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Iranian weapons stockpile poses ‘major threat’ to Middle East and beyond, NCRI conference hears

CHICAGO: Iran’s stockpile of ballistic missiles poses a “major threat” to the Arabian Gulf, the Middle East and western nations, diplomats at a press conference hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) warned on Thursday.

NCRI Foreign Affairs Committee spokesperson Ali Safavi, former Italy Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and Walid Phares, the co-secretary general of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counterterrorism, said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, has failed to curb Iran’s militant attacks through proxy militias in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

The officials argued that US President Joe Biden and European leaders need to take a “tougher stand” against Tehran and its ongoing nuclear and ballistic missile program.

Phares, who is also an adviser to the anti-terrorism caucus of the US House of Representatives, said that the focus has always been on curbing Iran’s nuclear program. But the regime has also built up a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles that are being used in “four battlegrounds” in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

“The problem is that over the past five years, the regime has displayed and continues to display a behavior that would endanger Iran, its people, the Middle East, Europe, the US and the international community,” Phares said at the press conference attended by Arab News.

“Any return to the Iran deal cannot just go back to Tehran and deal with the technical matter of counting the points that Iran is doing or not doing. It has completely changed. We are talking about the geopolitics of the whole region.”

Phares said negotiations must also include a focus on “Iran’s behaviors” and its use of militant proxies in the Middle East.

“Through its militias, Iran has established control of Iraq with some exceptions,” Phares said. “It has been able to penetrate the country with its own militias. But those militias are not only controlling the government, economy and banks. They are actually engaged — as is the case in Yemen — in suppressing the population.”

In Syria, where 700,000 people have been killed and 5 million have been displaced, Phares said the Bashar Al-Assad regime is fully backed by the Iranian regime. He also noted that in Lebanon, Hezbollah has openly touted its allegiance to Tehran.

“What we are dealing with now is an Iranian regime in a quasi-occupation of four Arab countries. There cannot be a return to an Iran deal without resolving the ‘Khamenei imperialism’ that is occupying half of the Middle East,” Phares said in reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his foreign intervention policies.

Terzi called the JCPOA, which was signed in 2015 and attempted to restrict Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, a “flawed deal” and “total failure.”

He noted that Biden wants to pursue an agreement that will end the attacks from proxy groups like the Houthis and prevent the situation from worsening.

“This is a major issue and a major question mark. We see a cautious approach but up to now, I do not consider it a weak approach by the Biden administration,” Terzi said.

“There is a willingness by Biden to deter attacks, especially against American interests. But more in general to avoid at least a scaling up of the existing aggressive strategies by proxies of the Iranian regime.”

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