Iran's support for international terror groups remained undiminished last year and even expanded some, despite its hopes for relief from global economic sanctions, the Obama administration has said.
The State Department’s assessment suggests that neither the election of President Hassan Rohani nor the prospect of a nuclear accord with the United States and other world powers has had a moderating effect on Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
While the Islamic State (IS) group and the Taliban were blamed for most of the death and destruction that occurred around the world in 2014, the department's annual terrorism report underscored the persistent threat posed by Iran and its proxies.
Tehran increased its assistance to Shi'ite militias fighting in Iraq and continued its long-standing military, intelligence, and financial aid to Lebanon's Hizballah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's embattled government, and the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Iran also remained unwilling to bring to justice senior Al-Qaeda members it has detained and refuses to identify, the report said.
While the study said Iran has lived up to interim nuclear deals with world powers thus far, it gave no prediction about how an Iran flush with cash from a final agreement would behave.
World powers and Iran are trying to conclude an accord by the end of the month, setting 15 years of restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for significant relief from the international sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
The negotiations don't involve Iran's support for militant groups beyond its border. But Israel and the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf, Iran's regional rivals, fear a fresh wave of terror activity as a result of any pact.
U.S. President Barack Obama, hoping to ease their fears, has said most of the money freed up by lifting economic sanctions would go to Iran's economic development.
He has also held out hope that a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program might be the first step toward an eventual easing of tensions and perhaps even cooperation on regional matters. Even short of that, though, he has insisted a nuclear accord is worth pursuing in its own right.
White House spokesman Eric Shultz said after the report was released that the United States still had "grave concern about Iran's support for terrorism," but "that is all the more reason that we need to make sure they don't obtain a nuclear weapon."
In revealing Iran's persistent support for terror activities, however, the report shows that Iranian leaders have been true to their pledge to keep the nuclear negotiations separate from Iran's other foreign ventures.
The report does not contend that Iranian officials are conspiring to kill Americans, like some other terror groups. Nor does it accuse Iraqi militias backed by Iran of plotting to attack American advisers in Iraq.
But it paints a picture of an aggressive Iranian foreign policy that has often been contrary to the interests of the United States.
Even when the United States and Iran share a common foe, as they do in fighting IS, the Iranian role in Iraq risks inflaming sectarian tensions. Some of the Shi'ite militias Iran has backed in Iraq, including Kataib Hezbollah, have committed human rights abuses against Sunni civilians, the report said.
Although the report covers 2014, U.S. officials said that the Iranian policies described in the report have continued this year.
With reporting by AP and The New York Times.