Iran's supreme leader issued a veiled threat in the same speech in which he stated that "no one is seeking war," saying it wouldn't be difficult for the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels amid rising tensions with the U.S., state media reported Wednesday. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, meanwhile, ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff on Wednesday to leave Iraq immediately amid escalating tensions with Iran. Washington did not publicly provide any evidence to back up claims of an increased threat from Tehran.
The U.S. ordered all its nonemergency staff to leave Iraq immediately, amid heightened tensions with Iran over recent attacks against oil tankers and facilities in the Persian Gulf region. The decision comes amid fears that Iran-allied militia in Iraq could target U.S. citizens and soldiers in the country. Normal visa services will be temporarily suspended both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, according to a brief statement posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
Yemen's Houthi rebels carried out multiple drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities on Tuesday, a day after Saudi Arabia said two of its oil tankers had been damaged in an act of sabotage, ratcheting up tensions in the region. A Houthi spokesman, Mohammed Abdul Salam, claimed responsibility for the drone strikes on Twitter, saying that they were a response to Saudi "aggression" and "genocide" in Yemen.
UANI IN THE NEWS
On May 10, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) Chairman Senator Joseph I. Lieberman and CEO Ambassador Mark D. Wallace co-authored an op-ed on FoxNews.com applauding the Trump Administration's "maximum pressure" policy against Iran, including designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and eliminating sanctions waivers on the purchase of Iranian oil. But as they wrote, more can be done, and that means "plugging the sanctions gaps on the other critical pillar of Iran's energy export-dependent economy: petrochemicals."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran is officially ending one of its key commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, local media reported Wednesday, citing a senior official at the country's Atomic Energy Agency. A "program has been launched" to stop some of Iran's obligations on orders from the country's Supreme National Security Council, the Iranian Students' News Agency reported. The official, who was not named, highlighted suspension of compliance with the nuclear deal's cap on enriched uranium and heavy water production.
European countries were key to negotiating the landmark 2015 international accord that restricted Iran's nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions that had strangled its economy. After U.S. President Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of the deal brokered by his predecessor, pulled the U.S. out in May 2018, European governments vowed to keep the agreement viable. But that's proved difficult in the face of reinstated U.S. sanctions that are again squeezing the Persian Gulf nation.
In March 2007, agents from Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, broke into the Vienna suite of the director of Syria's atomic energy agency and secretly downloaded the contents of his computer. They discovered that Syria was building a nuclear reactor with the assistance of the North Korean regime in a region known as Deir al-Zour near the Euphrates River.
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that all kinds of bad things happened during the nuclear deal and that it increased terrorism and led to a radical increase in malign behavior from the Iranians. In an interview to CNBC, Pompeo said: "there were more missile launches and a radical increase in malign behavior from Iranians toward entities that range from the Houthis to Hezbollah," Pompeo said.
The Iranian ambassador to the UK has warned Europe it has 60 days to ease Iranian oil sales or else see the end of the nuclear deal as tensions rise with the US. Hamid Baeidinejad claimed it was obvious for all to see that the US national security adviser, John Bolton, was bent on a military confrontation with Iran, and the only question was whether Washington would be caught in his trap.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Oil production from Iran dropped in April as the country remained under U.S. sanctions. In its closely watched monthly oil market report, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said Iranian supply fell 164,000 barrels a day in April to 2.55 million barrels a day, with Saudi Arabian supply also falling by 45,000 barrels a day. The drop in supply was mitigated by rising output from Nigeria and Iraq, meaning OPEC crude oil production fell by 3,000 barrels a day to 30.031 million barrels, according to secondary sources.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with his Indian counterpart in New Delhi, days after India decided to follow U.S. restrictions on buying Iranian oil. India's foreign ministry said Zarif held discussions with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on issues of mutual interest, including the evolving situation in Afghanistan. It didn't give any details. Iran is the third-largest oil supplier for India after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. India bought 23.6 million tons of Iranian oil in the financial year ending in March 2019.
The world will require very little extra oil from OPEC this year as booming U.S. output will offset falling exports from Iran and Venezuela, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday. The IEA, which coordinates the energy policies of industrial nations, said Washington's decision to end sanctions waivers that had allowed some importers to continue to buying Iranian crude added to the "confusing supply outlook."
South Korea's Iranian oil imports rose 17% in April from a year earlier, customs data showed on Wednesday, but shipments are set to end from May as waivers on U.S. sanctions on Tehran expired at the start of this month. South Korea in April imported 1.45 million tonnes of crude oil from Iran, or 353,223 barrels per day (bpd), compared to 1.24 million tonnes a year earlier, according to customs data.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Students at Tehran University demonstrated on Monday against the Iranian institution's policy of coercing women to wear hijabs. The headscarf - or hijab - is required in public for all women in Iran. Those who violate the rules are usually sentenced to two months in prison or less and fined around $25. The Center for Human Rights in Iran, or CHR, said on its website that the catalyst for the protest was the university's deployment of "female agents" on campus to enforce the "Hijab and Chastity Program."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Iranian authorities to immediately release at least eight labor activists and journalists who have remained in detention since their arrest during a May Day demonstration in central Tehran. The New York-based watchdog made the call on May 15, saying in a statementthat the authorities should allow labor activists to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and raise their demands, instead of arresting them.
A prominent Iranian physicist and human rights activists, Nargess Mohammadi, who is a political prisoner, has been taken from prison to hospital to undergo surgery. Ms. Mohammadi's husband, Taqi Rahmani twitted on Tuesday, May 14, "Lung specialists and gynecologists had suggested a year ago that her wife must immediately undergo surgery for hysterectomy." Taqi Rahmani, who lives in exile in Paris, has affirmed that his 47-year-old wife, was taken to a hospital escorted by security agents.
The British Council has said it believes one of its Iranian employees, Aras Amiri, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for spying. Sir Ciarán Devane, chief executive of the UK cultural organisation, said he was dismayed by the reported sentence and was "profoundly concerned for Aras' safety and wellbeing". "We firmly refute the accusation levied against her," he added.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran vigorously denied a U.S. claim that it was behind attacks on four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf that set the Middle East on edge, as the Trump administration confronted mounting skepticism from allies abroad and Democrats at home. Iran accused officials in the Trump administration of trying to pull it into a war with the U.S. and its regional allies. Democratic political leaders and presidential candidates began speaking out, charging that the Trump administration's path risked an unintended and unnecessary armed conflict with Iran.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the United States does not seek a war with Iran, amid rapidly growing tensions between the two countries. Speaking in Russia, Mr Pompeo said the US was looking for Iran to behave like a "normal country" but would respond if its interests were attacked. Meanwhile, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also said there will be no war with the US. Last week, the US deployed warships and warplanes to the Gulf.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Tehran does not seek war with the United States despite mounting tensions between the two arch-enemies over Iranian nuclear capabilities and its missile program. In comments to senior officials carried by state television, Khamenei also reiterated that the Islamic Republic would not negotiate with the United States on another nuclear deal. "There won't be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance," Khamenei was cited as saying by the state media.
International worries that the Trump administration is sliding toward war with Iran flared into the open Tuesday amid skepticism about its claims that the Islamic Republic poses a growing threat to the U.S. and its allies in the Persian Gulf and beyond . The U.S. military rebutted doubts expressed by a British general about such a threat. President Donald Trump denied a report that the administration has updated plans to send more than 100,000 troops to counter Iran if necessary. But Trump then stirred the controversy further by saying: "Would I do that? Absolutely."
Iran's foreign minister said on Tuesday that "extremist individuals" in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies, amid a war of words with Washington over sanctions. Mohammad Javad Zarif was in New Delhi for talks with Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj after New Delhi stopped purchases of Iranian oil this month in the wake of renewed U.S. sanctions. Tensions have risen again after Saudi Arabia said armed drones had struck two oil pumping stations in the kingdom on Tuesday in what it called a "cowardly" act of terrorism two days after Saudi oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday he was getting indications from talks with both the United States and Iran that "things will end well" despite the current ramping up of rhetoric from both sides. Speaking to journalists at a news conference, Abdul Mahdi said Baghdad was communicating regularly with Tehran and Washington, its two main allies who are themselves enemies, and was trying to reduce tensions.
The U.S. military on Tuesday reaffirmed its concerns about possible imminent threats from Iranian-backed forces to its troops in Iraq, who were now at a high level of alert. Earlier in the day, a senior British commander in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State remnants in Iraq and Syria said there had been no increase in the threat from Iran-backed militia. British Major General Chris Ghika appeared to contradict increasingly heated warnings from Washington, where officials say they see a growing threat from Iran.
Don't assume a looming war based on the New York Times' report on military briefings to the White House on Iran. Those briefings almost certainly represent standing contingency plans. Individually known as an operation plan or OPLAN, these plans are developed for potential security issues around the world. Refined as needed or directed, each OPLAN involves Pentagon war-planners and their area combatant command equivalents.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a prominent foreign policy hawk, voiced confidence in a new interview that the U.S. could win a war with Iran, saying it would take "two strikes." "Yes, two strikes," he told Margaret Hoover of "Firing Line" when asked if the U.S. could win a war against Iran. "The first strike and the last strike." Cotton said that he would not advocate for a war with Iran but warned there would be a "furious response" to any provocation against U.S. interests in the region.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has declared the Islamic Republic is "too great to be intimidated by anyone" in a late night meeting with clerics. "God willing we will pass this difficult period with glory and our heads held high, and defeat the enemy," Rouhani said late Monday as he met Sunni clerics to mark the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, the official government website dolat.ir said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders issued a sudden live video saying that war with Iran would be "many times worse than the Iraq War," in response to reporting by The New York Times saying that the Trump administration is reviewing a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East. The idea was reportedly spearheaded by John Bolton, the president's national security adviser, who served in the George W. Bush administration at the height of the conflict in Iraq.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
For decades, a controversial law has denied citizenship and equal rights to Iranian children born to foreign fathers. The discriminatory legislation has affected thousands of children both inside and outside Iran -- but none more than those fathered by Afghan refugees and migrants living in Iran. But after a lengthy effort the country has taken a major step toward overturning the policy, under which only Iranian men can pass their nationality to spouses or children.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday reiterated his support for US President Donald Trump's stance against Iranian "aggression", as tensions mount between Washington and Tehran. "Israel and all the countries of the region and all the countries who seek peace in the world should stand together with the United States against Iranian aggression," Netanyahu said at a ceremony to mark one year since the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem.
Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shiite forces will join the battle if Iran were to be attacked by the U.S. or Israel over its nuclear program, political analysts said Tuesday.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Saudi Arabia said armed drones struck two oil pumping stations in the kingdom on Tuesday in what it called a "cowardly" act of terrorism two days after Saudi oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The attacks took place against a backdrop of U.S.-Iranian tension following Washington's decision this month to try to cut Iran's oil exports to zero and to beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats.
U.S. national security agencies now believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have attacked four tankers off the United Arab Emirates rather than Iranian forces themselves, a U.S. official familiar with the latest U.S. assessments said on Tuesday. The official said possible perpetrators might include Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iran-backed Shi'ite militias based in Iraq but said Washington did not have hard evidence on who sabotaged the four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, off Fujairah emirate on Sunday.
IRAQ & IRAN
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's surprise visit to Baghdad this month came after U.S. intelligence showed Iran-backed Shi'ite militias positioning rockets near bases housing U.S. forces, according to two Iraqi security sources. He told Iraq's top brass to keep the militias, which are expanding their power in Iraq and now form part of its security apparatus, in check, the sources said. If not, the U.S. would respond with force.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The US-Iran tensions have now reached a new high. Following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, its imposing of harsh sanctions on Tehran, and deploying the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in the Gulf region, the Islamic Republic has been isolated financially, militarily, and diplomatically. "Iran doesn't have an economic, political, or diplomatic way to face the US or Europe, nor to negotiate with Russia and China," Dr. Hassan Hashemian, a political analyst told Al Arabiya.
When an attractive young Middle Eastern woman contacted Saudi dissident Ali AlAhmed over Twitter last November, he was immediately suspicious. AlAhmed's radar was up because he had previously been targeted by hackers posing as a female journalist. But this turned out to be part of a different operation. The Twitter account, purportedly belonging to an Egyptian writer named Mona A.Rahman, was not an attempt to hack the Washington-based AlAhmed - it was an attempt to enlist him in an ambitious global disinformation effort linked to Tehran, according to the Canadian internet watchdog Citizen Lab.