran accountable, and we will support our partners throughout the Middle East in confronting similar threats from Iran”.
Iran claimed it targeted an Israeli spy station in Erbil but missiles fell close to a US consulate building, damaged a villa that presumably was used by Israelis and a Kurdish TV station.
The Wall Street Journal in an editorial said, "The Biden Administration’s hell-bent pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran grows harder to understand with each provocation from Tehran. The latest came Sunday in a missile attack near a US Consulate under construction in northern Iraq."
Several lawmakers and former American officials have reacted to the attack apparently targeting the US consulate in Iraq’s Erbil urging an end to Iran nuclear talks, but some senior US officials have appeared to suggest that the assault would not impact the chances of concluding a nuclear agreement with Tehran.
A villa damaged by Iran's ballistic missile attack on Erbil.
Referring to the intelligence agencies’ 2022 annual report, Representative Nicole Malliotakis said in a tweet on Sunday that such reports as well as the attack in Erbil “should put an end to all discussions on a new nuclear deal with Tehran”.
The 2022 Annual Threat Assessment published by the Office of Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday said, "We assess that Iran will threaten US persons directly and via proxy attacks, particularly in the Middle East,” adding, “Iran also remains committed to developing networks inside the United States—an objective it has pursued for more than a decade.”
On March 6, Secretary of State Antony Blinken sidestepped a question about whether the renewed nuclear agreement with Iran would also address threats on US soil, including threats against his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, and Trump administration Iran envoy Brian Hook to avenge the targeted killing of Iran's most powerful military general Qasem Soleimani in January 2020.
"We were very clear when we were in the deal originally that nothing about the deal prevents us from taking action against Iran when it's engaged in actions that threaten us, threaten our allies and partners. That will very much continue," Blinken said.
Concurring with Blinken that the threats do not have to be addressed in any renewed nuclear-related deal, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said, "These other malign activities of Iran's, their plots against the US personnel or Americans around the world we can deal with and have to deal with separately, and we should deal with them aggressively. We need to go after all of this, not necessarily in one agreement."
After the attack on Erbil, Pompeo reiterated that “Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. It must remain designated as such” adding that “Terrorist-related sanctions must remain in place”.
There have been reports that the Biden Administration has agreed to remove terror-related sanctions imposed by the previous administration to secure a nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Iran’s missile attack came as diplomats have stopped nuclear talks in Vienna after 11 months of negotiations even though they say an agreement was very close to be finalized. The pause came after Russia on March 5 demanded an exemption from Ukraine sanctions in its economic and other relations with Iran. Tehran has not objected to Russia’s sudden move, which is bound to delay an agreement and lifting of Iran’s economic sanctions, vital for the government.