Archive for May, 2019

US to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group: WSJ

Washington (AFP)

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.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_to_declare_Irans_Revolutionary_Guards_as_terrorist_group_WSJ_999.html.

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Iran’s foreign minister in Pakistan amid tensions with US

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.

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Iran threatens more enrichment if no new nuclear deal

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.

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