Sen. Cotton: ‘Nine Years Ago Iran Was Trying to Kill Me, and to Kill My Soldiers’

By Patrick Goodenough | July 16, 2015 | 4:19am EDT
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., photographed here in Afghanistan in 2009, served in combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Photo: Combat Veterans for Congress)

( – Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) recalled Wednesday that as an infantry officer in Iraq “nine years ago, Iran was trying to kill me, and to kill my soldiers.” The Iranian general blamed for directing those efforts is among those in line for sanctions relief in various stages of implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.

“We were lucky, but over 500 American soldiers were not,” Cotton told CNN. “We shouldn’t be making a nuclear arms agreement with that kind of outlaw regime.”

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the U.S. Marine general nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers last week that the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)–Qods Force, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, was responsible for the deaths of at least 500 U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq.

Qassem (Ghasem) Soleimani is one of dozens of Iranian individuals who will benefit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal announced in Vienna on July 14.

“We now know that Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force, which is responsible for killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, will receive sanctions relief, as will the Qods Force,” Cotton told CNN.

“We are making a nuclear agreement with a outlaw regime that hates America and sponsors terrorism around the world, and holds Americans hostage,” he said, in reference to Pastor Saeed Abedini, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, and the missing retired FBI agent, Bob Levinson.

Around 60 pages of the 159-page JCPOA comprise lists of Iranian individuals and entities that will benefit from the agreement in the coming years. In Soleimani’s case, he is due to be delisted from U.N. sanctions about eight years into the agreement.

Soleimani was designated for travel restrictions and an asset freeze in a series of U.N. Security Council Iran resolutions, which are set to be replaced by a new one enshrining the JCPOA. The U.S. presented the draft to the Security Council on Wednesday.

(His designation under U.S. sanctions will remain in place, according to a senior administration official, since they apply to his activities beyond the nuclear issue. The U.S. Treasury designated Soleimani in 2007 for supporting terror, on the basis of his “relationship to the IRGC”; in May 2011, for supporting the Assad regime’s repression; and in Oct. 2011, when his role in an alleged plot to carry out terror attacks in the U.S., beginning with the assassination of the Saudi ambassador, who has since become foreign minister, Adel Al-Jubeir.)

Almost 4,500 U.S. military personnel were killed in Iraq between March 2003 and the end of 2011. The second half of the war in particular saw a growing Iranian involvement, and in mid-2010, then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey said he believed groups backed by Iran were responsible for one-quarter of U.S. deaths.

Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Qods Force, responsible for terror operations abroad, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Photo: PBS)

Soleimani is far from the only controversial Iranian appearing on the JCPOA lists of individuals in line for sanctions relief under the deal.

Another is Brig. Gen Ahmad Vahidi, a former IRGC commander, who is wanted by Argentina in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed.

Vahidi, who is the subject of an Interpol “red notice,” was appointed defense minister by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, and came into office pledging a “clenched fist” in the face of Iran’s enemies.

(A “red notice,” the closest thing Interpol has to an international arrest warrant, is “intended to help police identify or locate these individuals with a view to their arrest and extradition.”)

Vahidi was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2010 for his “ties to Iran’s nuclear and WMD programs.”

Other Iranians to get sanctions relief under the JCPOA include Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, a former IRGC head who serves as military advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; and Brig. Gen. Morteza Rezaie, a former deputy IRGC commander.

They, too, have been subject to travel restrictions and an asset freeze under the various sets of U.N. Security Council resolutions that are set to be replaced by a new one.

Separately, both Safavi and Rezaie were in 2010 added by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to its specially designated national (SDN) list, for their links to the IRGC.

In his White House press conference on Wednesday, President Obama acknowledged that despite the nuclear agreement the U.S. would continue to have problems with Iran over its sponsorship of terrorism and destabilizing activities in the region.

“My hope is that building on this deal we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave,” he said.

“But we're not counting on it. So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.  It’s not contingent on Iran suddenly operating like a liberal democracy,” Obama said. “It solves one particular problem, which is making sure they don’t have a bomb.”

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