Iran said on Wednesday it would not give European powers any more time beyond July 8 to save its nuclear deal by shielding it from U.S. sanctions. The spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said Tehran was ready to go through with a threat to enrich uranium to a higher level if Europe did not step in, a move that would breach the terms of a nuclear pact with world powers. Any such breach would raise already heightened tensions between Iran and U.S. President Donald Trump who has said he is ready to take military action to stop Tehran getting a nuclear bomb.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has privately delivered warnings intended for Iranian leaders that any attack by Tehran or its proxies resulting in the death of even one American service member will generate a military counterattack, U.S. officials said. The potential for a significant military response to even an isolated event has fueled a broader internal debate among top Trump officials about whether the administration's policy exceeds President Trump's specific goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the officials said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is "strong evidence" supporting a U.S. accusation that Iran was behind last week's attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. "We of course take these explanations very seriously, and there is strong evidence," Merkel said at a news conference Tuesday after talks with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Berlin. "But that does not prevent me from saying that we must do everything to solve the conflict with Iran in a peaceful way," Merkel said, adding that there will be "consequences" if Iran does not stick to its commitments under the nuclear deal and Germany is in "the closest contact" with the U.S.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Iran, the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism, has lied to global financial policymakers for three years about its intention to prevent its banks from laundering money and financing terror organizations. And for three years, the same policymakers at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have done nothing while Iran dragged its feet. This must change. The FATF is meeting in Orlando this week, and it must vote to blacklist Iranian banks - as it has repeatedly promised but failed to do - or risk acquiring a reputation as a toothless tiger.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
President Hassan Rouhani said Iran's decision to end its compliance with some measures within the nuclear deal were the "minimum" that the Islamic Republic could do in response to the U.S. violating the landmark accord, according to the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency. Rouhani said "the other side in the agreement" hadn't only failed to fulfil its obligations but also reduced its commitment under the deal, questioning the spirit and foundation of the accord, ISNA reported, citing comments made at a cabinet meeting Wednesday.
A year after the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, the pact is at severe risk of collapse and the European Union is caught in the middle, struggling to keep supply lines open to the Islamic Republic's wilting economy under the threat of U.S. sanctions. With few real options left, their trust in the Trump administration running low, and fears rising that conflict could break out, major powers Germany, France and Britain have been reduced to repeating calls for restraint as pressure builds and Iran threatens to walk away from the painstakingly drafted 2015 deal.
Germany is doing all it can to defuse heightened tensions with Iran in a peaceful way, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday, adding, however, that Iran must stick to the 2015 international nuclear agreement. "We are pushing for Iran to keep to (the nuclear pact) - if that is not the case, there will of course be consequences," Merkel said.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The British government has settled a 1.25 billion pound ($1.6 billion) damages claim brought by Iran's largest private bank in an 11th-hour, out-of-court deal following a dispute over sanctions and alleged links to Tehran's nuclear programme. Bank Mellat, which is 20% owned by the Iranian government and 80% privately held, said on Tuesday the legal row had been resolved for an undisclosed sum on the first day of a trial to assess its damages at London's High Court.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Wednesday that Europe was not cooperating with Tehran to buy its oil in the face of U.S. sanctions against Iran's energy sector. "The Europeans are not cooperating to buy oil," Zanganeh was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
Iran's economy contracted by 4.9 percent in the 2018-2019 year ended in March, slipping further into recession as diminishing oil exports due to the U.S. sanctions are depriving the Islamic Republic of its economic lifeline-oil revenues. The 4.9-percent contraction between March 2018 and March 2019, reported by the Statistical Center of Iran cited by VOA, could worsen even further as the U.S. removed all sanction waivers for Iranian oil buyers as of May 2.
The commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps said on Tuesday that Iran's ballistic missiles were capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision. "These missiles can hit with great precision carriers in the sea ... These missiles are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles," Brigadier General Hossein Salami said in a televised speech.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
As tensions between Iran and the United States reached dangerous levels in recent weeks, Iranian human rights activists warned about the dire ramifications of sanctions and other pressures for women and the women's rights movement in Iran. The US policy of "maximum pressure" on Iran has been composed of ever-expanding sets of sanctions imposed in the aftermath of President Donald Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal last year.
A U.S. permanent resident who was recently released from prison in Iran is finally making his way back to America, where his three sons live. Nizar Zakka, 52, who is a citizen of Lebanon, was arrested in September 2015 in Tehran while trying to leave the country and charged with spying for the U.S. He denied the charges, but he was sentenced to 10 years in Iran's Evin Prison.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
A squadron of American F-15E Strike Eagles arrived in United Arab Emirates on Thursday as part of reinforcements against the Iranian threat as announced last month by the Pentagon. President Trump announced the additional military presence in the Middle East last month, saying additional 1,500 troops will be sent together with a squadron of U.S. Air Force jets.
The sophistication of the attacks on two shipping tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week had already led most independent analysts to conclude Iran was responsible for the high-profile explosions. But there has been scepticism from some key countries, including Germany and Japan, after the US initially released a grainy black and white video it said showed Iranian forces removing an unexploded mine from one of the two targeted ships. Iran has denied involvement.
Iran is trying to rally support from Russia, China and other countries to help counter a U.S. campaign that has included crippling economic sanctions and thousands of additional troops committed to the Middle East. As Washington struggles to build robust international support for its pressure tactics against Tehran, Iranian officials are working to take advantage. Their main targets, Russia and China, are members of the United Nations Security Council and could block any diplomatic moves there against Tehran.
"As tensions between Washington and Tehran escalate, European leaders find themselves in an uncomfortable place they have feared ever since President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal 13 months ago and restored punishing sanctions against Tehran. While the Europeans want to preserve the deal - which they see as important for their own security and for the stability of the Middle East - they are basically powerless in the face of American military and financial clout."
President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the United States was very prepared with regard to Iran, as tensions ramped up after attacks on several oil tankers and Tehran's announcement it would step up uranium enrichment. "We're very prepared for Iran. We'll see what happens," Trump told reporters. On Monday, the United States announced it would deploy about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.
There will not be any military confrontation between Iran and the United States, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council was quoted as saying on Wednesday by state news agency IRNA. Worries about a military confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since attacks last week on two oil tankers near the Gulf. Washington blamed long-time foe Iran for the attacks but Tehran denied any responsibility.
U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook plans to travel to Paris next week for talks about Iran with senior British, French and German officials, a senior European diplomat and another source familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The meeting, which comes amid growing tensions between Iran and the United States following a series of attacks in the Gulf that Washington has blamed on Tehran despite its denials, was expected to take place on June 27, the sources said on condition of anonymity.
President Donald Trump faces pressure to choose a new Pentagon chief quickly amid rising tensions with Iran, but the abrupt and messy withdrawal of his previous pick, Patrick Shanahan, has raised questions about the rigor of the administration's vetting process. Senators said they were blindsided Tuesday when Shanahan took his name out of consideration after reports about domestic violence episodes in his family. Trump later told reporters he learned about the 2010 events only on Monday.
The U.S. is sending 1,000 more troops to the Middle East as tensions in the Persian Gulf mounted Tuesday over Iran's announcement it will not comply with the international agreement that keeps it from making nuclear weapons. At the same time, Iran insisted it was not seeking war. Iran's announcement Monday that it could soon start enriching uranium to just a step away from weapons-grade levels challenged President Donald Trump's assurances to allies that the U.S. withdrawal from the deal last year made the world a safer place.
Key senators will soon be getting a new round of briefings from the Trump administration amid escalating U.S. tensions with Iran. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said from the Senate floor Tuesday that committees would be getting a briefing, and that a top State Department official will take part in a closed-door Senate Republican lunch to discuss the situation with GOP senators.
Some people call the brinkmanship in the Gulf between Iran and the US a game of chicken. But with Tehran announcing this week that it will breach the uranium enrichment limits in the 2015 nuclear deal, and Washington moving another 1,000 troops to the region, the game is starting dangerously to resemble nuclear roulette. The starting point for this escalation is President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw the US unilaterally from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
The simmering standoff between the United States and Iran is feeding global concern that both countries are inching perilously close to war. It has also focused attention on Iran's network of proxy forces throughout the Middle East. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed a series of attacks he said "Iranian surrogates" have committed since early May, describing them as part of "an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran."
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran's Ministry of Intelligence said on Tuesday that the country has managed to "deal a heavy blow against America's international spy network." In a statement, the ministry said it recently targeted the network, along with its international allies, and succeeded in "preventing American plans from succeeding." "We have intelligence allies and we exchange information with them. Currently we are engaged in the battle of intelligence with the United States. In this battle we should use ours and our allies capabilities," the statement said.
The United States has denied new claims by Iranian officials that Tehran and its allies have dismantled a U.S. cyber-spying network as part of a purported operation that led to multiple arrests of U.S. agents. In a Tuesday statement issued in response to a query from VOA Persian, a U.S. official who declined to be identified, disputed Iran's assertions that it recently successfully targeted a U.S. spy network.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran's presence in Syria is subject to military and political pressure from the country's four parts. This pressure aims at pushing Tehran to gradually "reduce" its presence, leading to the withdrawal of its military forces and militias from areas controlled by the Syrian regime. The first source of pressure is Syria's eastern gate as the US decided to leave its forces east of the Euphrates River and Tanf base in the Iraqi-Syrian-Jordanian corner.