Friction between Iran and the US has rattled lawmakers who demand more information on White House's claims of rising Iranian aggression.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, May 14, 2019.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, May 14, 2019. (Reuters)

The chairmen of three congressional committees on national security on Thursday pressed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to explain whether a Trump administration arms control report was politicised and slanted assessments about Iran.

The chairmen of Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees in the US House of Representatives –– all Democrats –– asked Pompeo in a letter to provide a Department of State briefing and documents no later than May 23.

A series of moves by the US and Iran that have sharply escalated the situation in the Middle East in recent days. For the past year, national security adviser John Bolton and Pompeo have been the public face of the administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran.

The friction has rattled lawmakers who are demanding more information on the White House's claims of rising Iranian aggression. 

"Our nation knows all too well the perils of ignoring and 'cherry-picking' intelligence in foreign policy and national security decisions," the chairmen said in their letter to Pompeo. They referred to the selective use of intelligence "to justify the march to war" in Iraq in 2003.

Top leaders in Congress received a classified briefing on Iran on Thursday, but many other lawmakers from both parties have criticised the White House for not keeping them informed.

The letter cited a Reuters story from April 17 that reported how the administration's annual report to Congress assessing compliance with arms control agreements provoked a dispute with US intelligence agencies and some state department officials.

The dissenting officials, sources said, were concerned that the document politicised and skewed assessments against Iran.

The letter signed by Chairmen Eliot Engel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Smith of Armed Services and Adam Schiff of Intelligence also questioned why the unclassified report was only 12 pages compared to 45 the previous year.

The state department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

'Not on the warpath'

Tensions have risen between the United States and Iran this month following statements from Washington that the US military was braced for "possibly imminent threats to US forces in Iraq" from Iran-backed groups.

President Donald Trump, however, said he hopes the US is not on a path to war with Iran amid fears that his two most hawkish advisers could be angling for such a conflict with the Islamic Republic.

Asked Thursday if the US was going to war with Iran, the president replied, "I hope not" — a day after he repeated a desire for dialogue, tweeting, "I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon."

Trump has tightened economic sanctions on Iran and intensified efforts to contain its power in the Middle East after withdrawing Washington a year ago from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, raising fears among some in Congress about intelligence possibly being misused to lay the groundwork to justify military action. 

Under the accord, Tehran curbed its uranium enrichment capacity, a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb, and won sanctions relief in return.

Trump is sending an aircraft carrier group, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East to counter what Washington has called a heightened threat from Iran in the region.

Iran described the US moves as "psychological warfare", and a British commander cast doubt on US military concerns about threats to its roughly 5,000 soldiers in Iraq. 

Source: Reuters