Archive for July 19, 2019

Iran denies it’s willing to negotiate with US over ballistic missile program 

July 19, 2019

Source: Iran denies it’s willing to negotiate with US over ballistic missile program | The Times of Israel

Tehran’s UN mission says media outlets mischaracterized ‘hypothetical’ remarks by FM Zarif

In this photo released Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, by Sepahnews, the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the Guard's aerospace division, left, explains the Dezful surface-to-surface ballistic missile to the Guard's chief, Mohammad Ali Jafari during an inauguration ceremony, in an undisclosed location, Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)

In this photo released Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, by Sepahnews, the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the Guard’s aerospace division, left, explains the Dezful surface-to-surface ballistic missile to the Guard’s chief, Mohammad Ali Jafari during an inauguration ceremony, in an undisclosed location, Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)

Iran on Tuesday denied that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif signaled willingness to negotiate with the United States over its disputed ballistic missile program.

“Iran’s missiles and its missiles are absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period,” the spokesman for Iran’s mission to the UN, Alireza Miryousefi, tweeted.

Zarif brought up the ballistic missile suggestion during an interview with NBC News that aired Monday night and was filmed as the Iranian foreign minister visited New York for meetings at the United Nations.

Zarif appeared to suggest a high price for such negotiations — the halt of American arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key US allies in the Persian Gulf. He said the UAE spent $22 billion and Saudi Arabia spending $67 billion on weapons last year, many of them American-made, while Iran spent only $16 billion in comparison.

“These are American weaponry that is going into our region, making our region ready to explode,” Zarif said. “So if they want to talk about our missiles, they need first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region.”

US President Donald Trump looks at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he participates in a Cabinet meeting at the White House on July 16, 2019 in Washington,DC. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

Some media outlets framed his remarks as indicating that Iran was willing to negotiate curbs to its ballistic missile program to defuse the sky-high tensions between Tehran and Washington.

But Miryousefi called Zarif’s suggestion “hypothetical,” and slammed media outlets for characterizing the remarks as Iran being open to scaling back its “defensive missile program at some point.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly raised Zarif’s remarks alongside US President Donald Trump during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, according to a Reuters report.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/ AP)

At the meeting, Trump reportedly told his Cabinet that “a lot of progress” has been made in ending the standoff with the Islamic Republic.

Trump last year pulled the US out of an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions.

Tensions have soared in the Persian Gulf in recent months, with the US calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic Republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.

Iran, meanwhile, has stepped up the enrichment of its uranium stockpiles beyond the cap set by the nuclear deal. Last week, Iran announced that it enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the 2015 pact, and had also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.

Iran has faced a variety of economic sanctions by the West since its 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. That has cut into its ability to buy advanced weaponry abroad. While Gulf Arab nations have purchased advanced fighter jets, Iran still relies on pre-1979 US fighter jets, as well as aging Soviet MiGs and other planes.

Facing that shortfall, Iran instead invested heavily into its ballistic missile program, which remains under the control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei reportedly has restricted the range of ballistic missiles manufactured in Iran to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles). While that keeps Europe out of range, it means the Iranian missiles can hit much of the Middle East, including Israel and American military bases in the region. The Islamic Republic frequently threatens to annihilate Israel.

In pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, Trump in part blamed the accord for not addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program. The US fears Iran could use its missile technology and space program to build nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, something Tehran denies it wants to do.

Agencies contributed to this report.

 

Russia says it can have good ties with both Israel and Iran

July 19, 2019

Source: Russia says it can have good ties with both Israel and Iran | The Times of Israel

In remarks apparently aimed at Jerusalem’s effort to build a united front against Tehran, Sergey Lavrov says Moscow won’t ‘ally’ against anyone, criticizes US ‘muscle flexing’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and PM Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 23,2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and PM Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 23,2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Russia can balance positive ties with both arch-enemies Israel and Iran, the Kremlin said Wednesday, in comments unlikely to sit well with Jerusalem, which is seeking to establish a broad international front against Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow as a policy does not join coalitions against other countries.

“Relations with Iran, Israel as well as other states of the Middle East are valuable to Russia. Our foreign policy is multi-pronged, we don’t ‘ally’ against anybody. We guide our partners toward peaceful solutions to problems,” Lavrov told Russia’s Argumenty i Fakty daily.

Several quotes from the interview were tweeted out by the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv’s Twitter account in an apparent effort to direct the comments at Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has long sought Russian backing for its demand that Iranian forces leave Syria.

Iran and its military proxies are allied with Russia in backing the Syrian regime but Israel is concerned that Tehran is using the opportunity to establish forward bases in Syria from which to attack the Jewish state.

Russia has indicated that it can only attempt to keep Iranian forces away from the Golan border, but will not attempt to clear them out of Syria.

Moscow has remained a vociferous backer of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which Netanyahu has urged to be scrapped.

In the Wednesday interview, Lavrov said the anti-Iranian stances of the US “and some of its allies” had increased tensions in the region.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif give a joint press conference following their meeting in Moscow on May 8, 2019. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP)

“The US is flexing muscles, blames Iran for all sins. This creates a dangerous situation: it can only take one match to light a fire,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov also criticized those who compare the nuclear deal to the 1938 Munich agreement, in which European powers attempted to appease the Nazi regime, a common talking point of Netanyahu’s.

“[Former British prime minister] Neville Chamberlain and [former French prime minister] Edouard Daladier tried to appease Hitler and make the German war machine focus on the Soviet Union… Nothing of the kind is happening now,” the Russian foreign minister claimed.

According to Lavrov, Iran has “repeatedly confirmed its willingness to ensure regional stability through dialogue with all interested countries.”

The Kremlin’s top diplomat said Moscow was taking multiple steps to ease tensions in the Middle East.

Russia has largely turned a blind eye to reported Israeli attacks on Iranian and Syrian installations in Syria, though it has at times criticized Jerusalem and last year gave Damascus access to an advanced air defense system.

 

Rouhani urges Europe to ‘accelerate’ efforts to preserve nuclear deal

July 19, 2019

Source: Rouhani urges Europe to ‘accelerate’ efforts to preserve nuclear deal | The Times of IsraelIranian president sp

Leaks by phone with Macron, warns ‘missed opportunities’ could lead Tehran to drop further commitments under pact

French President Emmanuel Macron meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters on September 25, 2018, in New York. (AFP Photo/ludovic Marin)

French President Emmanuel Macron meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters on September 25, 2018, in New York. (AFP Photo/ludovic Marin)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged Europe on Thursday to speed up efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, during a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron.

“Europe must accelerate its efforts to realize Iran’s legitimate interests and bring about a ceasefire [in Washington’s] economic war” against Iran, Rouhani told Macron, according to a statement on the government’s official website.

“Iran is determined to keep open all options” for preserving the landmark deal, he added.

He also warned Macron that “missed opportunities” would force Iran to drop further commitments under the deal, after it withdrew from some limits on its nuclear activities in May.

In this April 9, 2018 file photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark ‘National Nuclear Day,’ in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)

Tehran’s May 8 announcement came more than a year after Washington pulled out of the deal between world powers and the Islamic Republic, which says it has lost patience with inaction by remaining European partners to the accord.

Iran in May also threatened to take further measures unless the remaining parties to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — help it circumvent US sanctions, especially to sell its oil.

Tehran has since exceeded limits the deal had set on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpiles, as well as passing a cap the deal had imposed on its uranium enrichment.

The 4.5 percent enrichment level it reached is well below the more than 90 percent required for a nuclear warhead.

Iran has yet to specify what further steps it may take, and has repeatedly emphasized that its actions can be reversed if European partners deliver on their own commitments.

 

In US, Zarif offers permanent scrutiny of nuclear sites for sanctions relief 

July 19, 2019

Source: In US, Zarif offers permanent scrutiny of nuclear sites for sanctions relief | The Times of Israel

In response to proposal, US official says Iran must stop enriching uranium and negotiate deal that includes a permanent end to nuclear ambitions

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, smiles as he arrives for a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at United Nations headquarters, July 18, 2019 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday offered to formalize stricter international inspections of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities in exchange for permanent sanctions relief.

That offer, first reported by The Guardian, came as Zarif said he had several alternatives in mind to help break the impasse, but that he wouldn’t be picking up the phone to talk to the Americans and dismissed the idea of a meeting between the two country’s presidents.

“It’s not about photo ops. We are interested in substance,” Zarif said in New York during a visit that saw his movement highly restricted.

Meeting reporters, Zarif said Iran would be willing to move up an Iranian parliament ratification of an agreement Tehran made with the International Atomic Energy Association — one that outlined access to Iranian nuclear sites and other information.

According to The Guardian, this would grant greater access to Iran’s nuclear facilities for international inspectors in an arrangement that would be made permanent.

In this April 9, 2018 file photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)

A spokesman for Zarif explained that Iran is already abiding by the agreement under the 2015 nuclear deal, but it doesn’t have the force of law because it’s not supposed to be ratified by the Iranian parliament until 2023. Zarif told reporters that the ratification could come earlier if the US eased sanctions.

A senior administration official responded that Trump has repeatedly said he is willing to have a conversation with Iranian leaders.

The official said that if Iran wants to make a “serious gesture,” it should immediately stop enriching uranium and negotiate an agreement that includes a permanent end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, including development of nuclear-capable missiles. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and US President Donald Trump confer during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, in Washington, July 16, 2019. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Zarif also accused the Trump administration of trying to “starve” his people through sanctions and declared that Iran would not bow: “We will survive. We will prosper — long after President Trump is gone — because we have 7,000 years of proof of that.”

In a wide-ranging discussion with US-based media on the sidelines of a visit to the United Nations, Zarif also said that Iran could reverse recent moves to surpass uranium enrichment limits set by its nuclear deal with world powers.

“We are moving forward but that could be reversed as soon as the other side is prepared to implement its commitment,” he said, referring to US sanctions imposed on Iran.

Earlier this week, Iran denied it was willing to negotiate over its ballistic missile program, after Zarif appeared to suggest it was on the table.

Tensions are running high between Iran and the United States since President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers that had been brokered under the Obama administration. Trump also brought back sweeping sanctions targeting Iranian oil exports that had been lifted by the deal, forcing countries around the world to dramatically limit business with the Islamic Republic and squeezing Iran’s economy as the currency tumbles.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran also remain high on the Strait of Hormuz.

A US warship on Thursday destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz after it threatened the ship, Trump said. The incident marked a new escalation of tensions between the countries less than one month after Iran downed an American drone in the same waterway and Trump came close to retaliating with a military strike.

Last month, after Iran shot down the more than $100 million US surveillance drone, Trump said he aborted a retaliatory strike only after learning that as many as 150 people may have been killed.

A UH-1Y Venom helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz, July 18, 2019. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck/Released)

Heavyweights China and Russia are calling for de-escalation. French President Emmanuel Macron has made efforts to ease tensions, talking to both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Trump.

“We will talk to the French, the Japanese, others. If they have anything of substance, we will listen,” he said. Macron “is trying to reduce tension,” Zarif said.

“I have every reason for optimism otherwise I wouldn’t be alive,” Zarif said. “Realistically, I believe we were a few minutes away from a war [last month] and prudence prevailed, so here’s a reason to be an optimist.”

Speaking before the Iranian drone was shot down, Zarif said Trump “exercised prudence by not agreeing to suggestions that were made to him to retaliate [last month],” adding that: “In my view he received information that no war with Iran would be a short war.”

“We live in a very dangerous environment. The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss,” Zarif said.

Zarif touted Iran’s relations with countries like China, Russia and India, but warned Iran would not expose details of its trading partners around the world.

He said that an Iranian supertanker seized this month with the help of British naval forces off the coast of Gibraltar was not carrying oil in violation of European sanctions on Syria. The British government said it would release the tanker if Iran could provide guarantees the oil was not heading to Syria.

And as Trump makes nuclear talks with North Korea a centerpiece of his foreign policy, Zarif said Iran had this advice for the country: “We told them to be careful. … Don’t give up too much – you may not have it in four years.”

Earlier Thursday, Iran said its Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend.

The announcement cleared up the fate of the missing ship but raised a host of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most critical petroleum shipping routes. One-fifth of global crude exports pass through the strait.

 

Iran releases video showing seized tanker same as missing UAE vessel 

July 19, 2019

Source: Iran releases video showing seized tanker same as missing UAE vessel | The Times of Israel

Footage broadcast on state TV comes hours after Tehran admits capturing a foreign vessel, claiming it was involved in smuggling fuel out of country

This undated photo provided by Iranian state television's English-language service, Press TV, on July 18, 2019, shows the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah surrounded by Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels. (Press TV via AP)

This undated photo provided by Iranian state television’s English-language service, Press TV, on July 18, 2019, shows the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah surrounded by Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels. (Press TV via AP)

Iran on Thursday released a video showing a United Arab Emirates-based oil tanker that vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend, hours after admitting its Revolutionary Guard had seized a foreign vessel and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country.

Iranian TV released footage of the ship surrounded by Guard vessels and showed the registration number painted on its bridge, matching that of the UAE-based MT Riah.

The Panamanian-flagged tanker stopped transmitting its location early Sunday near Qeshm Island, according to data on the tracking site Maritime Traffic.

However, it often did so over the past two years when nearing Iranian waters, other tracking data shows.

US Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, declined to comment.

Iran earlier said the tanker was seized south of its Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz. Neighboring Qeshm Island has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.

Iranian state television did not at first identify the seized vessel but said it was intercepted on Sunday and was involved in smuggling some 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of Iranian fuel. Iran did not identify the nationalities of the crew.

The announcement solved one mystery — the fate of the missing ship — but raised a host of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most critical petroleum shipping routes. One-fifth of global crude exports passes through the strait.

The incident happened with tensions running high between Iran and the United States since US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Crude prices, which had been falling since last week, ticked higher almost immediately after the announcement.

It was not immediately clear whether the seizure was a straightforward attempt by Iran to curb oil smuggling or also an effort to assert its authority in the strait and send a message to its rivals in the region. The UAE has long lobbied for tougher US policy toward Iran, though more recently it has called for deescalation.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addresses the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, at United Nations headquarters, in New York, July 17, 2019. (Richard Drew/AP)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the seized vessel was at best a “small tanker” and that Iranian forces are cracking down on fuel smuggling daily.

“We live in a very dangerous environment. The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss,” he told reporters at the United Nations in New York. Zarif accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through sanctions.

Iranian media reported earlier this month that some 8 million liters of government-subsidized Iranian fuel are smuggled daily through Iran’s borders to other countries where prices are much higher.

Analysts at the Israeli-based maritime risk analytics company Windward said that the Riah has been at sea for the past two years and has a pattern of turning off its location transmitters for days at a time, particularly when entering Iranian waters.

The firm said data suggests that for more than two years that the 58-meter (190-foot) Riah had been clandestinely receiving fuel from an unknown source off the UAE coast and delivering it to other tankers, which then take it to Yemen and Somalia.

No distress calls were made from the Riah, and no ship owner reported a missing vessel.

The ship’s registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told The Associated Press it had sold the vessel to another company, Mouj Al-Bahar. A man who answered a telephone number registered to the company told the AP it didn’t own any ships.

Officials in the UAE said the ship was neither UAE-owned nor operated and carried no Emirati personnel.

An oil tanker on fire in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019 near the strategic Strait of Hormuz where two ships were reportedly attacked. (AP Photo/ISNA)

In past weeks, the Persian Gulf region has seen six attacks on oil tankers that the US has blamed on Iran, the downing of a US surveillance drone by Iranian forces and a tense encounter between Iran’s Guard and the British navy. Iran has denied involvement in the attacks or the British naval encounter.

The US has also sent thousands of additional troops and increased its security presence in the region.

Meanwhile, Iran has begun increasing uranium production and enrichment beyond the limits of the 2015 accord in a bid to pressure Europe to find ways around US sanctions.

On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a phone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, urged European signatories of the deal to speed up their efforts to stop US pressure, his website reported. He said efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear activities “are not acceptable under any circumstance.”

 

Iran says it will release photos to prove drone not downed by US 

July 19, 2019

Source: Iran says it will release photos to prove drone not downed by US | The Times of Israel

Revolutionary Guard doubles down on denial that its aircraft was shot down in Strait of Hormuz while approaching an American vessel

Illustrative: Head of the Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh looks at debris from what the division describes as the US drone which was shot down by Iran, seen here in Tehran, Iran, June 21, 2019. (Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency/via AP)

Illustrative: Head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh looks at debris from what the division describes as the US drone which was shot down by Iran, seen here in Tehran, Iran, June 21, 2019. (Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency/via AP)

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said Friday it will release images taken by a drone that US President Donald Trump says was hit by a US warship to disprove his claim.

The Guard’s website, sepahnews.com, published a statement on Friday saying these images will show the Guard’s drone had been carrying out its regular mission as the USS Boxer arrived in the Strait of Hormuz.

It did not say when the images would be released.

Trump on Thursday said the USS Boxer took defensive action after an Iranian drone came within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down.

The Guard said the drone sent images before and after the time the Americans claimed the aircraft was destroyed on Thursday.

A UH-1Y Venom helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz, July 18, 2019. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck/Released)

The statement added that Guard forces continue to carefully monitor all movements of foreigners — especially “the terrorist forces” of the US and the British in the strategic Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf.

In Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted military spokesman Gen. Abolfazl Shekari as saying that “all Iranian drones that are in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, including the one which the US president mentioned, have … returned to their bases.”

“We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else,” tweeted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

Trump blamed Iran for a “provocative and hostile” action and said the US responded in self-defense. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told reporters as he arrived for a meeting at the United Nations that “we have no information about losing a drone today.”

After Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and imposed economic sanctions on Tehran, the Iranians have pushed back on the military front, shooting down a US drone on June 20.

US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, North Carolina, July 17, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Shortly after, Trump ordered a retaliatory military strike but called it off at the last moment, saying the risk of casualties was disproportionate to the downing by Iran, which did not cost any US lives. Iran claimed the US drone violated its airspace; the Pentagon denied this.

Also in the past weeks, the Persian Gulf region has seen six attacks on oil tankers that the US has blamed on Iran, and a tense encounter between the Guard and the British navy. Iran has denied involvement in the attacks or the British naval encounter.

The US has also sent thousands of additional troops and increased its security presence in the region.

The Pentagon said Thursday’s incident happened at 10 a.m. local time in international waters while the Boxer was transiting the waterway to enter the Persian Gulf. The Boxer is among several US Navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the nearby North Arabian Sea for weeks.

Neither Trump nor the Pentagon spelled out how the Boxer destroyed the drone. CNN reported that the ship used electronic jamming to bring it down rather than hitting it with a missile.

Adding to the economic pressure on Tehran, the Treasury Department said Thursday it was imposing sanctions on what it called a network of front companies and agents involved in helping Iran buy sensitive materials for its nuclear program. It said the targeted individuals and entities are based in Iran, China and Belgium.