President Trump struck back Monday at Iran by issuing "hard-hitting" financial sanctions against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his associates. "Today's action follows a series of aggressive behaviors by the Iranian regime in recent weeks including shooting down a U.S. drone," the president said in the Oval Office, calling Khamenei "responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime."
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, speaking after the United States increased sanctions against Iranian officials, said Washington was still willing to talk to Iran. "The president has held the door open to real negotiations to completely and verifiably eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons programme, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems, its support for international terrorism and other malign behaviour worldwide," Bolton said in Jerusalem. "All that Iran needs to do is to walk through that open door."
The U.S. and Israel are working to convince Russia to join them in reining in Iran during an unusual gathering of the three countries' national security advisers this week, part of a flurry of diplomatic activity amid tensions with Tehran. White House national security adviser John Bolton will huddle with his Israeli and Russian counterparts Tuesday in Jerusalem to discuss Middle East security, including Iran's military position in Syria and its influence more broadly in the region, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.
UANI IN THE NEWS
...Jason Brodsky, policy director for the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, said that by hitting Mr. Khamenei's office, the U.S. "is focusing on the real power centers." The supreme leader's office is a large bureaucracy and Mr. Khamenei has representatives in many of the state institutions, creating a "deep state" that runs a parallel government. Because much of the global economy wants to maintain access to the U.S. as the world's biggest market for goods and financial services, the power of such sanctions often is enforced by other countries and followed by their companies and banks.
Trump "ran on a platform to de-emphasize foreign engagements and I think he's staying true to plot," said Mark Wallace, the CEO of the group United Against a Nuclear Iran, which is known for pressing companies to keep out of Iran. But he's still sending a message "if you do something bad, you're going to get a reaction."
Many commentators have blamed the Trump administration for causing the rising tensions between Iran and the United States in the Persian Gulf. According to their analysis, it was the decision of President Trump to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA) and reinstate secondary economic sanctions that pushed Iran into a corner and caused Iranian leaders to retaliate by attacking oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Yet, there is a much simpler explanation for the current tensions that needs to be considered: The Trump administration is holding Iran accountable to norms of international behavior, and Iran does not want to be held accountable.
Jason Brodsky: Well tensions between the United States and Iran are nothing new, they've been going on for 40 years. I think what has happened over the last few days is there are those on the left who see the United States careening towards conflict and those on the right who see the president as dithering. But I think it's something more on the middle ground, and that's signaling. The United States is signaling the credibility of its deterrence, that it's prepared to use military force when warranted to push back at irresponsible Iranian behavior in the region.
President Trump's Iran policy over the weekend was both erratic and masterful. Doves and isolationists, panicked by what they see as the administration's inexorable drift toward war, rejoiced when Mr. Trump announced that a military strike had been called back. Hawks criticized him for an Obama-like climb-down, but the announcement of cyberattacks and tightening sanctions helped smooth ruffled feathers. The result? Mr. Trump more than ever dominates U.S. Iran policy; contending political factions within the administration and outside it must jockey for his support. And the more he talks and tweets about Iran, the less clear anyone is about his ultimate intentions.
NUCLEAR DEAL & PROGRAM
France, Britain and Germany have sent an official diplomatic warning to Iran about the serious consequences Tehran faces if it scales back its compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, two European diplomats said on Monday. Three diplomats said the European signatories to the deal lodged the diplomatic demarche, the term for a formal note, on June 22, with two saying the communication aimed to warn Iran specifically against scaling back its commitments to the accord.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
President Trump announced on Monday that he was imposing new sanctions on Iran, stepping up a policy of pressuring the nation's leaders and further squeezing the Iranian economy in retaliation for what the United States says are recent aggressive acts by Tehran. The move came on top of actions taken by the administration this spring to cut off all revenues from Iranian oil exports, the lifeblood of the nation's economy.
Iranian officials have railed for two months against the Trump administration's sanctions blocking their oil sales as "economic warfare." But the response to the latest American penalties imposed on Monday, which targeted the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other senior leaders, was more measured, even mocking. "Ridiculous," declared a headline from the semiofficial Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Iran said Tuesday new U.S. sanctions on its supreme leader closed the door on diplomacy and threatened global stability, as American officials renewed efforts to build a global alliance against Tehran. President Trump on Monday signed an executive order designating Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a new round of sanctions aimed at top Iranian leaders, including Mr. Khamenei's office and associates. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. would later this week sanction Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as well.
Iranian hardline media said on Monday the new U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran were based on "fabricated excuses" while Iranian officials have not responded yet to the hard-hitting limitations on the country. Iran's semi-official Tasnim and Fars news agencies said "America has imposed new sanctions on Iran based on fabricated excuses."
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Monday the new executive order signed by President Donald Trump will lock up billions of additional dollars in Iranian assets, squeezing the country further amid escalating tensions with Washington. Mnuchin said the order was in the works before last week's downing by Iran of a U.S. military surveillance drone but was in response to that as well as to previous Iranian actions in the Gulf.
Iran's government has plans to protect the nation against U.S. economic pressure, Iran's Economy Minister Farhad Dejpasand was quoted as saying on Tuesday, a day after Washington imposed new sanctions on Tehran. "We have our plans and options to counter the enemy's pressure and sanctions," the semi-official Tasnim News agency quoted Dejpasand as saying. "But I will not reveal more details about our plans."
Iranian crude exports have dropped so far in June to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) or less after the United States tightened the screw on Tehran's main source of income, industry sources said and tanker data showed, deepening global supply losses. The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. Aiming to cut Iran's sales to zero, Washington in May ended sanctions waivers to importers of Iranian oil.
The U.S. is seeking support from allies for a program to monitor commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf after attacks on tankers that the Trump administration has blamed on Iran. The effort is intended to deter Iran by equipping ships with cameras to monitor tanker traffic and document any threats, a senior State Department official told reporters on Monday. The official said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo sought participation from Saudi Arabia for the effort it's calling "Sentinel" during a visit to the kingdom on Monday.
The Middle East presents a dangerous nexus of nuclear reactors and violence. It remains the only region where foreign powers have attacked their enemies' nuclear plants. On Monday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order putting in place what he called "hard-hitting" new sanctions on Iran. Should continuing tensions between Tehran and Washington boil over into intense hostilities, one ominous nuclear policy question cannot be ignored: Will the presence of reactors in an enlarged conflict zone open a Pandora's box to the first radioactive war in history?
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
The Islamic Republic of Iran is spreading its state-sponsored terrorism to Western African countries to attack the US and Western assets, the British Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday. "Iran is setting up a network of terror cells in Africa to attack US and other Western targets in retaliation for Washington's decision to impose sanctions against Tehran, according to Western security officials," according to the newspaper.
Half a ton of explosives was brought to Paris in a diplomatic suitcases in order to carry out a terror attack, before being foiled by French authorities, it was reported in the British media. The British newspaper "Independent in Arabic" quoted an intelligence source as saying that in 2018 Iran had delivered half a ton of TATP explosives in diplomatic packages to a civilian plane that was supposed to be transferred to Paris to carry out an attack in the city.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Jailed British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will serve out her five-year prison sentence, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday, dismissing a call for her release by a British minister visiting Tehran. "Mrs Zaghari is an Iranian. She has been convicted on security charges and is spending her sentence in prison," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, was quoted as saying by the state media. "Iran does not recognize dual nationality," he said.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper will be ready to update European allies on tensions with Iran as he heads to NATO headquarters this week during his inaugural trip as Pentagon chief, a senior U.S. official said. Esper, whose first full day in the Pentagon was on Monday, led the Army until the surprise resignation of Patrick Shanahan as acting defense secretary last week. Esper is now the third person in six months to work at the defense secretary's desk.
Once the dust cleared, it turned out that one of the enduring lessons from the past week occurred at about 22,000 feet. The Iranian downing of an RQ-4A Global Hawk on Thursday is thought to have been the first time one of the Pentagon's surveillance workhorses has been shot out of the sky. Aside from the fact the incident nearly risked taking the United States and Iran to war for a few hours, it was also stark evidence of an escalation in Tehran's military capabilities.
President Donald Trump pulled back at the last minute from military strikes on Iran, but he did not refrain from entirely hitting back at Tehran, launching cyberattacks on Thursday against the country's intelligence and military apparatus. The cyberattacks, which were first reported by Yahoo News, targeted the Iranian intelligence organization that helped plan recent attacks on oil tankers and also struck Iranian missile systems. An Iranian official claimed on Monday that the attacks were unsuccessful.
Where do we go from here? That's the question many are asking after President Trump abruptly canceled military strikes he ordered against Iran in retaliation for Thursday's downing of an American surveillance drone in the Persian Gulf. The president's decision contained hostilities - at least for the moment. But it left Iranian-American tensions high, underlying problems unresolved and critics wondering whether Trump has a viable exit strategy.
The official explanation for President Trump's last-minute decision to postpone a strike on Iran contains two separate claims. First, the move shows that Trump is capable of restraint, forbearance and great temperamental poise. Second, his resolve and willingness to unleash spectacular military might should not be underestimated. Those two things aren't necessarily contradictory. Indeed, the argument is that Trump is judiciously balancing those two impulses.
Iran can come to the negotiating table or let its economy crumble, the U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, told reporters in a telephone briefing on Monday. "Iran's proxies are suffering from financial shortfalls" and so is Tehran, Hook said. His remarks came hours before U.S. President Donald Trump was expected to impose new sanctions on Iran. Trump last week called off retaliatory strikes on Iran following the downing of an American drone because the action wouldn't have been "proportionate."
Middle East policymakers in Washington these days should take some advice from that noted diplomat, Bob Dylan. His adage "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose" is getting tested with the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" sanctions regime on Iran. The outcome of this particular experiment could well determine the direction of oil prices as the U.S. heads toward presidential elections next year.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Senate Democrats are weighing whether to filibuster the annual defense policy bill that is on the floor this week to try to force a vote on an amendment that would require President Donald Trump to get congressional approval before launching war with Iran. Democratic aides and senators say a determination hasn't been made whether to carry out the contentious move that would block that National Defense Authorization Act, legislation that typically wins broad bipartisan support.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, filed legislation Monday that would take hundreds of millions of dollars from frozen Iranian bank accounts and use them to offset the cost of an American military drone that was shot down by Tehran last week. The proposal, which was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, would require the Trump administration to asses the cost of the drone, which was believed to be between $120 million and $220 million.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday his country will do "everything" to prevent arch-rival Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, during a visit by a senior Russian security official. "Israel will not allow Iran, which calls for our destruction, to entrench on our border; we will do everything to prevent it from attaining nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said. He was speaking alongside Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Moscow's powerful security council, whose visit followed weeks of simmering tensions between Tehran and Washington in the Gulf.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs warned regional rival Iran there would be more sanctions if it continued its "aggressive polices", but said Riyadh wanted to avoid war. "Today, Iran is under severe economic sanctions," Adel al-Jubeir told Le Monde newspaper in an interview published on Monday. "These sanctions will be strengthened. If Iran continues its aggressive policies, it will have to pay the price."
Oman on Monday denied reports that it had conveyed a message from the United States to the Iranian government over the downing last week of an American unmanned drone. "The Sultanate is watching current regional developments with concern and hopes that the Iranian and American sides show restraint and address unresolved issues through dialogue," the foreign ministry also said in a post on Twitter.
Yemen's Houthi rebels have accelerated missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, highlighting the kingdom's military vulnerabilities in defending itself against an Iranian ally amid a crisis in U.S.-Iran relations. The Houthis have executed 10 missile or drone attacks since April on Saudi airports, a desalination plant, a major oil pipeline and other targets, escalating fighting on a key front in the regionwide confrontation between U.S. and Iran. The Houthi attacks have occurred around the same time as the tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman that the U.S. has blamed on Iran.
A gun, a comic magazine about jihad and qat to chew - for many kids in Yemen, these are integral parts of their childhood. About 50,000 children have been recruited in the past three months by the Houthi rebels to fight in the country's bloody civil war, with around 10% of them being girls, according to Yemen's Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani. With the difficult economic situation in the country when salaries are mainly being paid only to those willing to fight, families have to find a way to survive.
Yemen's Houthi rebels blocked a food shipment earmarked to feed 100,000 families in the impoverished nation that has been pushed to the brink of starvation by more than four years of war. A World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday the aid was prevented from reaching civilians after the UN body partially suspended relief efforts last week, accusing the rebels of looting it.
A Trump administration official said that Russia, China, and Iran are trying to manipulate U.S. public opinion ahead of the 2020 elections but that none has successfully corrupted physical election infrastructure, which remains a potential target for state and non-state actors. China has primarily used conventional media outlets to advocate for certain policies, including trade, while Russia and Iran have been more active on social media platforms, a senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters on Monday, speaking on the condition of not being identified.