Aftermath of Iran blast that killed over 100 people. REUTERS./

By Simon Lewis

 – The U.S. government privately warned Iran about a “terrorist threat” within its borders ahead of a deadly attack this month claimed by the Islamic State militant group, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

Two explosions at a memorial for Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in the southeastern Iranian city of Kerman killed nearly 100 people and wounded scores more on Jan. 3.

“The U.S. government followed a longstanding ‘duty to warn’ policy that has been implemented across administrations to warn governments against potential lethal threats. We provide these warnings in part because we do not want to see innocent lives lost in terror attacks,” the U.S. official said, requesting anonymity.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the warning on Thursday.

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Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the CSIS think tank in Washington, said the warning may reflect a wider U.S. desire to seek dialogue with Iran despite recent attacks by Iranian-backed proxies on U.S., Israeli and other Western interests and the advances of Tehran’s nuclear program.

“This is an olive branch,” Alterman said, adding that U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration came into office believing dialogue between Washington and Tehran could benefit both sides.

Efforts by Biden, a Democrat, to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – which Republican former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 – have failed but Alterman suggested Biden aides still wanted to explore ways to talk to Tehran.

“They have always believed in the desirability of dialogue, and that the problem is about what and on what terms,” he said. “This was an opportunity to begin to build trust, which strikes me as a page from the diplomatic playbook.”

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn.; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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