Vice President Mike Pence lashed out at Washington's major European allies for helping what he called a "murderous" Iran escape U.S. sanctions, warning at a global conference here that their actions would exacerbate a divide between Europe and the U.S. "The Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it," Mr. Pence said, in a speech delivered in a country where occupying Nazi forces housed the Auschwitz extermination camp during World War II.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Thursday of the growing influence of the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon, while reaffirming the commitment of the US to a partnership with Beirut and its people. Speaking on the margins of the Warsaw conference, Mr Pompeo told Al Hurra television station that "Hezbollah is definitely more powerful than they were four or five years ago." "I regret that" he said in the interview.
Iran's government is celebrating four decades of "revolution." Since 1979, it has exported violent destabilization to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and my country, Yemen, and sponsored terrorist attacks on almost every continent. Iran's leaders have enriched themselves at the expense of their people, and intimidated nations far beyond their borders. Happy 40th anniversary! But leave us out of it. For four years, war has afflicted Yemen's people, precipitated by the Iran-backed Houthi militias' coup in Sana'a and attempted takeover of the country.
UANI IN THE NEWS
...Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has joined nonprofit advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran as senior adviser. Ayotte is the third former senator advising the group: former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) serves as chairman and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is on the group's advisory board. Ayotte has stayed busy since losing a tight reelection in 2016. The former senator has joined the board of directors of BAE Systems and Caterpillar and the board of advisers for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Center on Military and Political Power. She's also a senior adviser to Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
More than 30 heads of state and government and 80 defense and foreign ministers are meeting in Munich for an annual security conference known for its frank exchanges and backroom diplomacy. Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the U.S. delegation, set the tone in Warsaw on Thursday, accusing Britain, France and Germany of trying to "break" American sanctions on Iran and calling on them to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
South Korea resumed imports of Iranian oil in January after a four-month hiatus, customs data showed on Friday, but shipments were down 76 percent from the same month last year. The world's fifth-largest crude importer won a six-month waiver in November from U.S. sanctions on Tehran's oil exports, but did not immediately start imports, mainly due to payment and insurance issues.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
The U.S. Department of Justice last year designated Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and militant group, as a transnational criminal organization, thanks to its long-standing and well-documented partnership with Latin American drug cartels. A focal point of Hezbollah operations in the Western Hemisphere is the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, a sanctuary for all sorts of organized crime. Numerous terrorism financing, money laundering, and drug trafficking cases in U.S. courts involve Hezbollah-aligned Lebanese nationals who operate there. Argentina and Brazil have shown an increased readiness to take action against Hezbollah, but Paraguay, the country where Hezbollah is most vulnerable to action, is the most reluctant to recognize the challenge.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has sent condolences to the families of the victims of a suicide car bombing that struck a bus carrying Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard troops, killing at least 27 people. An al-Qaida-linked group, Jaish al-Adl, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack in Iran's restive southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province. Tehran linked the bombing to an ongoing U.S.-led conference in Warsaw largely focused on Iran.
The U.N. Security Council is condemning "in the strongest possible terms" the bombing in Iran that killed 27 people, calling it a "heinous and cowardly terrorist attack." All 15 members, including the United States, which is a strong critic of Iran's leaders, "expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the government of Islamic Republic of Iran."
Senior Iranian officials have vowed a furious response to the suicide bombing which targeted a Revolutionary Guard bus and killed nearly 30 and injured 13 in Zahedan city, the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province. While Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) to launch an investigation into "possible oversight" leading to the attack, President Hassan Rouhani accused the United States and its allies and urged neighboring countries to "do their due diligence in upholding values of good neighborliness."
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian teachers have staged peaceful rallies in at least six cities to protest what they see as government suppression of their rights and to call for better working conditions in their poorly paid profession. Images verified by VOA Persian and sent from social media users inside Iran showed teachers rallying Wednesday outside education departments in the northern cities of Ardabil and Urmia, the northwestern cities of Kermanshah, Marivan and Sanandaj, and in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
Amid worsening diplomatic and economic isolation, Iran is continuing its crackdown on perceived dissidents. Among the targets: environmental scientists. A recent Amnesty International report claimed the Islamic Republic in 2018 arrested more than 7,000 rights defenders, in what was referred to as Iran's "year of shame." The organization highlighted that at least 63 environmental activists and researchers were detained, with some remaining in prison on dubious charges and without access to legal representation.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Vice President Mike Pence used an American-convened conference on Middle East security to lash out at Washington's three closest European allies on Thursday, accusing them of trying "to break American sanctions against Iran's murderous revolutionary regime." Mr. Pence delivered his critique of the allies, Britain, France and Germany, in an address at a Warsaw conference organized by the Trump administration.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused Washington's European allies on Thursday of trying to break U.S. sanctions against Tehran and called on them to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. "Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as cooperative. In fact, they have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions," Pence said during a conference on the Middle East organized by the United States in Warsaw.
Vice President Mike Pence told a conference of European and Middle East leaders on Thursday that Iran is plotting to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth, and seeks to unleash a 'new Holocaust.' With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watching, Pence said in Poland that Tehran poses 'the greatest threat to peace and security' in the region. Hours earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that 'confronting Iran' is a necessary step for any nation that wants to 'achieve peace and stability in the Middle East.'
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo underlined the need for different foreign policy approaches to Iran and North Korea in comments published Thursday, describing Tehran as more "destabilizing" than Pyongyang. "We've made very clear that these situations are very different. We take each of them where we find them," he told US television station CBS in excerpts of a transcript released by the State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the EU's top diplomat in Brussels on Friday, a day after Vice President Mike Pence accused America's traditional European allies of trying to undermine U.S. sanctions against Iran. The meeting with Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, was scheduled before Pence's rebuke of European powers during a Middle East peace conference in Warsaw on Thursday, which Mogherini missed, citing a scheduling conflict at NATO.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst, her brown hair now hidden underneath a mandatory hijab, stood before an Iranian ayatollah as a television camera filmed behind her. It was 2012 and Monica Elfriede Witt offered Ayatollah Hadi Barikbin the pledge of faith all Islam converts must recite: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger."
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran forty years after its Islamic revolution is facing a grave economic crisis and growing popular discontent. It continues to commit acts that deepen its isolation even as it benefits from the mistakes of its adversaries. US sanctions are more punishing than anticipated but will probably not cause Iran to alter policies of greatest concern to Washington, such as regional interventions and ballistic missile development, and are instead strengthening hardline elements as Iran approaches a key political transition.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, called the self-declared interim president and opposition leader Juan Guaido "a CIA agent who serves the interests of the United States and the Zionists" in an interview with the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese media group, Al-Mayadeen. He added in the interview posted on Tuesday that he feels "love for the noble Palestinian cause," and sent words of "encouragement to the Palestinian and Arab prisoners confined in Israeli jails."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday that the presence of its arch foe the United States in the Middle East harmed countries in the region and called on Washington to fully withdraw its troops from the country. "The presence of U.S. in Syria and other countries in the region is not useful .... America should reconsider its Middle East policy," Rouhani said after a summit on Syria between Iran, Russia and Turkey in southern Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday told his Turkish and Iranian counterparts that the presence of what he called terrorist groups in Syria's Idlib region should not be tolerated. Putin was speaking at a summit he is hosting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss the future of Syria with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Iran, Russia and Kazakhstan are making progress on organising finance for a long-planned wheat deal that could double or triple supplies to Iran, the secretary general of Iran's Federation of Food Industry Associations said. Talks started a year ago, but stalled due to a lack of financing. The deal involves Russia and Kazakhstan supplying wheat to Iranian millers, who in turn would supply flour to Iraq - a market dominated by Turkey and other countries.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The time has come to add tiny, gas-drenched Qatar to America's list of nations to contain. Containment is a Cold War-era concept hatched by U.S. foreign service officer George Frost Kennan just after World War II, while he served in America's embassy in Moscow.
The Iranian regime remains the biggest threat to stability in the region 40 years after its revolution under ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Saudi ambassador to the US said. "Forty years ago, the Ayatollah landed in Iran and ushered a reign of terror and destruction," Prince Khalid bin Salman said on Wednesday night on Twitter. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their Gulf allies accuse Iran of funding armed groups that operate in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The US on Thursday accused Iran of prolonging the war in Yemen with its support for the Houthis and called on Tehran to help make a ceasefire agreement a success. Speaking to Arab News at the Middle East conference in Warsaw, Washington's special represenative for Iran Brian Hook said there had been extensive discussion at the meeting of the war, which is now in its fifth year.
TURKEY & IRAN
As Trump administration officials presided over the second day of an international conference in Warsaw dominated by calls to ratchet up pressure on Iran, one longtime U.S. ally and NATO member was noticeably absent - Turkey. Snubbing the gathering in Poland, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday attended a rival conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where he planned to meet his Russian and Iranian counterparts to work out a final settlement of the war in Syria.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Paris has announced that a French ambassador would return to Tehran "soon", in a sign of improved relations between the two countries. Paris also said that a new Iranian ambassador is expected to land in the French capital. The announcement was made on Wednesday, the first day of a US-led meeting in Warsaw where Washington mobilized the largest international gathering against Iranian policies.