by Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff
Pentagon displays weapons it says are Iranian munitions sent to Iranian-backed fighters in Yemen and Afghanistan • Iran denies supplying Houthi rebels with weapons
A U.S. Defense Department exhibition of Iranian ballistic
missiles in Washington
The United States on Thursday displayed items it said were Iranian weapons deployed to militants in Yemen and Afghanistan, part of an effort by President Donald Trump's administration to pressure Iran to curb its regional activities.
The Pentagon's presentation of the hardware, much of which was handed over by Saudi Arabia, coincides with growing concern in Congress over U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's civil war, which has led to a deep humanitarian crisis.
Members of Congress have escalated their opposition to Saudi Arabia after the October killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Despite administration pleas not to downgrade ties with the Saudis and thereby counter Iran, the Senate voted on Wednesday to advance a resolution to end military support for the Saudis in Yemen.
If Iran is found to be shipping arms to Yemen, Afghanistan and other countries, it would constitute a violation of U.N. resolutions.
"We want there to be no doubt across the world that this is a priority for the United States and that it's in international interest to address it," said Katie Wheelbarger, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.
The presentation, the second of its kind in the last year, is part of a government-wide effort to take a harder line toward Iran.
Iran has denied supplying the Houthis in Yemen with such weaponry and described the Pentagon's previous arms display as "fabricated."
The Pentagon offered a detailed explanation of why it believed the arms on display came from Iran, pointing out what it said were Iranian corporate logos on arms fragments and the unique designs of Iranian weaponry.
The U.S. acknowledged that it had not been able to determine precisely when the weapons were transferred to the Houthis, and, in some cases, could not say when they were used. There was no immediate way to independently verify where the weapons were made or employed, it said.
This included a Sayyad-2 surface-to-air missile that the Pentagon said had been intercepted by the Saudi government in early 2018 on the way to Houthi militants in Yemen.
As evidence of Iranian ownership, the Pentagon cited a corporate logo of an Iranian defense firm in the warhead section, which was not displayed, and writing in Farsi on the missile.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the Pentagon did not know if the Houthis had actually used this type of missile before.
The Houthis, who control Yemen's capital Sanaa, have fired dozens of missiles into Saudi Arabia in recent months, part of a three-year proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Under a U.N. resolution, Iran is prohibited from supplying, selling or transferring weapons outside the country unless approved by the Security Council. A separate U.N. resolution on Yemen bans the supply of weapons to Houthi leaders.
It was unclear what impact, if any, such public displays of weaponry would have on Iran, U.S. allies and militants in the region.
A short-range missile on display was fired just five days after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley held a similar presentation last year.
"I haven't heard anybody say this is a political stunt," U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook told a news conference on Thursday, after being asked whether the weapons display was done for propaganda reasons.
"This is simply putting out in broad daylight Iran's missiles and small arms and rockets and UAVs and drones," he said.
Hook said that while the U.S. has the military option on the table, the preference is to use diplomatic efforts to deal with Iran.
The U.S. has also long accused Iran of providing weapons to Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon on Thursday displayed a number of Fajr rockets that it said had been provided to the Taliban. It said they were Iranian because of the unique markings on the rockets and their paint scheme.
The Taliban is known to buy weapons on the black market and defense officials could not say why they were sure these missiles and other weapons had not simply been bought.
Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff
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