US: Republican senators demand answers on Iran-linked cargo plane detained in Argentina
A group of a dozen Senate Republicans have sent a letter to the US Justice Department, accusing it of deliberately ignoring requests from Argentina for information about a Venezuelan cargo plane possibly linked to Iranian intelligence activities.
The letter, spearheaded by Senator Joni Ernst, was sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday, and says that it is "our understanding that DOJ may possess information key to Argentina’s investigation".
It was signed by Senators Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Tom Cotton - among others.
Last month, a Venezuelan-owned plane was detained in Buenos Aires, as were its 14 Venezuelan and five Iranian passengers.
According to Ernst, Argentine federal police discovered the plane’s cargo contained intelligence technologies and related military hardware, providing credible suspicion for malign activities related to cyber and intelligence operations.
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One of the plane's pilots was also found to be Gholamreza Ghasmei, a senior official of the Iranian cargo airline Fars Air, which has been sanctioned by the US and used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for logistical services.
Under a treaty signed with the US, the Argentine government requested information from the Justice Department for its investigation, according to the letter, specifically as to whether the aircraft is the same one "loaned to the Venezuelan airline by Mahan Air in January 2022" or if any of the passengers "have any involvement in assisting the Iranian regime’s terrorist activities.
"The laws of the United States and the enforcement of those laws, in particular sanctions laws, are not optional," the letter reads.
The senators' letter also raises concerns that the lack of response is linked to the Biden administration's efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. The lawmakers who signed the letter are vehemently opposed to a return to the deal.
While the administration has pledged to return to the deal, negotiations with Tehran have stalled in the past several months.
The letter also requests that a congressional briefing from the Justice Department be held regarding the delay in assisting Argentina's investigation by 5 August.
An Argentine judge released the aircraft's cargo on Tuesday and reportedly lacked the evidence to issue a formal indictment. The senators warn that without US help in the investigation, Buenos Aires could be forced to release both the passengers and the plane itself.
Last week, Iran formally requested that Argentina dissolve the investigation altogether.
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