By Sebastian Smith with Marc Jourdier in Tehran
June 20, 2019
Iran said Thursday it had recovered parts of a US spy drone in its territorial waters, after downing the aircraft in a missile strike slammed by President Donald Trump as a “big mistake.”
Under pressure to respond to the high-stakes incident in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, where a series of tanker attacks have sent tensions soaring with Iran, Trump initially struck a combative tone.
“Iran made a very big mistake!” he tweeted in response to news Iran had shot down the Global Hawk surveillance aircraft — which the Pentagon says was above international waters at the time.
“This country will not stand for it, that I can tell you,” he said later at the White House.
But as the overnight incident whipped up fears of open conflict between the United States and its declared foe Iran — sending crude oil prices up more than six percent — Trump moved swiftly to dial back tensions.
“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”
The president’s mixed message left the world unsure what Washington’s next move would be.
“You will find out,” Trump said, when asked about possible retaliation.
In Tehran, however, the message came loud and clear.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced late Thursday that parts of the drone had been recovered in Iranian territorial waters, as Tehran moved to bring the incident before the United Nations.
“We don’t seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters,” Zarif said.
– Drone violating or victim? –
The Pentagon denounced the “unprovoked attack,” claiming the navy drone was 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Iran when destroyed by a surface-to-air missile.
But the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it brought the drone down as it was “violating Iranian air space” over the waters of Hormozgan province.
Zarif provided coordinates to back the claim.
“At 00:14 US drone took off from UAE in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace,” Zarif tweeted. “It was targeted at 04:05 at the coordinates (25?59’43″N 57?02’25″E) near Kouh-e Mobarak.”
“We’ve retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down.”
But the Pentagon published a map showing the flight path of the drone, which indicated it traveled outside of Iranian waters and included a photograph showing it was at the coordinates (25?57’42″N 56?50’22″E) when it was downed.
In a letter to the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Iran protested against a “dangerous and provocative act by the U.S. military forces against the territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The drone downing came as Iran was already accused by Washington of carrying out attacks on oil tankers in the congested Hormuz area.
Tehran denies involvement but has frequently threatened to block the sea lanes used to ship much of the world’s oil exports.
The commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command, Sean Kido, said a mine allegedly used in one of the attacks matched Iranian weaponry and that incriminating fingerprints had also been collected.
– Options ‘running out?’ –
Trump has repeatedly said he does not favor war with Iran unless it is to stop the country getting a nuclear weapon — something Iranian leaders insist they are not pursuing.
But Trump critics say his policy of “maximum pressure” — including crippling economic sanctions, abandonment of an international deal to regulate Iran’s nuclear activities, and deployment of extra troops to the region — make war ever more likely.
A key Republican ally of Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham, said the president’s “options are running out.”
Asked if he believed the countries were nearing conflict, he replied: “I think anybody would believe that we’re one step closer.”
“They shot down an American asset well within international waters trying to assess the situation. What are you supposed to do?”
One of Trump’s biggest opponents, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, warned that “there’s no appetite for wanting to go to war in our country.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu blasted “Iranian aggression” and said “Israel stands by the United States.”
But Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has close relations with Iran’s leadership, said US military retaliation “would be a disaster for the region.”
– Diplomatic, military brinkmanship –
Trump’s arrival in the White House, alongside veteran Mideast hawks like national security adviser John Bolton, has seen sharp deterioration in relations with Tehran.
Trump began last May by abandoning — and effectively wrecking — the 2015 international agreement on bringing Iran in from the diplomatic cold in exchange for verified controls on its nuclear industry.
That has prompted Iran to threaten it will stop observing restrictions agreed to under the deal on enrichment of uranium.
The threat has been seen as an effort to pressure European governments that want to save the nuclear deal to push back against Washington. The US State Department called that “extortion.”
Source: Space War.
by Allen Cone
Jun 11, 2019
Iran formally delivered a new new surface-to-air missile system, called Khordad 15th, to the Air Defense Force of its army in a ceremony in Tehran.
Built in Iran, the system — named after the third month of the Iranian calendar — is capable of detecting six targets within a range of 93 miles at a maximum height of 17 miles and hit them in a range of 75 miles, Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami said Sunday in a report by the semi-official Mehr News Agency.
Stealth jets can be targeted at 53 miles and hit within 28 miles, Mehr reported. Other targets include reconnaissance aircraft, bombers and tactical warplanes.
“It can also be prepared for operation in less than five minute,” Hatami said.
The system uses the homegrown Sayyad-3 missile, and is equipped with a phased array radar and independent launch pads.
“Iran will increase its military capabilities to protect its national security and interests, and it will not ask permission from anyone on this matter,” Hatami said at the unveiling.
In February, the country successfully tested the Hoveizeh long-range cruise missile at a range of around 800 miles, including the capability of reaching Israel.
Later in the month, a midget Ghadir-class submarine fired an anti-ship cruise missile for the first time.
Before Sunday’s ceremony, Iran’s foreign minister urged European countries to uphold commitments under the 2015 nuclear accord.
Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized European and Western policies as having “only caused damage in the region.” He said “Europeans are not in a position to criticize Iran for issues outside the JCPOA,” referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
“Now some countries like Germany have stopped selling arms to Saudi Arabia for bombarding the people of Yemen, some other countries haven’t done so,” he added. “In general, the West has allowed the autocratic regimes in our region to commit crimes.”
In early May, Europe and China were given a 60-day deadline for Iran to resume enriching uranium to a higher degree than permitted by the accord if they challenge the U.S. position. Last, year, U.S. President Donald Trump ended the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions.
The United States also last month deployed the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf last month, as well as B-52 bombers and an additional 1,500 troops, to counter imminent concerns about Iranian action.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told a Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee last month there was a “very, very credible” intelligence that Iran was preparing to attack U.S. forces or interests in the region.
Source: Space War.
April 5, 2019
The United States will designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, an unprecedented move that would ramp up pressure on the elite force, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The newspaper, quoting unnamed officials, said President Donald Trump’s administration would announce the long-mulled decision as soon as Monday and that concerned defense officials were bracing for the impact.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp was formed after the 1979 Islamic revolution with a mission to defend the clerical regime, in contrast to more traditional military units that protect borders.
The Revolutionary Guards have amassed strong power within Iran, including with significant economic interests.
The Guards’ prized unit is the Quds Force, named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem, which supports forces allied with Iran around the region including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The Trump administration has already imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran after withdrawing last year from an international agreement under which Tehran drastically scaled back its nuclear program.
A foreign terrorist designation would make any activities of the group toxic for the United States, with any transactions involving US institutions or individuals subject to punishment.
The Wall Street Journal said that the Pentagon and the CIA had reservations about the move, saying it would increase risks for US troops without doing much more to damage the Iranian economy…
Source: Space War.
May 24, 2019
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister lashed out at President Donald Trump on Friday during a critically timed visit to Pakistan amid a simmering crisis between Tehran and Washington and ahead of next week’s emergency Arab League meeting called by Saudi Arabia over the region’s tensions.
The remarks by Mohammad Javad Zarif were the latest in a war of words between him and Trump. The Iranian diplomat on Friday assailed the American president for his tweet earlier this week warning Iran not to threaten the U.S. again or it would face its “official end.”
“Iran will see the end of Trump, but he will never see the end of Iran,” Zarif was quoted by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency as saying during a visit to Islamabad. Tensions have ratcheted up recently in the Mideast as 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. And on Thursday, the Pentagon outlined proposals to the White House to send military reinforcements to the Middle East to beef up defenses against Iran.
The purpose of Zarif’s visit to Pakistan, where he held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi and also Prime Minister Imran Khan, was not made public. But there has been speculation that Iran is looking to Islamabad and its close relationship with Riyadh to help de-escalate the situation. Ahead of Zarif’s arrival, Pakistan’s foreign ministry called on “all sides to show restraint, as any miscalculated move, can transmute into a large-scale conflict.”
Zarif has been criticized this week by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who named him and President Hassan Rouhani as failing to implement the leader’s orders over Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Khamenei had claimed the deal had “numerous ambiguities and structural weaknesses” that could damage Iran.
Separately, the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Zarif in Islamabad as warning of anarchy if world powers don’t unite to stop what he called U.S. aggression — Iran’s official parlance for Washington’s pressure on Tehran.
The crisis takes root in the steady unraveling of the nuclear deal, intended to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The accord promised economic incentives in exchange for restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activities.
The Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year, and subsequently re-imposed and escalated U.S. sanctions on Tehran — sending Iran’s economy into freefall. Khamenei’s criticism of Zarif signaled a hard-line tilt in how the Islamic Republic will react going forward amid President Donald Trump’s maximalist pressure campaign.
Iran declared earlier this month that the remaining signatories to the deal — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — have two months to develop a plan to shield Iran from American sanctions. On Monday, Iran announced it had quadrupled its production capacity of low-enriched uranium, making it likely that Tehran will soon exceed the stockpile limitations set by the nuclear accord, which would escalate the situation further.
Several incidents have added to the crisis. On Thursday, Saudi Arabia said Yemen’s Iran-aligned rebels again targeted an airport near its southern border with a bomb-carrying drone. The Saudi military said it intercepted the drone, while the rebel Houthis said it struck a Patriot missile battery at the airport. The Houthis have claimed three times in recent days to have targeted the airport, which also hosts a military base. It comes after the Houthis last week targeted a Saudi oil pipeline in a coordinated drone attack.
Pakistan was quick to condemn the attacks and promised Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally, its full support. The kingdom this week announced a $3.2 billion deferred oil and gas payment package for energy-strapped Islamabad.
With neighboring Iran, Pakistan walks a fine line and their relationship is sometimes prickly. Islamabad has little leverage with Washington, although relations between the two have improved since Pakistan expressed readiness to help move talks between the Afghan Taliban and Washington forward.
IRNA also reported that Zarif came to Pakistan with a proposal to link Iran’s port of Chabahar on the Arabian Sea with Pakistan’s Gwadar port, mostly being developed by China as part of the multi-billion-dollar One Road project that will connect the Arabian Sea with China.
The proposal is unexpected because Pakistan’s rival India has been Iran’s partner in developing Chabahar while Iran’s key regional rival, Saudi Arabia, has been in talks to develop an oil refinery facility at Pakistan’s Gwadar, though no agreements have been signed.
Meanwhile, Oman’s Foreign Ministry said it was working to “ease the tensions” between Iran and the U.S. The ministry in a series of tweets on Friday morning attributed the comments to Yusuf bin Alawi, the sultanate’s minister of state for foreign affairs, and cited an interview in Asharq Al-Wasat, the London-based newspaper owned by a Saudi media group long associated with the Al Saud royal family.
In the interview, bin Alawi warns war “could harm the entire world if it breaks out.” He doesn’t confirm any current Omani mediation but says both the U.S. and Iran realize the gravity of the situation.
Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said spoke last week by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Oman, a nation on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, has long been an interlocutor of the West with Iran. The U.S. held secret talks in Oman with the Iranians that gave birth to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Vahdat reported from Tehran, Iran. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.
May 08, 2019
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran threatened Wednesday to resume higher enrichment of uranium in 60 days if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its 2015 nuclear deal a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord, raising tensions as a U.S. aircraft carrier and a bomber wing deploy to confront unspecified threats from Tehran.
In a televised address, President Hassan Rouhani also said that Iran would stop exporting excess uranium and heavy water from its nuclear program, two requirements of the deal. He did not elaborate on the degree to which Iran was prepared to enrich uranium, which at high levels of enrichment can be used in nuclear weapons.
Rouhani said Iran wanted to negotiate new terms with remaining partners in the deal, but acknowledged that the situation was dire. “We felt that the nuclear deal needs a surgery and the painkiller pills of the last year have been ineffective,” Rouhani said. “This surgery is for saving the deal, not destroying it.”
Iran notified Britain, Russia, China, the European Union, France and Germany of its decision earlier Wednesday. All were signatories to the nuclear deal and continue to support it. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was to meet Wednesday in Moscow with his Russian counterpart.
“If the five countries join negotiations and help Iran to reach its benefits in the field of oil and banking, Iran will return to its commitments according to the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said. However, Rouhani warned of a “strong reaction” if European leaders instead sought to impose more sanctions on Iran via the U.N. Security Council. He did not elaborate.
Rouhani also said Wednesday that if the 60 days pass without action, Iran will halt a Chinese-led effort to redesign its Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. Such reactors produce plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Zarif separately issued his own warning from Moscow. “After a year of patience, Iran stops measures that (the) US has made impossible to continue,” he tweeted. World powers have “a narrowing window to reverse this.”
Reaction came swiftly from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch critic of Iran and the nuclear deal. “I heard that Iran intends to continue its nuclear program. We will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to fight those who seek to take our lives, and we will thrust our roots even deeper into the soil of our homeland.”
There was no immediate response from the U.S. However, the White House said Sunday it would dispatch the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf over what it described as a new threat from Iran.
Apparently responding to that, the general staff of Iran’s armed forces issued a statement Wednesday applauding Rouhani’s decision and warning its enemies. “Any possible movement by them will face a regrettable response by the Iranian nation and its armed forces,” the statement said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
The 2015 deal lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. Iran reached the deal after years of negotiations, including secret talks between Iran and President Barack Obama’s administration in Oman. Western governments had long feared Iran’s atomic program could allow it to build nuclear weapons. Iran has always maintained its program is for peaceful purposes.
The U.S. withdrew from the deal after Trump campaigned on a pledge to tear up the document. His administration contends the deal should have included limits to Iran’s ballistic missile program and what it describes as Tehran’s malign regional influence.
However, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, repeatedly has verified Iran stuck to terms of the deal. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. After the U.S. withdrew from the accord it restored crippling sanctions on Iran, exacerbating a severe economic crisis. The Iranian rial, which traded at 32,000 to $1 at the time of the accord, traded Wednesday at 153,500.
That Iran chose to keep its excess uranium and heavy water first, rather than abandon the accord in its entirety, indicates it still hopes to secure a deal. In years of negotiations over its nuclear program, Iran had similarly gone step-by-step in ramping up its activities while holding talks. The latest move also protects Rouhani, a relative moderate within Iran’s Shiite theocracy, from criticism from hard-liners who have long maintained that Iran gave up too much in the nuclear deal.
Under the 2015 deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium and 130 tons of heavy water, a coolant used in nuclear reactors. That’s compared to the 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) of higher-enriched uranium it once had.
The U.S. last week ended deals allowing Iran to exchange its enriched uranium for unrefined yellowcake uranium with Russia, and to sell its heavy water, which is used as a coolant in nuclear reactors, to Oman. The U.S. also has ended waivers for nations buying Iranian crude oil, a key source of revenue for Iran’s government.
Currently, the accord limits Iran to enriching uranium to 3.67%, which can fuel a commercial nuclear power plant. Weapons-grade uranium needs to be enriched to around 90%. However, once a country enriches uranium to around 20%, scientists say the time needed to reach 90% is halved. Iran has previously enriched to 20%.
“Whenever our demands are met, we will resume the same amount of suspended commitments, but otherwise, the Islamic Republic of Iran will suspend the implementation of other obligations step by step,” a statement from Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said Wednesday.
It added: “The window that is now open to diplomacy will not remain open for a long time.”
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed.
February 27, 2019
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president rejected the resignation of his foreign minister on Wednesday, throwing his full support behind the diplomat who negotiated the country’s nuclear deal with world powers as both men face growing pressure from hard-liners as the accord unravels under American pressure.
President Hassan Rouhani earlier gave a speech praising Mohammad Javad Zarif after the foreign minister’s sudden resignation shocked the Islamic Republic late on Monday night. His rejection of the resignation, reported by the state-run IRNA news agency, continued that praise.
“Since I consider you in the front line of resistance against broad pressures by the U.S., I consider acceptance of your resignation against the expedience of the country and I do not agree with it,” Rouhani reportedly told Zarif.
It’s unclear what will happen next. Zarif could stop going to work at the Foreign Ministry, forcing Rouhani’s hand. But there’s no precedent for that in the history of the Islamic Republic. Zarif more than likely will return to work. There was no immediate response from the 59-year-old diplomat.
It remains unclear what sparked Zarif’s resignation. However, it came after Zarif was not present for a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday. Assad was warmly received by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard.
The Guard’s website later quoted Soleimani as offering his support to the foreign minister. “Definitely, Zarif is in charge of foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and he has been always supported by top officials including the supreme leader,” Soleimani reportedly said.
Analysts say Rouhani faces growing political pressure from hard-liners within the government as the nuclear deal unravels. Iranian presidents typically see their popularity erode during their second four-year term, but analysts say Rouhani is particularly vulnerable because of the economic crisis assailing the rial, which has hurt ordinary Iranians and emboldened critics to openly call for his ouster.
The son of a wealthy family, Zarif overcame hard-line objections and Western suspicions to strike the accord with world powers that saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
But the deal was later challenged by the administration of President Donald Trump, which pulled America out of the accord. In doing so, Trump also fueled Iranian suspicions about U.S. intentions dating back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Zarif had faced withering criticism at home after he shook hands with President Barack Obama.
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, long a critic of Iran, welcomed his departure. “Zarif is gone, good riddance. As long as I am here Iran will not get nuclear weapons,” he wrote in Hebrew on Twitter. Iran has always said its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and U.N. inspectors say it is still complying with the 2015 nuclear accord.
Rouhani cited that Israeli response in his support of Zarif. “The happiness and rejoicing of the real enemies of the people such as the Zionist regime over your resignation is the best indication of success of Mohammad Javad Zarif and the biggest reason for continuation of your activity in the post of foreign minister,” Rouhani said.
February 17, 2019
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s state TV is reporting that the country’s President Hassan Rouhani has unveiled the first Iranian made semi-heavy submarine. The Sunday report said the Fateh, “Conqueror” in Persian, is capable of being fitted with cruise missiles.
Since 1992, Iran has developed a homegrown defense industry that produces light and heavy weapons ranging from mortars and torpedoes to tanks and submarines. The Fateh has subsurface-to-surface missiles with a range of about 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases in the region.