Archive for June 18, 2019

PM: Israel-Russia-U.S. meeting in Jerusalem crucial for regional security 

June 18, 2019

Source: PM: Israel-Russia-U.S. meeting in Jerusalem crucial for regional security – Israel News – Jerusalem Post

Netanyahu first proposed the idea at the Kremlin in February, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that dealt primarily with Iran’s presence in Syria.

BY HERB KEINON
 JUNE 18, 2019 19:21
PM: Israel-Russia-U.S. meeting in Jerusalem crucial for regional security

Netanyahu, speaking at a memorial ceremony for the victims of the Altalena, said that this tripartite meeting testifies strongly to Israel’s standing today among the nations.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, are scheduled to arrive early next week for talks – alongside with their Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat – expected to focus on Iran’s presence in Syria.
A White House statement earlier this month about the unprecedented trilateral meeting said that the three men will “discuss regional security issues.”
The meeting is scheduled to take place from June 24 – 26.
Netanyahu first proposed the idea at the Kremlin in February, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that dealt primarily with Iran’s presence in Syria.
At the Altalena memorial ceremony, Netanyahu also that both openly and in secret Israel is in contact with many leaders around the Arab world, and that “there are extensive ties” between Israel and most of the Arab states.
Sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed when David Ben-Gurion gave the order to fire on the Altalena Irgun arms ship in June 1948 in what has since widely been viewed as a watershed moment in placing all the country’s weaponry under one authority.

 

🔴 President Trump Holds MASSIVE Rally in Orlando, FL: 2020 Campaign Launch 6/18/19 – YouTube

June 18, 2019

 

 

 

Off Topic:  Why is Trump More Popular in Israel than in the US? 

June 18, 2019

 

 

Off Topic:  JON STEWART Goes OFF On Congress for Ignoring 9/11 First Responders

June 18, 2019

 

 

After enrichment threat, US accuses Iran of ‘nuclear extortion’ 

June 18, 2019

Source: After enrichment threat, US accuses Iran of ‘nuclear extortion’ | The Times of Israel

State Department says Tehran must abide by limits set in nuclear deal, despite Trump administration pulling out of accord and deriding it as flawed

Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of capital Tehran, Iran, April, 9, 2007. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/ AP/File)

Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of capital Tehran, Iran, April, 9, 2007. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/ AP/File)

The United States warned Monday that the world must not give in to Iranian “extortion,” after Tehran said it would surpass the uranium stockpile limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Washington.

“We should not yield to nuclear extortion,” said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, adding that the US was “unfortunately not surprised” by Iran’s announcement.

“We continue to call on the Iranian regime to abide by their commitments to the international community,” she said.

Iran had said that, as of June 27, it would have more than the 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of enriched uranium that it was allowed under the deal struck with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States.

US President Donald Trump last year abandoned the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), under which Iran pledged to reduce its nuclear capacities for several years and allow in inspectors in exchange for sanctions relief.

Washington then unilaterally reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran.

Ortagus’s comments highlighted the awkward position the US has staked out in demanding that Iran keep to a deal it has itself pulled out of and derided.

Trump himself appeared to say the JCPOA should not be violated in a tweet that said “Iran to defy Uranium Stockpile Limits.”

Iranian technicians walk outside the building housing the reactor of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, in the Iranian port town of Bushehr, 1,200 kilometers south of Tehran, February 25, 2009. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP Files/AFP/File)

Asked whether the US was asking Iran to respect the agreement, even though Washington had withdrawn, Ortagus said the administration “will not tolerate Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, full stop.”

“It’s unfortunate that they’ve made this announcement today, but I said earlier it doesn’t surprise anybody. I think this is why the president has often said that the JCPOA needs to be replaced with a new and better deal.”

“So any action that they take to get a nuclear weapon will be countered by a maximum pressure campaign by the US government,” she added.

Administration officials found themselves grappling on Monday with whether to urge the remaining parties to the deal, including Britain, France and Germany, to demand that Iran stay in compliance. They must also consider if such a stance would essentially concede that the restrictions imposed during the Obama administration, while short of ideal, are better than none.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a ceremony in memory of Israeli presidents and prime ministers who passed away at the president residence in Jerusalem on June 17, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also appeared to back the deal, despite being one of its most vociferous critics. He urged the international community to reimpose strict sanctions, should Iran break the deal and begin stockpiling uranium beyond allowed amounts.

Supporters of the deal have blamed the administration for Iran’s provocative announcements, saying they were entirely predictable given the renewed US pressure.

“While Iran’s frustration with Trump’s reckless and irresponsible pressure campaign is understandable, we strongly urge Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal,” the Arms Control Association said in a statement. “It remains in Iran’s interests to abide by the limits of the agreement and to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s more intrusive monitoring and verification.”

Iran has shown no willingness to negotiate another deal and vowed not to enter into talks while the United States administration maintains its “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions.

Iranian demonstrators burn a makeshift US flag during a rally in the capital Tehran, on May 10 2019. (Stringer/ AFP)

A senior US official said the administration is most concerned about any violation of the deal that would reduce the breakout time that Iran would need to produce a nuclear weapon. The deal aimed to keep the breakout time at one year.

The official said certain violations, while they should be not accepted, would not necessarily reduce that time. But other violations, including enriching uranium to 20 percent should be addressed immediately if they occur, the official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said it would be up to the Europeans to decide if Iran was in violation of the deal, and whether to initiate a dispute resolution mechanism that could bring the Iranians back into compliance.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to meet this week with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, a leading deal proponent, at which this issue is likely to be raised.

Pompeo, who was a leading critic of the deal while he was in Congress, has said in the past that Iranian compliance is not really an issue as the administration sees the agreement as fundamentally flawed because, over time, it eases many limits on Iran’s nuclear activities.

Yet, just last week, the US ambassador to the UN’s nuclear watchdog accused Iran of violating a provision of the deal that relates to advanced centrifuges and called on the Europeans to ensure that Iran remains in compliance.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday on called on Iran and the remaining signatories to continue to abide by the terms of the 2015 deal.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a meeting in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 30, 2019, to discuss the situation in Libya. (Fethi Belaid/AFP)

Guterres “encourages Iran to continue to implement its nuclear-related commitments and calls on all participants to abide fully by their respective commitments,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The UN chief also urged “other member states to support the plan’s implementation.”

“The secretary-general urges all parties to refrain from any steps that may lead to further escalation of tensions in the region,” the spokesman added.

Guterres said the agreement “represents a major achievement in nuclear non-proliferation and diplomacy” and has “contributed to regional and international peace and security,” the spokesman said.

 

US releases new photos to bolster claim Iran attacked tankers

June 18, 2019

Source: US releases new photos to bolster claim Iran attacked tankers | The Times of Israel

Release of pictures comes as US works to convince members of Congress and allies that the accusations against Tehran are true

This image released by the US Department of Defense on Monday, June 17, 2019, and taken from a US Navy helicopter, shows what the Navy says are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy removing an unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous. (US Department of Defense via AP)

This image released by the US Department of Defense on Monday, June 17, 2019, and taken from a US Navy helicopter, shows what the Navy says are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy removing an unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous. (US Department of Defense via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an effort to bolster its public case against Iran, the Pentagon on Monday released new photos that officials said show that members of Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard were responsible for attacks last week on two oil tankers near the Persian Gulf.

The images, many taken from a Navy helicopter, show what the Pentagon said were Iranian forces removing an unexploded mine from the side of the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman.

Officials last week said the move appeared to be an attempt to remove forensic evidence from the scene of the attack. But it’s not clear if examination of the mine would have made it definitively clear that the device was planted by the IRGC.

Other photos show a large hole on the side of the Courageous, above the water line, that officials say appears to have been caused by another similar mine.

This image released by the U.S. Department of Defense on Monday, June 17, 2019, is a view of hull penetration/blast damage on the starboard side of the motor vessel M/T Kokuka Courageous, which the Navy says was sustained from a limpet mine attack while operating in the Gulf of Oman, on June 13th. (U.S. Department of Defense via AP)

The release of the photos came as the US works this week to convince members of Congress and allies that the accusations against Tehran are true. Iran has denied involvement in the tanker attacks and has accused America of promoting an “Iranophobic” campaign. Tehran, however, has repeatedly threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s oil flows.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he made a number of calls Sunday and Monday to international leaders, trying to convince them that keeping the Strait of Hormuz safe and open is a problem they all must deal with.

Relations between the US and Iran have deteriorated in recent months, as the Trump administration restored crippling sanctions and designated the Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization.

That increased pressure preceded a string of attacks that the US has blamed on Iran. In late May, four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were attacked with what appeared to be mines, and there was a rocket attack in Baghdad. Last week, similar attacks were launched against the Courageous and the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair in the Gulf of Oman.

This image released by the U.S. Department of Defense on Monday, June 17, 2019, and taken from a U.S. Navy helicopter, shows what the Navy says are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy removing an unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous. (U.S. Department of Defense via AP)

The US military has also accused Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops of trying but failing to shoot down a US drone to disrupt surveillance of the tankers during the attacks.

 

US deploying 1,000 more troops to Middle East as Iran tensions soar

June 18, 2019

Source: US deploying 1,000 more troops to Middle East as Iran tensions soar | The Times of Israel

Shanahan says additional soldiers are for ‘defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats,’ US not looking for conflict with Tehran

Illustrative -- US soldiers take part in the 'Decisive Strike' military exercise in their camp at the Training Support Center (TSC) Krivolak, near Skopje, on June 17, 2019 (Robert ATANASOVSKI / AFP)

Illustrative — US soldiers take part in the ‘Decisive Strike’ military exercise in their camp at the Training Support Center (TSC) Krivolak, near Skopje, on June 17, 2019 (Robert ATANASOVSKI / AFP)

WASHINGTON — The United States said Monday it has approved the deployment of 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East, against the backdrop of soaring tensions with Iran.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a statement the troops were being sent “for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East.”

“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” the statement said, adding that the deployment aimed “to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests.”

Officials said the deployment includes security forces and troops for additional surveillance and intelligence gathering in the region.

The troops are part of a broader military package of options that were initially laid out to US leaders late last month, totaling as much as 10,000 forces, Patriot missile batteries, aircraft and ships.

In this Saturday, June 1, 2019 photo, Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress, assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and part of the Bomber Task Force deployed to the region, conduct joint exercises in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in Arabian sea. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur/U.S. Navy via AP)

The statement came hours after Iran announced that it will surpass the uranium-stockpile limit set by its nuclear deal in the next 10 days, raising pressure on Europeans trying to save the accord a year after the US withdrawal lit the fuse for the heightened tensions now between Tehran and Washington.

The announcement by Iran’s nuclear agency marked yet another deadline set by Tehran. President Hassan Rouhani already has warned Europe that a new deal needs to be in place by July 7 or the Islamic Republic would increase its enrichment of uranium.

Atomic energy spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi suggested that Iran’s enrichment could reach up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels.

It appears as if Iran has begun its own maximum pressure campaign on the world after facing one from US President Donald Trump’s administration that deeply cut into its sale of crude oil abroad and sent its economy into freefall. Europe has so far been unable to offer Iran a way around the US sanctions.

The development follows apparent attacks last week in the Strait of Hormuz on oil tankers, assaults that Washington has blamed on Iran. While Iran has denied being involved, it laid mines in the 1980s targeting oil tankers around the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of the world’s crude oil passes.

“If this condition continues, there will be no deal” anymore, Kamalvandi said. He accused the Europeans of “killing time” as the clock runs down.

Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi answers the press in the capital Tehran on July 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

Rouhani, greeting France’s new ambassador to Tehran on Monday, similarly warned that time was running out on the deal.

“The current situation is very critical and France and the other parties to the (deal) still have a very limited opportunity to play their historic role for saving the deal,” Rouhani said, according to his website.

The Iranian announcement appeared timed to strike just as European foreign ministers met in Luxembourg. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top diplomat, declined to specifically address the Iranian announcement.

“At the moment, as of today, Iran is still technically compliant and we strongly hope, encourage and expect that Iran continues to comply,” Mogherini told journalists. She insisted she would await the next report on the issue from the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Under terms of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium. Kamalvandi said that given Iran’s recent decision to quadruple its production of low-enriched uranium, it would pass the 300-kilogram limit on Thursday, June 27.

The Vienna-based IAEA said last month that Iran remained within its stockpile limits and declined to comment on Iran’s announcement. Kamalvandi said Iran would continue to allow the UN to inspect its nuclear facilities for the time being.

IAEA inspectors at Iran’s nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane)

He also raised the specter of increasing its enrichment levels, saying Iran needs 5% enriched uranium for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and 20% enriched fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

The nuclear deal limits Iran to enriching uranium only to 3.67%, enough for power plants and other peaceful purposes.

But after America pulled out of the nuclear accord and escalated sanctions, Rouhani set a July 7 deadline for Europe to come up with better terms for the deal or Tehran would boost enrichment further. So far, a European mechanism called INSTEX to protect trade with Iran has yet to take off.

The danger, nuclear nonproliferation experts warn, is that at 20% enrichment, only a fraction of atoms need to be removed to enrich up to weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the 2015 deal grew out of Western concerns about the program.

Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since Trump took office, the US has steadily stripped away at the accord, and he pulled America out of the deal in May 2018.

However, Iran’s announcement that it was on the verge of surpassing the uranium-stockpile limit set by the nuclear agreement put the US is the awkward position of having to push Iran to abide by the deal Trump has disparaged.

“It’s unfortunate that they have made this announcement today,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said. “It doesn’t surprise anybody and this is why the president has often said that the JCPOA needs to be replaced with a better deal.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the international community should reinstate sanctions if Iran follows through on its threats, adding: “In any case, Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.”

Tensions have risen in the region since last month. The US rushed an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the Middle East in response to what it said were threats from Iran.

Meanwhile, a series of mysterious attacks have targeted oil tankers, and the US blames Iranian-laid limpet mines. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen also have launched a series of drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon on Monday released new photos intended to bolster its case that Iran was responsible for the attacks.

This image released by the US Department of Defense on Monday, June 17, 2019, and taken from a US Navy helicopter, shows what the Navy says are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy removing an unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous. (US Department of Defense via AP)

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which the U.S. suspects in the attacks, answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and operates outside of the traditional military’s control.

Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chief of the general staff of Iran’s armed forces, denied Tehran was involved in the tanker attacks, saying Monday the country only would respond in “an open, strong and severe way” if needed.

But he also reiterated Iran’s traditional stance on the Strait of Hormuz.

“If we decide to block the Strait of Hormuz, we will to do it in a way that even a drop of oil won’t pass the strait,” Bagheri added.

Kamalvandi spoke to Iranian journalists at the country’s Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. Such reactors produce plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons. Iran, under the nuclear deal, had reconfigured the facility to address Western concerns on that issue.

However, Kamalvandi said the country could rebuild the facility to make it produce plutonium. He made a point to give an interview to Iranian state television, standing next to the open pit where the reactor would be in the facility.

As the camera panned down to what would be the reactor’s core, Kamalvandi stressed that piping could be replaced and the reactor could be built to make plutonium. Hard-liners opposed to the nuclear deal had constantly accused the agency of filling the entire pit with concrete.

“They had previously photoshopped a picture of this place having been filled up with concrete,” Kamalvandi said.

He added: “The message that we tried to get across to Europeans today was that not much time is left for them.”