Ebrahim Raisi. (Photo: Bloomberg)
The US Air Force struck Iran-backed militias in Iraq
and Syria on Sunday, in a test of Iran’s incoming president, whose election this month has already complicated efforts to revive a 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
The raids on operational and weapons storage facilities were in response to attacks on US interests and were a “necessary, appropriate and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
There was no immediate reaction from the region, where Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi’s (pictured) next moves are being closely watched for clues on whether he’ll seek to negotiate with the West, or ratchet up tensions further. Iran and world powers have been locked in weeks of talks in Vienna that could see sanctions on the Islamic Republic ease in return for hemming in its contentious nuclear work.
The oil market appeared to shrug off the latest military action, with oil prices holding steady near a two-year high and traders focused on a Thursday meeting of the Opec+ bloc. Futures in New York traded near $74 a barrel.
The talks in Vienna are expected to reconvene in the coming days, but the expiry of a nuclear monitoring pact between Iran and the International
Atomic Energy Agency last week has added a further risk to efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran hasn’t yet decided whether to extend the pact, or whether to erase recordings from nuclear sites that were retained under it, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday.
President Joe Biden ordered strikes on “operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq” on Sunday evening Washington time to deter future attacks on US interests in Iraq, where the US is aiding government forces in efforts to defeat Islamic State, Kirby said.
His statement made clear that Iran was the common denominator in the targets but also that the US move was meant to be defensive in nature. The fact that the US hit Iranian proxies outside the country could give both sides a way to avoid escalating tensions.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Italy and will likely face questions about the US actions . Over the weekend, Blinken met with Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, who said his country has “serious reservations” about the talks in Vienna.
Israel has vowed to block Iran from building an atomic weapon, an ambition Tehran has denied having. Even before the military strikes, indirect talks in Vienna aimed at getting the US and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 deal were already dragging past initial timetables. Diplomats are now aiming to seal an agreement before President Hassan Rouhani hands over power to Raisi in August. Rouhani and his administration helped seal the original deal that former President Trump quit in 2018.