US lawmakers warned Wednesday against using a war authorization passed in the wake of September 11 for action against Iran, pressing a senior official to acknowledge that Tehran was not behind the 2001 attacks.
Brian Hook, the US special representative on Iran, repeatedly declined to say if President Donald Trump legally enjoyed the right to attack Iran, echoing the non-committal comments in April before Congress by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"I'm not a War Powers Act scholar. I can only tell you that everything we would do would be lawful," Hook told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
But pressed by Democratic Representative Brad Sherman on whether Iran was responsible for the deaths of Americans on September 11, 2001, Hook replied, "No."
Hook insisted that any potential US military actions on Iran would be defensive, saying: "There is no talk of offensive action."
After Al-Qaeda extremists killed some 3,000 people in 2001, the US Congress authorized then president George W. Bush to go to war in Afghanistan, where the group's leader Osama bin Laden had found shelter.
The authorization has since been cited by administrations to justify operations in countries as diverse as Yemen and the Philippines where Al-Qaeda militants are found to be present.
Pompeo, in his April appearance before a Senate committee, said there was "no doubt" of a connection between Iran's Shiite clerical regime and Al-Qaeda, which is militantly Sunni.
Iran is believed to have been the longtime base of Hamza bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, although some experts believe Tehran may have been holding him as leverage to prevent attacks against Iran or to put pressure on regional rival Saudi Arabia.
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, with the United States seeking to block all Iranian oil exports and Washington pointing to Iran as the culprit in a series of attacks on tanker ships.