An initial U.S. assessment indicated Iran likely was behind the attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and two other vessels damaged over the weekend near the Strait of Hormuz, a U.S. official said, a finding that, if confirmed, would further inflame military tensions in the Persian Gulf. The assessment, while not conclusive, was the first suggestion by any nation that Iran was responsible for the attack and comes after a series of U.S. warnings against aggression by Iran or its allies and proxies against military or commercial vessels in the region.
At a meeting of President Trump's top national security aides last Thursday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said. The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump's national security adviser. They do not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said.
Ali Al-Ahmed is a veteran critic of the Saudi government, so late last year he was not surprised to receive a Twitter message purporting to be from an Egyptian woman living in London who said that she, too, was a Saudi opponent. But Mr. Al-Ahmed, who is based in Washington, was wary of the woman, who identified herself as Mona A. Rahman. "Her picture was too made up, like the picture of a model," he recalled. Her Arabic was imperfect.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Iran is suffering economically and politically thanks to two big actions taken by President Trump, former independent Sen. Joe Lieberman told FOX Business on Monday. "President Trump had the guts to take us out of a bad nuclear agreement with Iran -- that's the beginning -- big change," he told Maria Bartiromo. "Second he imposed sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps -- also a big change and increased those sanctions. Iran is hurting. So it has begun to threaten us and I appreciate very much that the president has basically said with action sending American military forces over to their region don't think you're going to strike at us and not have us strike back at you."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The economic pain inflicted by President Donald Trump's sanctions on Iranian oil exports was widely blamed for prompting Tehran's threat last week to gradually roll back its compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. But it was a U.S. decision in early May to revoke two waivers critical to the Islamic Republic's enrichment activities that left it with a stark choice: either submit to Washington's will and stop all uranium enrichment, or abandon some of its obligations under the landmark accord -- and risk a rupture with European signatories.
Iran insists on exporting at least 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil, triple May's expected levels under US sanctions, as a condition for staying in an international nuclear deal, sources with knowledge of Iran-EU talks were quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. The figure was communicated in recent meetings between Iranian and Western officials, including Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, but has not been set down in writing, four European diplomatic sources said.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The US is determined to choke off external funding to Iran because we want to prevent it from financing missile development, fomenting regional conflicts and funding terrorist networks. Much of Iran's money comes from metal exports, including $4.2bn from the sale of steel - a 53 per cent increase from 2017 - and a further $917m from copper and its downstream products. The country is on schedule to become a net exporter of aluminium by the end of the year.
A lack of headlines is making headlines in Iran. The economic hardship triggered by a year of U.S. sanctions has extended to the Islamic Republic's newspapers, which are struggling to combat fast-rising prices -- and shortages -- of both paper and printing ink. At a time when Iran's on front pages around the world, two government-owned dailies have cut coverage while journalists fret about possible layoffs.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will hold talks with his counterpart in the Indian capital on Tuesday after New Delhi stopped purchases of Iranian oil this month in the wake of renewed U.S. sanctions. India was Iran's top oil client after China, but halted imports after Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran and later withdrew waivers to eight nations, including India, which had allowed them to import some Iranian oil.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A group of Iranian university students held a campus protest Monday against authorities' increasing pressure on women to wear mandatory headscarves in public. The semi-official ISNA news agency said the Tehran University students - both men and women - briefly scuffled with another group of students who support the country's conservative dress code. The rally ended after a few hours. Deputy head of the university, Majid Sarsangi, told ISNA that there were no new measures in place regarding compulsory hijab at the university.
Iranian pro-government activists have assaulted Tehran University students staging a peaceful protest against heightened enforcement of religious restrictions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Videos verified by VOA Persian and received from social media users in Iran showed the pro-government activists marching on the university grounds and scuffling with student protesters in Monday's incident.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. President Donald Trump warned on Monday Iran would "suffer greatly" if it targeted U.S. interests after Washington deployed an aircraft carrier and more jet fighters at a time of rising tensions with Tehran. "We'll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it will be a very bad mistake," Trump told reporters at the White House. "If they do anything they will suffer greatly."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to make his first diplomatic trip to Russia on Tuesday to meet with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and President Vladimir V. Putin. The three have a great deal of territory to cover, from many bubbling international conflicts - where Washington and Moscow have often found themselves on opposite sides - to a potential new arms treaty. It is the highest level meeting between American and Russian officials since President Trump met with Mr. Putin in Finland last July.
European diplomats urged the United States to exercise "maximum restraint" as tensions mount in the Gulf a year after Washington withdrew from a landmark deal that curbed Iran's nuclear programme. Federica Mogherini, the European Union's diplomatic chief, stressed the need for dialogue following a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who made a last-minute visit to Brussels on Monday to share information on "escalating" threats from Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared information on "escalating" threats from Iran with European allies and NATO officials during meetings in Brussels on Monday, the U.S. special representative for Iran said. "Iran is an escalating threat and this seemed like a timely visit on his way to Sochi," Brian Hook told reporters, referring to Pompeo's planned visit to Russia on Tuesday for meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may have been hoping that a hastily arranged stop in Brussels today would allow for photos and headlines showing American and European unity and joint resolve in the face of rising tensions with Iran, European allies did not seem interested in playing along. "We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said as he arrived at a meeting in Brussels with his French and German counterparts and the EU foreign policy chief today.
A festering four-year war, crippling sanctions, threats to maritime oil trade and a US naval battlegroup steaming for the Persian Gulf. Such developments were troubling enough, before two Saudi tankers were reportedly sabotaged off the UAE coast on Sunday - a development set to ratchet tensions between Tehran and Washington to new and combustible highs.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is asking Attorney General William Barr to investigate if former Secretary of State John Kerry broke federal law over his talks with Iranian officials. Rubio sent a letter to Barr doubling down on his request for the Justice Department to investigate Kerry, a request he also made last year to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Recent remarks by Iran's education minister about 14 million schoolchildren being ready to go to war, has led to public outcry and condemnations among Iranians. Iranian officials have been making bellicose remarks in recent weeks after tensions flared with the United States. The Iranian Society for the Protection of the Rights of Children has released a public letter May 12 on social media addressed to the minister criticizing his comment.
CHINA & IRAN
Amid the Trump administration's all-time high pressure on Iran, manifested in its decision not to extend sanctions waivers granted to Tehran's key oil customers, Iran-US tensions are reaching levels unseen in recent decades. To alleviate the burden on its shoulders, Iran might not be fully capitalizing on China as its leading oil buyer. Yet Beijing could continue to be a key part of Iran's solution to mitigate the impacts of biting US sanctions.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
An American military team's initial assessment is that Iranian or Iranian-backed proxies used explosives Sunday to blow large holes in four ships anchored off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a US official said Monday. The official said each ship has a 5- to 10-foot hole in it, near or just below the water line, and the team's early belief is that the holes were caused by explosive charges. The team of US military experts was sent to investigate the damages at the request of the UAE, but American officials have not provided any details about what exactly happened or any proof as yet about the possible Iranian involvement in the explosions.
Saudi Arabia claimed on Tuesday that Iran-backed Houthi rebel drones targeted their oil pumping stations in what it called a "cowardly" attack two days after Saudi oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih confirmed on Tuesday that two oil pumping stations for the East-West pipeline had been hit by explosive-laden drones, calling the attack "an act of terrorism" that targeted global oil supplies.