WASHINGTON — The State Department named a Sunni militant group in Iran to a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations on Wednesday, a move that may be welcomed by Tehran just weeks before the resumption of talks over its disputed nuclear program.
A State Department spokesman said adding the Jundallah organization to a terrorist list that contains 46 others — including al-Qaida, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Pakistani Taliban — was not intended as a conciliatory gesture.
"Jundallah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations," the State Department said, adding that since its inception in 2003, Jundallah's attacks have killed and injured scores of Iranian civilians and government officials. The listing outlaws U.S. financial and other aid to the organization.
Some experts said the timing could help smooth relations in advance of a new round of negotiations over Iran's uranium enrichment program, the central source of tension between Tehran and Washington. Those talks are expected to resume before the end of the month.
Iran insists the program is part of its effort to develop a peaceful civilian nuclear industry, while the United States and other nations suspect that Tehran is moving toward building nuclear weapons.
Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Jundallah designation could be seen by Iran as a "real important confidence-building measure" and offers at least some hope that the coming nuclear talks will be productive.
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the designation is not likely to stop Iran from claiming U.S. interference in its internal affairs.
Jundallah, or Soldiers of God, says it is fighting for the rights of the Sunni minority in predominantly Shiite Iran; the Iranian leadership calls it a terrorist group bent on destabilizing the government.