U.S. Central Command is requesting additional defensive capabilities that could lead to as many as 5,000 to 10,000 additional troops being sent to the Middle East to deter Iran, a U.S. official told ABC News. There will be a meeting at the White House on Thursday where the Central Command request will be considered, according to two U.S. officials, who stressed that it is unclear which portions of the CENTCOM request could be approved at this White House meeting.
Iran has made a dramatic shift in how it confronts the United States, abandoning a policy of restraint in recent weeks for a series of offensive actions aimed at pushing the White House to rethink its efforts at isolating Tehran, say diplomats and analysts. With the Trump administration tightening economic sanctions and intensifying military pressure, Iran is now seeking to highlight the costs it could also impose on the United States - for instance, by disrupting the world's oil supply - without taking actions likely to trigger an all-out war.
Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has openly shrugged off responsibility for the nuclear agreement Iran concluded with world powers in 2015. Khamenei, who was speaking to hand-picked representatives of Iranian students on Wednesday, May 22, expressed his dissatisfaction with the way President Hassan Rouhani and his team handled the nuclear deal also known as JCPOA.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
As tensions with the U.S. mount, Iran's supreme leader has said the country's president and foreign minister didn't act as he wished in implementing the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The comments Wednesday night, posted on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's official website, are the first time he's blamed both President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif by name in his concerns about the deal.
A senior German diplomat is in Tehran to press Iran to continue to respect the landmark nuclear deal, despite the unilateral withdrawal of the US and increasing pressure from Washington. The Foreign Ministry says Political Director Jens Ploetner is meeting with Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi on Thursday. The visit comes amid mounting tensions in the region.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Ankara stopped importing oil from Iran at the beginning of May out of "respect" for American sanctions despite disagreeing with them, a Turkish official said on Wednesday. "As a strategic ally" of the United States, "we respect" the sanctions, said the official, who asked to remain anonymous, during Turkish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Yavuz Selim Kiran's visit to Washington. Since pulling out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal a year ago, President Donald Trump's administration has hit Iran with severe sanctions prohibiting the export of Iranian oil, as well as targeting countries that continue to purchase it.
Deterring regional adversaries from threatening Iran is the primary reason Tehran has amassed the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East. The missile program actually began under the Shah, but it was accelerated during the Iran-Iraq War in order to threaten Saddam Hussein with strikes deep in Iraqi territory. Since then, Iran has worked with countries like Libya, North Korea and China in order to develop a large and diverse arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles that form one part of its three-leg deterrent strategy.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
The Washington Institute released an interactive map showcasing Iran's growing influence in the Middle East by detailing the whereabouts, operations and force deployments of Iran-backed militias in the region. The American think tank said that the information and sources used to create the map was compiled mainly from primary source data, including contacts within militia circles and social media analysis collected for nearly ten years.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A female singer in Iran has been summoned to appear in court after performing solo in public, according to media reports. Negar Moazzam sang for a group of tourists in the historic village of Abyaneh last week, wearing the traditional costume of that part of Isfahan Province, until local Cultural Heritage Organisation staff cut short her performance, Fars news agency reports.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
In its campaign to throttle Iran into submission, the Trump administration has in the last several weeks applied smothering force - blocking the country's last avenues for selling oil, classifying the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization and deploying ships and bombers to the Persian Gulf. But if the goal of increased pressure was to force Iran to change its behavior or to send angry Iranians into the streets to ultimately sweep the nation's clerical leadership from power, it has so far achieved neither.
Rising tensions between the United States and Iran prompted some Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Wednesday to call for the repeal of a law that presidents have used for two decades to justify U.S. military action around the world. Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat, and Thomas Massie, a Republican, held a news conference with other members of the House of Representatives to call for the repeal of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York on Washington.
The United States and its supporters do not dare attack Iran because of its "spirit of resistance", a senior Revolutionary Guards commander was quoted on Wednesday as saying. Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
Iran's youth will witness the demise of Israel and American civilization, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday in comments published on his official website. "You young people should be assured that you will witness the demise of the enemies of humanity, meaning the degenerate American civilization, and the demise of Israel," Khamenei said in a meeting with students. He gave no further details.
There has always been a fair and symmetrical formula for the United States and Iran to resolve the full range of their differences: full normalization for full normalization. Donald Trump, who may - but probably doesn't - want a war with the Islamic republic, should propose it, publicly and in detail, and see what happens. It will be clarifying for everyone. What is normalization? From the U.S. side, it would mean the immediate suspension of every economic and diplomatic sanction imposed by this or previous administrations.
The Senate has struggled to pass a long-stalled Syria sanctions bill since 2016, even as the House has unanimously passed the largely noncontroversial legislation several times. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally advanced the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act by a 20-2 vote today. But first, lawmakers had to vote down an amendment barring the Donald Trump administration from attacking Iran.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
In yet another milestone on Tehran's path to becoming a self-sustaining regional power, Iranian state news announced the Iranian Navy has commissioned its first homemade submarine. The new Fateh-class vessel was unveiled by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani late last week, at a ceremony held at the Bandar Abbas naval base.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The spokesman of Iran's hardliner-dominated Guardian Council, Abbasali Kadkhodaei has criticized President Hassan Rouhani for complaining about his "limited powers." Kadkhodai tweeted that "Iranian Presidents have always had extensive powers," adding that "even more authority has been vested in the president in this presidential term in view of the country's situation." The hardliner spokesman of the Guardian Council then asked Rouhani "Have you used these extensive powers to solve the country's problems?"
As the United States and Iran have traded threats these past weeks and inched closer to the brink of a military confrontation, Iranian hard-liners have identified a new "political plot" by an "enemy" who is "trying different ways to create anxiety among the people," Education Minister Mohammad Bathaei warned. Bathaei was not speaking about the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group or a bomber task force dispatched to the region earlier in May.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
This week, United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis wrote that he met with Hezbollah's Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem. In shocking and concerning comments, Kubis also said that he was grateful to the Hezbollah leader for "substantive" comments and for giving him a copy of his book. The UN coordinator said the book was "necessary reading."
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi group said today it had carried out another drone attack on Najran airport in south-western Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border. "Houthis' Qasef K2 combat drones hit Saudi Arabia's Najran Regional Airport for the second time in 24 hours," a military source told the group's Lebanon-based Al-Masirah. The source added that the airstrike was targeting a hanger at the airport containing warplanes.
The Iran-backed Houthis intend to expand attacks on Saudi Arabia to "no fewer than 300 military and other vital targets in Saudi Arabia" and are "capable of reducing Saudi oil exports to zero," wrote Sa'dollah Zarei in an editorial in Iran's Kayhan newspaper, according to MEMRI. Hossein Shariatmadari, the hard-line editor-in-chief of Kayhan, also serves as the representative of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, according to the New York Times.
IRAQ & IRAN
The Iranian Customs Administration closed Soumar border crossing in Western Iran on Tuesday May 21, bringing export of Iranian goods to Iraq to a halt, Mehr news agency reported. A statement issued by the Iranian Customs Administration orders transportation companies "To stop sending export goods to the Soumar border until further notice." The Iranian Customs Administration has issued the statement reportedly after a huge backlog was built up at the border with Iraq.