Top American national security officials sought to convince a divided Congress on Tuesday about the seriousness of new threats from Iran as they defended intelligence that has prompted military deployments aimed at deterring attacks by Tehran. Democrats emerged from the classified briefings on Capitol Hill with sharp questions about whose actions ultimately led to the recent escalation: Tehran's or the Trump administration's.
Turkey has closed its ports to Iranian oil, fully complying with U.S. sanctions against its main supplier, despite Ankara publicly criticising the United States' move to end import waivers and warning of a struggle to tap alternative producers. The U.S. decision to fully re-impose sanctions on Iranian oil ended a six-month reprieve for Turkey and seven other big importers as Washington steps up attempts to isolate Iran and choke off its oil revenues.
Iran's Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has said his country won't negotiate with President Donald Trump unless the US shows Tehran "respect" by honoring its commitments under the disputed nuclear deal. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Zarif warned the US was "playing a very, very dangerous game" by boosting its military presence in the region. Zarif criticized the US for sending the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Gulf.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
European powers are facing huge pressure from the United States to drop its proposed trade channel with Iran and it will also not succumb to ultimatums from Tehran, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday. Britain, France and Germany, which signed a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year's U.S. withdrawal from the accord, protect trade and still prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
President Trump's Iran policy appears to be careening between diplomacy and belligerence. One day Trump tweets, "I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon." The next he warns that "if Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran." Confused? Well, there is a method to the madness. The Trump administration understands that Iran doesn't want war because Iran knows it will lose. That's why Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made clear via a government Twitter account - a medium he knew would reach Trump - that "this is not a military confrontation because no war is to happen."
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The Islamic Republic judiciary spokesman says that the order issued by the city of Isfahan' prosecutor to ban cycling for women has been misunderstood. Speaking on Tuesday, Gholam Hossein Esmaeili reiterated that women's cycling is not banned, provided the religious rules are respected. Earlier on May 14, the prosecutor in Iran's third largest city had announced that women had been banned from cycling in public, saying it was "haram," or prohibited under Islam.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Trump administration said Tuesday that the threat of hostilities with Iran has receded in the face of U.S. military deployments and sought to assure lawmakers in classified briefings that a war wasn't imminent. The briefings were the first for all members of Congress since the Trump administration more than two weeks ago declared a threat of an imminent Iranian attack and deployed several warships and bombers to the region.
Threats of conflict between the United States and Iran have highlighted the places and ways their forces, proxies or allies could clash. Iran backs militias in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are also based, and in Lebanon and Yemen, located next to Washington's closest regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia. It is situated opposite Saudi Arabia on the Gulf, and along the Strait of Hormuz, passageway for almost a fifth of the world's daily crude oil consumption.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday after briefing lawmakers on the threat from Iran that the United States had deterred possible attacks by deploying forces to the region. "We have deterred attacks based on our reposturing of assets - deterred attacks against American forces. Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation," Shanahan told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Half of all Americans believe that the United States will go to war with Iran "within the next few years," according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released on Tuesday amid increased tensions between the two countries. While Americans are more concerned about Iran as a security threat to the United States now than they were last year, few would be in favor of a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the U.S. administration "novice politicians with naive ideas", saying President Donald Trump had stepped back from his threats against Tehran after military aides advised him against a war with the Islamic Republic. In a speech broadcast live on state television, Rouhani also said the unity of the Iranian nation changed Trump's decision to wage war.
Iran will "under no circumstances" enter a war either directly or indirectly with the United States, a prominent reformist Iranian lawmaker said Wednesday, as both Washington and Tehran try to ease heightened tensions in the region. The reported comments by Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh come after the White House earlier this month sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran.
Top Trump administration officials worked Tuesday to lower the temperature after weeks of escalating tension with Iran, arguing the decision to deploy U.S. military assets to the Persian Gulf has worked. "We have deterred attacks based on our reposturing of assets, deterred attacks against American forces," acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said. "Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate. This is about deterrence, not about war."
House Armed Services Committee member Michael Waltz, R-Fla., said Tuesday the Trump administration has told Iran that it will hold the country responsible for any attacks by proxies and that the United States is hoping to "deter war by showing strength." "I think what came across loud and clear is that we are going to deter war by showing strength. Iranians are emboldened by weakness and deferred by strength.
Rep. Mark Green, R, Tenn., said he hopes to hear more information detailing the "credible threats" from Iran discussed by the Trump administration. Calling Iran "probably one of the clearest enemies America has had in a long time," during a Tuesday interview on "America's Newsroom," Green said he trusted the president's decision to warn of potential action being taken against alleged threats from Iran, although Congress admittedly has not been given much information about specifics.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday that top administration officials told senators in a briefing the recent attacks on shipping and a pipeline in the Middle East was directed by the Iranian government and the ayatollah. "They explained to us how the Iranian threat streams were different than in the past, that the attack on the ships and the pipeline was coordinated and directed by the Iranian government, the ayatollah," Graham told reporters.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
When Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov paid a visit recently to Damascus to meet with Palestinian President Bashar al-Assad, the trip fueled speculation about Russia's future trade role in Syria and whether it might challenge Iran's dominance. Borisov is also co-chair of the Russian-Syrian Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. The April 20 visit also spurred more talk about a recent agreement under which Russia is to lease Syria's Tartus port for years.
For now, dialogue with the Trump administration is not on Iran's agenda. The Islamic Republic is instead implementing a policy of "resistance" by focusing on improving its economy and mobilizing public support. In parallel, it is engaged in active diplomacy to boost trade and circumvent US sanctions. As part of the diplomatic frenzy, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently visited Russia, Turkmenistan, Japan, India and China.
Reports that Israeli missiles pounded targets near Damascus in Syria were literally drowned out by the singing and dancing of the Eurovision finals in Tel Aviv. As usual, Israel did not openly acknowledge Saturday's strikes, which were reported by the Syrians and drifted under the news radar. In the past, Israel has said it is targeting Iran's attempts to build military infrastructure in Syria.
The US intercepted conversations between Iran and Hezbollah in which Iran ordered Hezbollah to conduct attacks on Americans, according to KAN news.
After United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis met with Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem of Hezbollah, Israel officials condemned the meeting. "We are shocked and disappointed by this meeting with a designated terror organization's leader, threatening Israel, Lebanon and the whole region," Israel's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted. "One doesn't need to read the Naim Qassem book, courtesy of #Hezbollah terrorists, in order to understand this !!"
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
Air defense crews raced to action in the southern Saudi Arabian city of Najran Tuesday night to intercept an attack from Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels as tensions remain high between Tehran and the United States. The attack on Najran, about 10 miles north of the Saudi border with Yemen, was carried out by one Qasef K-2 drone armed with an explosive warhead and targeted a Saudi airport and military facility, the Houthi news outlet Al Masirah said. The broadcaster added that the drone struck an "arms depot," causing a fire.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq will send delegations to Washington and Tehran to help "halt tension" amid fears of a confrontation between the United States and Iran in the Middle East, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday. He said there were no Iraqi groups that wanted to push towards a war, two days after a rocket fired in Baghdad landed close to the U.S. Embassy, the latest in a series of regional attacks the United States believes may have been inspired by Iran.