Archive for May 11, 2019

Why is pressure mounting between the U.S. and Iran?

May 11, 2019

Source: Why is pressure mounting between the U.S. and Iran?- analysis – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

The Trump administration sees Iran’s behavior as another instance of why it pulled the U.S. out of the deal in the first place: the Iranian regime is not trustworthy.

BY RON KAMPEAS/JTA
 MAY 11, 2019 00:53
US President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Iran announced this week that it is changing a key term of the Iran nuclear deal — and plans to make an even more dramatic change in 60 days if partners don’t ease conditions.

The partners — Europe chief among them — complained, loudly. But so did an ex-partner: the United States.

The Trump administration immediately retaliated, expanding sanctions on Iran after Tehran said it would fiddle with a deal that the Trump administration thinks should be null and void.

“Hey, this is binary. You’re either in compliance or you’re not,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Baghdad on Tuesday, a day before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced the change, and at the same time that the Trump administration was celebrating the one-year anniversary of pulling out of the deal. (Reports of Rouhani’s planned announcement had already emerged.)

Pompeo’s statements sound a little confusing to observers who have followed the Trump administration’s stance on the deal. Trump has called the agreement the “worst” deal ever.

So what’s going on?

The answer is that the Trump administration sees Iran’s behavior as another instance of why it pulled the U.S. out of the deal in the first place: the Iranian regime is not trustworthy.

“Cheating just a little bit is still cheating. And in the context of Iran’s nuclear commitments, it will not be tolerated,” Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, said Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If the clerics in Tehran choose, as the Iranian people are demanding, to play by the rules, respect the sovereignty of their neighbors, and abide by international obligations and commitments, the United States will be ready and willing to engage.”

What Iran is planning: Under the 2015 deal, Iran was permitted to enrich uranium for peaceful medical research purposes but was required to sell its surplus. Iran is now immediately keeping its surplus low-enriched uranium, which it had sold overseas. Low enriched uranium may be repurposed to make nuclear weapons. In 60 days, unless its partners take steps to ease its economic isolation, Iran has threatened to remove caps on uranium enrichment levels and resume work on its Arak plutonium nuclear facility.

How the Trump administration reacted: It added new sanctions on Iran’s metals sector, on top of sanctions already on Iran’s financial and energy sectors.

How partners to the deal reacted: The European Union and three signatories to the deal, Britain, France and Germany, demanded Iran to stick to the deal and urged the United States to butt out.

“We regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the United States following their withdrawal from the JCPOA,” a joint statement said, using the acronym for the deal’s name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We call on countries not party to the JCPOA to refrain from taking any actions that impede the remaining parties’ ability to fully perform their commitments.”

Russia and China, the other parties to the deal, are equally as committed to making it work.

What the Trump administration wants: They want the deal to collapse and for Iran to acquiesce to its demands that it end all nuclear activity; that Iran stop producing ballistic missiles; that it stop interfering in the region and elsewhere (the United States sees Iran’s malign hand in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, and as far afield as Venezuela); and that it improve human rights for its citizens.

Is the pressure working? The Trump administration thinks so.

“For the first time in a very long time, we are raising the costs of Iran’s expansionism and making clear that this kind of blackmail will no longer work,” Hook said. “We are making it unsustainable for Iran to support terrorist proxies and militias that for decades have defied the basic standards of behavior observed by normal countries.”

He listed, among other consequences, the effective expulsion of Iran from the SWIFT international financial messaging system and the admission by Hezbollah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon, that it is starved for cash.

The other partners to the deal are committed to resisting the pressure, and the Europeans are pressing ahead with plans to set up a complex barter system, INSTEX, that would work around the U.S. sanctions.

What happens next? Someone blinks. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, last week announced the deployment of extra forces to the region to counter what the United States says is Iran’s heightened menace. He cited, but did not define, “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.

Trump, reportedly wary of Bolton’s overseas interventionism, might want to replicate his direct overtures to North Korea by talking directly with Iran. (No predecessor ever did: The Obama administration stuck to multilateral talks.)

“What I’d like to see with Iran, I’d like Iran to call me,” he said Thursday at a White House briefing with reporters on planned reforms to medical billing.

 

American B-52 bombers land in Qatar over unspecified Iran threat 

May 11, 2019

Source: American B-52 bombers land in Qatar over unspecified Iran threat | The Times of Israel

US has said it is sending the planes to counter Tehran, though no details have been provided

In this Thursday, May 9, 2019 photograph released by the US Air Force, a B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron is parked on the ramp at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar (Senior Airman Keifer Bowes, US Air Force via AP)

In this Thursday, May 9, 2019 photograph released by the US Air Force, a B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron is parked on the ramp at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar (Senior Airman Keifer Bowes, US Air Force via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The B-52 bombers ordered by the White House to deploy to the Persian Gulf to counter unspecified threats from Iran are beginning to arrive at a major American air base in Qatar.

Images released by the US Air Force show B-52H Stratofortress bombers arriving at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Thursday. Others landed at an undisclosed location Wednesday.

The Air Force identified the aircraft as coming from the 20th Bomb Squadron of Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

On Sunday, the White House announced it would send the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and the bombers to counter Tehran.

In this Thursday, May 9, 2019 photograph released by the US Air Force, a B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron is seen through night vision coming in for a landing at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar (Staff Sgt. Ashley Gardner, US Air Force via AP)

On Wednesday, Iran announced it would begin backing away from its nuclear deal with world powers, a year after US President Donald Trump pulled America from the accord.

On Thursday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put off a visit to Greenland, citing pressing business in Washington — just two days after he also ditched a trip to Germany to fly to Iraq amid soaring tensions with Iran.

 

Is the Trump administration sending mixed signals on the Iran deal?

May 11, 2019

Source: Is the Trump administration sending mixed signals on the Iran deal? | The Times of Israel

As Iran threatens to completely bolt the nuclear accord, the US imposes more sanctions and bolsters its forces in the region, but then Trump says he’s waiting for Tehran to call

US President Donald Trump speaks in a Roosevelt Room event at the White House, May 9, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)

US President Donald Trump speaks in a Roosevelt Room event at the White House, May 9, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Iran announced this week that it is changing a key term of the Iran nuclear deal — and plans to make an even more dramatic change in 60 days if partners don’t ease conditions.

The partners — Europe chief among them — complained, loudly. But so did an ex-partner: the United States.

The Trump administration immediately retaliated, expanding sanctions on Iran after Tehran said it would fiddle with a deal that the Trump administration thinks should be null and void.

“Hey, this is binary. You’re either in compliance or you’re not,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Baghdad on Tuesday, a day before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced the change, and at the same time that the Trump administration was celebrating the one-year anniversary of pulling out of the deal. (Reports of Rouhani’s planned announcement had already emerged.)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks to board a plane before departing from London Stansted Airport, north of London, on May 9, 2019. (MANDEL NGAN / POOL / AFP)

Pompeo’s statements sound a little confusing to observers who have followed the Trump administration’s stance on the deal. Trump has called the agreement the “worst” deal ever.

So what’s going on?

The answer is that the Trump administration sees Iran’s behavior as another instance of why it pulled the US out of the deal in the first place: The Iranian regime is not trustworthy.

“Cheating just a little bit is still cheating. And in the context of Iran’s nuclear commitments, it will not be tolerated,” Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, said Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If the clerics in Tehran choose, as the Iranian people are demanding, to play by the rules, respect the sovereignty of their neighbors, and abide by international obligations and commitments, the United States will be ready and willing to engage.”

What Iran is planning: Under the 2015 deal, Iran was permitted to enrich uranium for peaceful medical research purposes but was required to sell its surplus. Iran is now immediately keeping its surplus low-enriched uranium, which it had sold overseas. Low enriched uranium may be repurposed to make nuclear weapons. In 60 days, unless its partners take steps to ease its economic isolation, Iran has threatened to remove caps on uranium enrichment levels and resume work on its Arak plutonium nuclear facility.

Iran’s controversial heavy water production facility is seen in this general view at Arak, south of the Iranian capital Tehran, Oct. 27, 2004. (Saeedi/Getty Images via JTA)

How the Trump administration reacted: It added new sanctions on Iran’s metals sector, on top of sanctions already on Iran’s financial and energy sectors.

How partners to the deal reacted: The European Union and three signatories to the deal, Britain, France and Germany, demanded Iran to stick to the deal and urged the United States to butt out.

“We regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the United States following their withdrawal from the JCPOA,” a joint statement said, using the acronym for the deal’s name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We call on countries not party to the JCPOA to refrain from taking any actions that impede the remaining parties’ ability to fully perform their commitments.”

Russia and China, the other parties to the deal, are equally as committed to making it work.

What the Trump administration wants: They want the deal to collapse and for Iran to acquiesce to its demands that it end all nuclear activity; that Iran stop producing ballistic missiles; that it stop interfering in the region and elsewhere (the United States sees Iran’s malign hand in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, and as far afield as Venezuela); and that it improve human rights for its citizens.

Is the pressure working? The Trump administration thinks so.

“For the first time in a very long time, we are raising the costs of Iran’s expansionism and making clear that this kind of blackmail will no longer work,” Hook said. “We are making it unsustainable for Iran to support terrorist proxies and militias that for decades have defied the basic standards of behavior observed by normal countries.”

He listed, among other consequences, the effective expulsion of Iran from the SWIFT international financial messaging system and the admission by Hezbollah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon, that it is starved for cash.

The other partners to the deal are committed to resisting the pressure, and the Europeans are pressing ahead with plans to set up a complex barter system, INSTEX, that would work around the US sanctions.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton unveils the Trump Administration’s Africa Strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, December 13, 2018. (Cliff Owen/AP)

What happens next? Someone blinks. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, last week announced the deployment of extra forces to the region to counter what the United States says is Iran’s heightened menace. He cited, but did not define, “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.

Trump, reportedly wary of Bolton’s overseas interventionism, might want to replicate his direct overtures to North Korea by talking directly with Iran. (No predecessor ever did: The Obama administration stuck to multilateral talks.)

“What I’d like to see with Iran, I’d like Iran to call me,” he said Thursday at a White House briefing with reporters on planned reforms to medical billing.

 

Israeli TV claims Iran weighing attack on Saudi oil production facilities

May 11, 2019

Source: Israeli TV claims Iran weighing attack on Saudi oil production facilities | The Times of Israel

Channel 13 says Tehran has ruled out striking at US bases; quotes Arab sources saying some in IRGC want to hit Israeli targets, others warn of ‘suicidal’ risk of conflict with US

In this 2004 file photo, an industrial plant that strips natural gas from freshly pumped crude oil is seen at Saudi Aramco's Shaybah oil field at Shaybah in Saudi Arabia's Rub al-Khali desert. (AP Photo/Bruce Stanley, File)

In this 2004 file photo, an industrial plant that strips natural gas from freshly pumped crude oil is seen at Saudi Aramco’s Shaybah oil field at Shaybah in Saudi Arabia’s Rub al-Khali desert. (AP Photo/Bruce Stanley, File)

Israel has warned the US that Iran is contemplating targeting Saudi oil production facilities, an Israeli TV report said Friday night, as tensions between Tehran and the Trump Administration soar.

The unsourced Channel 13 report said the Iranians were “considering various aggressive acts” against American or American-allied targets. Tehran had looked at targeting American bases in the Gulf, but that had been deemed too drastic. The main target they were interested in was “Saudi oil production facilities,” the TV report said. Such a strike would also send world oil prices soaring and enable Iran to get more income from its oil sales, the report added.

Channel 13 also quoted unnamed Arab intelligence sources saying there was a debate raging in the Iranian leadership about striking US and US-allied targets, with some in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps pushing for attacks, including against Israeli targets, while others cautioned that it would be “suicidal” to get into serious military conflict with the US.

The Channel 13 report came four days after the same TV channel first reported that the Israeli Mossad had tipped off the White House two weeks ago about an Iranian plan to attack either a US or US-allied target. That earlier report did not specify potential targets for such an ostensible attack.

The Israeli intel was conveyed by an Israeli delegation led by National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, which met with American intelligence officials at the White House late last month, the May 6 TV report said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chair MK Avi Dichter, left, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, right, at an FADC meeting in the Knesset, November 19, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“It is still unclear to us what the Iranians are trying to do and how they are planning to do it, but it is clear to us that the Iranian temperature is on the rise as a result of the growing US pressure campaign against them, and they are considering retaliating against US interests in the Gulf,” an official was quoted as saying.

Channel 13’s military analyst Alon Ben-David said Friday that the Iranians might be “underestimating American determination” to defend US interests. “In Israel, there is an assessment that the prospect of confrontation between the US and Iran is growing — because the US is ready to respond harshly to any attack” including on Saudi Arabia, he said.

Ultimately, he added, the decision on whether to attack US and US-allied targets would rest with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had on Thursday threatened a “swift and decisive” US response to any attack by Iran, in the latest of a series of escalating statements and actions.

“The regime in Tehran should understand that any attacks by them or their proxies of any identity against US interests or citizens will be answered with a swift and decisive US response,” Pompeo said in a statement.

“Our restraint to this point should not be mistaken by Iran for a lack of resolve,” he said.

The Pentagon said Friday that the US would move a Patriot missile battery into the Middle East region to counter threats from Iran.

The department provided no details, but a defense official said the move comes after intelligence showed that the Iranians have loaded military equipment and missiles onto small boats.

Also on Friday, the US Maritime Administration warned that Iran could try to attack American commercial vessels, including oil tankers, Reuters reported.

US officials announced Sunday that they would rush an aircraft carrier strike group and nuclear-capable bombers to the region.

The United States had already announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and nuclear-capable bombers to the region, saying it had information of plans for Iranian-backed attacks.

An American official said the decision to send in more forces was based in part on intelligence indicating that Iran had moved short-range ballistic missiles by boat in waters off its shores.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not clear whether the boats with missiles represented a new military capability that could be used against US forces or were only being moved to shore locations.

The moves have frightened some European allies as well as President Donald Trump’s Democratic rivals, who fear the administration is pushing for war based on overhyped intelligence.

Pompeo, who earlier canceled a trip to Greenland to rush back to Washington, however said: “We do not seek war.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks to board a plane before departing from London Stansted Airport, north of London, on May 9, 2019. (MANDEL NGAN / POOL / AFP)

“But Iran’s 40 years of killing American soldiers, attacking American facilities, and taking American hostages is a constant reminder that we must defend ourselves,” said Pompeo, referencing the 1979 Islamic revolution that transformed Iran from close US ally to sworn foe.

Meanwhile Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the United States Naval Forces Central Command, told Reuters he would bring the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln through the Gulf’s sensitive Strait of Hormuz if need be.

“If I need to bring it inside the strait, I will do so,” Malloy said. “I’m not restricted in any way, I’m not challenged in any way, to operate her anywhere in the Middle East.”

Iran on Wednesday said it would suspend some commitments under a 2015 nuclear accord rejected by Trump, frustrated that renewed US sanctions have prevented the country from enjoying the economic fruits of compliance with the deal.

Earlier Thursday, Trump said he sought talks with Iran.

“What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me,”Trump told reporters at the White House. “We don’t want them to have nuclear weapons — not much to ask.”

US President Donald Trump (C) speaks during event on ending surprise medical billing at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 9, 2019. (Jim WATSON / AFP)

Trump also said Washington was not looking for a conflict with Tehran, but refused to divulge why the carrier had been dispatched.

“We have information that you don’t want to know about,” Trump said, according to Reuters. “They were very threatening and we have to have great security for this country and many other places.”

Asked about the possibility of a military confrontation, he said “I don’t want to say no, but hopefully that won’t happen,”

 

Iran under strict sanctions regime – Jerusalem Studio 421 

May 11, 2019