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Zarif Calls For Improved Ties With Gulf Neighbors Amid U.S. Tensions
May 26, 2019


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has reiterated that his country wanted to build balanced relations with its Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf.

Zarif made the comments on May 26 at a joint press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Ali Alhakim in Baghdad, amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Alhakim said that Baghdad wants to mediate between Iran and the United States while stressing that Iraq stands against "unilateral actions" taken by Washington.

Iraq maintains close ties with both Iran and the United States. Mainly Shi'ite Iran has bitter relations with U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Arab states in the Gulf.

Relations between Tehran and Washington have plummeted since the United States a year ago pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between world powers and Iran that curbed the country's nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions.

Since then, Washington has reimposed sanctions, stepped up its rhetoric, and beefed up its military presence in the Middle East, prompting growing concerns of a possible military conflict with Iran.

In Baghdad, Zarif said that his country will be able to "always strongly and resolutely counter any kind of efforts to launch a war against Iran, whether it is a military war or an economic war on Iran's people."

He said that Iran "wants to have the best possible relations with all [its] neighbors in the Persian Gulf region," adding that he had proposed signing a nonaggression pact with them.

The Iranian foreign minister also urged European backers of the nuclear deal -- Britain, France, and Germany -- to do more to salvage the agreement. The other signatories are Russia and China.

Alhakim said that Iraqi officials were "trying to help and to be mediators" between Tehran and Washington.

But the Iraqi foreign minister insisted that Baghdad opposes "the unilateral measures taken by the United States. We do not like the patronizing and the coercion imposed on our neighbor -- Iran. We are standing side by side with the position of [our] neighbor -- Iran."

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi discussed the "dangers of a war" during a meeting with Zarif late on May 25, according to his office.

While Zarif was in Baghdad, his deputy, Abbas Araqchi, was in Oman and discussed "regional developments" with Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the Gulf sultanate's minister responsible for foreign affairs, according to the state-run Oman News Agency.

Following a recent visit to Tehran, bin Alawi said that Oman is trying "with other parties" to calm tensions between the United States and Iran.

The visits come as U.S. President Donald Trump on May 24 announced the deployment of 1,500 additional military personnel to the Middle East, saying that they would play a "mostly protective" role.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later said that the administration planned to sell $8.1 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan to "deter Iranian aggression."

Earlier this month, the United States sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Middle East, citing "imminent threats" from Iran, prompting growing concerns of a possible military conflict.

Tehran denied the allegations and announced it was suspending several commitments under the nuclear deal.

Late on May 25, Iranian President Hassan Rohani floated the idea of holding a public referendum over Iran's nuclear program, local media reported.
Rohani was quoted as saying that he had previously suggested a referendum on the matter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2004, when he was a top nuclear negotiator.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
 

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U.S. military in region is 'weakest' in history: Iran deputy Guards chief
May 26, 2019

(Reuters) - The U.S. military presence in the Middle East is at its “weakest in history”, a deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards was on Sunday quoted by the semi-official news agency Fars as saying.

U.S. President Donald Trump has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, and his administration says it has built up the U.S. military presence in the region.

It accuses Iran of threats to U.S. troops and interests. Tehran has described U.S. moves as “psychological warfare” and a “political game”.

“The Americans have been present in the region since 1833 and they are now at their weakest in history in West Asia,” said Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a deputy Guards commander, according to Fars.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Keith Weir

 

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Why Iran’s diplomatic overtures ring hollow
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

May 27, 2019

Iranian diplomats are in overdrive, trying to demonize their adversaries and portray Iran as an innocent, peaceful victim in the current standoff in the Gulf. But the regime’s actions belie those proclamations.

On Friday, Rear Adm. Michael Gilday, the director of the US Joint Staff, said that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was responsible for this month’s attacks on four oil tankers off the UAE coast. “The attack against the shipping in Fujairah, we attribute it to the IRGC,” he said, adding that the US believed that “limpet mines” were used in the attacks.

The ship attacks coincided with drone attacks by Houthi militias — a proxy for Iran — on oil installations in Saudi Arabia. The attacks appeared to be coordinated as part of a campaign by Iran in response to US sanctions on its oil exports. Tehran had earlier threatened to prevent other nations from exporting oil if the US continued its sanctions against Iran’s oil exports.

The attacks and threats by the IRGC and its proxies also appeared to be a response to the US decision last month to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the time: “This designation is a direct response to an outlaw regime and should surprise no one. The IRGC masquerades as a legitimate military organization, but none of us should be fooled.”

In response to the terrorist designation, IRGC leaders threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz and attack US forces in the region. The repeated threats and subsequent attacks on oil shipping and pipelines have been met with an increased readiness on the part of US forces and its allies in the Gulf. Joint exercises, close coordination and additional fresh troops from the US, in small numbers, were part of this increased readiness to safeguard the freedom of navigation and protect critical oil infrastructure.

The posture of the US military and its allies remains defensive in nature and to deter future attacks. However, these precautionary moves have thrown Iran’s officials into a frenzy. While Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and other diplomats have preached peace, IRGC leaders have continued their bellicose rhetoric against the US and its allies. In Lebanon, Hezbollah, another IRGC proxy, intensified its threats against the US and its Gulf partners. In Iraq, militias loyal to Iran started a campaign aimed at ending the US military presence in the country.

In every hot spot in the Middle East, IRGC-trained and funded militias have shown little or no interest in diplomacy.
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
More ominously, the Houthis intensified their missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia. After the twin attacks on the strategic East-West oil pipeline, they targeted the holy city of Makkah and the civilian airports of Najran and Jizan in southwestern Saudi Arabia. While those threats were intercepted and did not cause casualties, the increase in the number of attacks signals a new, higher level of coordination to serve Iran’s purposes in its faceoff with the US.

Militias loyal to Iran also increased their attacks against civilians in Syria in support of Bashar Assad’s campaign to squash the rebellion against his hold on power. In every hot spot in the Middle East, IRGC-trained and funded militias have shown little or no interest in diplomacy or trying to find political solutions to complicated internal struggles. Instead, they rely on violence and whipping up religious hatred to fan the flames of various civil wars.

It is for these reasons that Iran’s worn-out diplomatic cliches ring hollow. First, Iran has said that it has no interest in negotiating with the US “directly or indirectly” in response to President Donald Trump’s calls for talks between the two countries. Second, Iran has rejected calls for revisiting the nuclear deal, while at the same time announcing that it was planning to violate some of its provisions. Third, it has rejected European and US calls to negotiate about its ballistic missile program and its regional activities. The US and Europe have repeatedly expressed genuine desire for negotiations to address real concerns about Iran’s conduct, including its ballistic missile program and destabilizing activities in the region — conduct that frequently and flagrantly violates universally accepted rules of state action. Iran has declined to negotiate seriously, declaring, for example, that its missile program was off-limits or the alleged malign activities were lies spread by its enemies.

Fourth, Iran has frustrated previous attempts at mending fences with its neighbors. More than two years ago, the Gulf Cooperation Council sent a letter to Iran proposing that the two sides agree on a set of principles that should govern their relationship. They included adherence to the UN-mandated principle of respect for national borders, political independence, and sovereignty of nations. They also included rejecting sectarianism and refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of neighboring countries.

So, for Iranian diplomacy to be credible, Iran has to respond positively to previous calls for negotiations and it has to rein in the IRGC to stop it from spreading mischief in the region. The split between Zarif’s diplomacy and IRGC commander Hossein Salami’s bellicosity raises questions of either duplicity or an inability to come to a unified position on what Iran’s role in the region should be: An extraterritorial hegemon or a normal state that lives within its borders and the confines of international law and the UN Charter.

  • Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view


 

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The Iran War Crisis: Are We Headed Towards a Gulf of Tonkin Incident?
May 25, 2019
by Lawrence J. Korb

Image: Reuters

One can only hope that an isolated incident or an alleged attack does not spark a retaliation that could lead to a Vietnam-style conflict with Iran, one that could necessitate sending hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to the Middle East.

Many analysts have argued that the rising tensions between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf region, especially the claims by the United States that Iran is increasing its military capabilities bear disturbing similarities to the run up to the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003, when the Bush administration falsely hyped Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. While this analogy may be correct, the events are actually more similar to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which occurred in August 1964—something I remember well.

On August 2, 1964, the destroyer Maddox—which was part of a carrier battle group deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin to conduct reconnaissance and intercept North Vietnamese communications in support of attacks by South Vietnamese patrol boats on North Vietnamese coastal targets—was approached by three North Vietnamese torpedo patrol boats. As they drew near, the Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese responded with torpedoes and machine gun fire. The Maddox returned fire, eventually expending 280 shells and damaging the North Vietnamese torpedo boats. These attacks also killed four North Vietnamese sailors and wounded six more. There were no U.S. casualties and the Maddox was essentially unscathed.

While President Lyndon Johnson’s national-security team was deliberating how to respond to this situation, another attack occurred. At 9 a.m. on August 4, 1964, the Maddox reported that, based on radar and communications intercepts, North Vietnamese ships and aircraft were poised to wage another attack. Two hours later it claimed that it had actually been attacked by North Vietnamese torpedoes—a claim the captain of the Maddox eventually backtracked on.

But that same night President Johnson interrupted national television news to describe the incidents to the American people, and announced that, in retaliation for these attacks, he had launched air attacks against North Vietnamese boat bases and oil storage facilities. The next day, the president asked Congress for authorization to use all necessary means to deal with the threats from North Vietnam. But neither the president nor his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, let the American people or their elected representatives know that the South Vietnamese patrol boats, which were purchased by the United States, conducted raids and bombing of North Vietnamese islands, under a U.S. plan, shortly before the first attack occurred, and that there was no real evidence of an August 4 attack. In effect, those attacks were a staged, false flag event.

The Johnson administration used the Congressional resolution—passed on August 7, 1964, by a unanimous vote in the House and with only two negative votes in the Senate—to begin a massive air and ground war on North Vietnam that marked the beginning of the disastrous war that lasted another decade. Johnson himself was not enthusiastic about launching the bombing campaign. In fact, he had overruled his national-security team on it on four previous occasions. However, he felt he had to take this action after the August incidents became public in the midst of the 1964 presidential campaign in which his opponent, Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater was urging a strong military response to the North Vietnamese attacks. Moreover, many members of the foreign-policy elite were concerned about all of Vietnam falling to the Communists, which according to the so-called domino theory would mean that, once Vietnam fell, Communism would spread to the rest of Southeast Asia.

At the time of these incidents, I was serving on active duty as a Naval flight officer in Patrol Squadron One that was getting ready to deploy to the Pacific. At lunch with my commanding officer, who had flown combat missions in WWII and Korea, the day after Johnson’s speech, he told me that based on intelligence he had seen it was clear to him that the second attack had never occurred and the whole incident was bogus. A decade later, when I had the privilege of serving under Adm. James Stockdale (the only Vietnam POW to earn the medal of honor) at the Naval War College and who was actually flying in the area where the attacks supposedly occurred, he told me the same thing.

Which brings us back to today. Given the current buildup of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region—which now include a six-ship carrier battle group equipped with at least fifty combat aircraft, a U.S. amphibious ship which transports Marines and their equipment, a Patriot missile battery, and four nuclear-capable B-52 bombers—as well as the attacks on two Saudi oil tankers and four ships off the coast of the UAE, and the Iranians placing missiles on small boats, there is a serious risk that accidents or miscalculations could happen again.

One can only hope that an isolated incident or an alleged attack does not spark a retaliation that could lead to a Vietnam-style conflict with Iran, one that could necessitate sending hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to the Middle East. While President Trump has said he does not want to go to war with Iran, President Johnson likewise did not want to start a war with North Vietnam. But one cannot overlook National Security Advisor John Bolton, who recently said, “Any attack on America or its allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

Dr. Lawrence J. Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and served as assistant secretary of defense from 1981 through 1985, and taught at the Coast Guard Academy from 1971 to 1975.

 

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Iran Bluster Is about Red Lines, Not War
May 21, 2019
Tensions can be managed because Tehran is more bark than bite.
by Michael Rubin


Image: Reuters

In the past week, American-Iranian tensions flared to heights not seen since the Reagan years, when U.S. and Iranian ships and planes faced off in the Persian Gulf. Not only have Iranian irregular forces apparently sabotaged four ships off the major Emirati port of Fujairah with either magnet bombs or underwater drones, but a subsequent drone attack on a Saudi pipeline amplified tensions to a new level.

Even on the best of days in hyper-partisan Washington, there are enough polemics to go around. The fact that national security in general—and Iran policy in particular—have become political footballs only makes the problem worse. Never one to miss an opportunity to throw fuel on the rhetorical fire, President Donald Trump threatened via tweet, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

Happily, however, nothing in the American military posture makes it appear that war—or even a limited engagement—is imminent, let alone likely.

Consider the U.S. Navy’s posture: The Trump administration has reportedly dispatched an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, but if a war against Iran really was on the table, then this would be the worst possible move.

After all, the Persian Gulf is both narrow and shallow. To launch aircraft off a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, it takes about twenty-six knots of wind speed across the deck—even when using steam-operated catapults that throw F-18 Hornets and E-2C Hawkeyes off the carrier at around one-hundred-and-seventy miles per hour. To achieve the necessary wind speed requires either speeding up or turning into the wind, neither of which it is easy or safe to do in the Persian Gulf, especially as that body of water is home to scattered islands such as the Farsi, Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser Tonb, and Kish, among others.

Throw into this mix the fact that, ever since Operation Praying Mantis in 1988, Iran’s basic doctrine has been to swarm U.S. ships with small boats rather than engage directly with Iran’s destroyers or frigates. This means any deployment into the Persian Gulf is ill-advised if hostilities are imminent. Conversely, if a carrier or carriers took up station a couple hundred miles off the coast of Iran in the northern Indian Ocean, U.S. planes could strike at Iran and U.S. ships would be largely out-of-range of Iranian small boats and anti-ship missiles (or at least have greater reaction time to those threats).

So why have tensions grown so high, so fast? When Americans think about Iran, often they know the top three or four individuals, men like Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or President Hassan Rouhani. Maybe they have heard of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force. But, over the past year or so, there has been a transition at the top of the Iranian military. On April 21, 2019, Hossein Salami took over as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). His predecessor Mohammad Ali Jafari may have been awful (from the U.S. perspective), but he was also a known quantity. True, most American Iran analysts are familiar with Salami since he long served as a deputy to Jafari, but the last month has been first with Salami making decisions not theoretically tempered by superiors.

In the division of responsibility between the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGC-N), the IRIN operates primarily outside the Persian Gulf while the IRGC-N has primacy over the Gulf itself. Additionally, both the IRIN and IRGC-N share responsibility for the Strait of Hormuz.

Generally, the U.S. Navy maintains a professional relationship with the IRIN, but the IRGC-N is more provocative and ideological. Both Iranian navies have also recently had changes of command. When Hossein Khanzadi took command of the IRIN in November 2017 from Habibollah Sayyari, he swore that the IRIN would “wave the flag of our country right on the US’s doorstep.” That might be hyperbole or wishful thinking, but it is not clear Khanzadi understands that. Sayyari, however, had twelve years at the helm and he understood what was possible and what was not—after all, as he presided over the deployment of an Atlantic-bound flotilla that ended up stranded in South Africa for emergency repairs.

Ali Fadavi, IRGC-N commander, likewise presided over his force for eight years. He may have been a provocateur, but with time U.S. forces and the Arab Gulf states grew to understand him. The same is not true with Alireza Tangsiri, who replaced Fadavi just nine months ago.

What is the point? It has been more than two military generations since IRGC leaders learned what happens if they confront the U.S. directly or attack into the waters of America’s Arab allies. It is quite possible that Salami, Khanzadi, and Tangsiri (or some combination of them) sought to distinguish themselves from their predecessors at the expense of the United States or the Gulf Cooperation Council states.

Under such circumstances, Washington’s decision to firmly establish red lines rather than turning the other cheek can best prevent war and conflict. After all, in the Middle East, it is not oil or water that causes war, but rather overconfidence. And, whatever one thinks about Trump and his national-security team, it is clear that in recent years a noxious brew of Iranian overconfidence and lack of experience among Iran’s top Navy and IRGC commanders was leading to a perfect storm, one which hopefully now has been averted.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

 

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Iran proposes ‘non-aggression pact’ to Gulf neighbors as regional tensions soar
27 May, 2019

Iran has proposed signing a non-aggression pact to its neighbors, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said. At the same time, the country is ready to defend itself from any attack, be it “an economic war or a military one.”

“Tehran has offered to sign a non-aggression pact with its neighbors in the Gulf,” Zarif said on Sunday during a joint press conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Mohamed al-Hakim.

Iran's top diplomat did not name an exact list of the countries eyed in the document, yet stressed that Tehran seeks to “build balanced relations” with all Gulf states. At the same time, Zarif cautioned that the country is ready to defend itself if attacked, by any means necessary.
We will defend against any war efforts against Iran, whether it be an economic war or a military one, and we will face these efforts with strength.
Tensions have been high in the region over the past weeks, as the ongoing standoff between the US and Iran got even more heated. Washington has ramped up its warlike rhetoric against Tehran, accusing it – but providing no hard evidence – of plotting attacks on US citizens in neighboring countries.

Apart from that, several Saudi tankers were damaged under shady circumstances at a UAE port – and the blame was squarely put on Iran. Tehran maintained it was not involved in inflicting the minor damage on the vessels, blaming the incident on some sort of “Israeli mischief” instead.

Following the incident with the tankers and a drone attack on a Saudi pipeline, attributed to Yemen's Houthi rebels, Riyadh accused Iran of seeking to destabilize the whole region and vowed to confront it with “all strength and determination” if attacked.

Tehran, on its part, has repeatedly stated that it’s not plotting to attack anyone, yet is more than capable of retaliating and even “defeating” the US and its allies in the Middle East.

 

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Trump says Iran nuclear deal achievable as sanctions sting
May 27, 2019
Jeff Mason, Malcolm Foster

TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday a deal with Iran on its nuclear program was possible, crediting economic sanctions for curbing activities Washington has said are behind a spate of attacks in the Middle East.

“I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen,” Trump said during a news conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

“It has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership,” Trump said. “We aren’t looking for regime change - I just want to make that clear. We are looking for no nuclear weapons.”

In Tehran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran was not seeking nuclear weapons, which its supreme leader had banned in an edict, adding on Twitter that U.S. policies were hurting the Iranian people and causing regional tensions.

“Actions—not words—will show whether or not that’s @realDonaldTrump’s intent,” Zarif said.


President Hassan Rouhani said in October the United States was seeking “regime change” in Iran, adding that the current U.S. administration was the most hostile that the Islamic Republic had faced in its four decades.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States after this month’s attack on oil tankers in the Gulf region.

Washington, a firm backer of Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, has blamed the attacks on Iran, which denies the accusations.

The United States has deployed a carrier strike group and bombers to the and announced plans to deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said on Saturday that the United States had “deep and serious” intelligence on threats posed by Iran, without providing details.


Trump, on a four-day visit to Japan, welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran after broadcaster NHK said Japan’s leader is considering a trip to Tehran as early as mid-June. Iran said a visit was unlikely in the near future.

“I know for a fact that the prime minister is very close with the leadership of Iran, and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said.

At his joint news conference with Trump, Abe said Japan would do what it can on the Iran issue.

Trump last year withdrew the United States from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, and is ratcheting up sanctions seeking to end Iran’s international sales of crude oil and strangle its economy.

Japan was a major buyer of Iranian oil for decades before U.S. sanctions which Trump said were taking effect.

“They were fighting in many locations,” he said of Iran. “Now they are pulling back because they have serious economic problems.”

Bolton, who has spearheaded an increasingly hawkish U.S. policy on Iran, described recent bomb attacks on tankers off the United Arab Emirates and a pipeline pumping station in Saudi Arabia, as well as a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone, as “manifestations of concern” about Iran.

Iran has distanced itself from the bombings and on Sunday, Zarif said his country will defend itself against any military or economic aggression.

Additional reporting by Tim Kelly, and Dubai newsroom; Writing by Tim Kelly and Malcolm Foster; editing by Darren Schuettler and Howard Goller

 

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Iran’s IRGC Refuses to Negotiate with the ‘Great Satan’
Monday, 27 May, 2019
London - Asharq Al-Awsat

The United States’ current presence in West Asia is the weakest ever, according to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Deputy Coordinator Admiral Ali Fadavi, who described Washington as the “Great Satan”.

“Negotiating with the devil, the Quran says, bears no fruit,” he was cited as saying by the Fars News Agency.

Attempting to lift the morale of Iranian forces, he emphasized their readiness, while belittling American military capabilities.

He claimed that even the US aircraft carrier, which was on its way to the region, has remained in the Indian Ocean over “fears” of a clash.

On the Iranian government’s statements that it was engaged in an “economic war” with the US, Fadavi said Washington was instead waging a psychological one against Tehran.

Last week, supreme leader Ali Khamenei described negotiations with the US as “poisonous,” adding: “There won’t be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance… We don’t seek a war, and they don’t either. They know it’s not in their interests.”

Commander of the Quds Force, the foreign branch of IRGC, Qassem Soleimani said his country will not give in to the “humiliation” of negotiations with Washington.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the US decision to deploy more troops to the Middle East in response to the perceived threat from Iran was “extremely dangerous” for peace.

The United States announced last Friday the deployment of 1,500 troops in the Middle East to deter Iran's threats, accusing the IRGC of direct responsibility for attacks against tankers off the UAE's port of Fujairah this month.

 

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Iran Sees ‘No Prospect of Negotiations’ with US
Tuesday, 28 May, 2019


US aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln is pictured while it travels through the Suez Canal in Egypt May 9, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. (Reuters)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Iran ruled out on Tuesday the possibility of holding negotiations with the United States, a day after US President Donald Trump said a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program was possible.

Asked about Trump’s comments in a news conference in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency: “We currently see no prospect of negotiations with America.”

“Iran pays no attention to words; What matters to us is a change of approach and behavior.”

Speaking from Japan on Monday, Trump said: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen.”

Trump also said that United States was not looking for regime change in Iran, adding that “we are looking for no nuclear weapons.”

Late on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Trump should make his intentions clear about any talks with Iran through actions, not words.

In a late tweet, he said: "Actions—not words—will show whether or not that's @realDonaldTrump's intent.”

Trump said that he would back Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to open a communication with Iran.

Zarif in his tweet also blamed Trump's economic pressure on Tehran for the regional tensions.

Washington withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran, and is ratcheting up sanctions in efforts to strangle Iran’s economy by ending its international sales of crude oil.

Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said on Tuesday the country was not allowed to pursue the development of nuclear weapon as this was banned by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since Washington deployed a carrier strike group and bombers and announced plans to deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.

 

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Iran’s Guard talks tough, says it has no fear of war with US
By NASSER KARIMI
an hour ago
28 May 2019

In this photo taken on Sunday, May 26, 2019 photo released by U.S. Navy, The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in the Arabian Sea. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeremiah Bartelt/U.S. Navy via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s influential Revolutionary Guard said Tuesday it doesn’t fear a possible war with the United States and claimed that America hasn’t grown in power in recent years — the latest tough talk from Tehran amid escalating regional tensions and a crisis with Washington.
“The enemy is not more powerful than before,” said the Guard spokesman, Gen. Ramazan Sharif.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran soared recently over America deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf over a still-unexplained threat it perceives from Tehran. The U.S. also plans to send 900 additional troops to the Mideast and extending the stay of another 600 as tens of thousands of others also are on the ground across the region.

The crisis takes root in President Donald Trump’s withdrawal last year of the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that capped Iran’s uranium enrichment activities in return to lifting sanctions. Washington subsequently re-imposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.

Trump has argued that the deal failed to sufficiently curb Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons or halt its support for militias throughout the Middle East that the U.S. says destabilize the region, as well as address the issue of Tehran’s missiles, which can reach both U.S. regional bases and Israel.

Speaking at a press conference in Tehran, Sharif said the Guard doesn’t “support engaging in any war” while at the same time it doesn’t “fear the occurrence of a war.”

“We have enough readiness to defend the country,” he said, adding that Iran has boosted its military power over the past 30 years.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appeared unimpressed with Japan’s offer to mediate in the crisis, saying Trump should make his intentions clear about any talks with Iran through actions, not words.

Zarif said in a late Monday tweet: “Actions_not words_will show whether or not that’s
In Japan on Monday, Trump said he’d back Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to open a communication with Iran. “I do believe Iran would like to talk and if they’d like to talk, we’ll talk also,” Trump said.

Iran has said it has no interest in negotiations with Washington following Trump’s pullout from the nuclear deal and the re-imposing of sanctions on Iran. Zarif in his tweet also blamed Trump’s economic pressure on Iran for the regional tensions.

However, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, tempered his minister’s remarks by saying that Iran would “wait and see” before deciding on any offers of negotiations.

Japanese media have reported that Abe is considering a visit to Iran next month. The Kyodo News agency, citing unidentified government sources, said Friday that Abe’s visit would be likely in mid-June. Earlier this month, Zarif visited Tokyo.

The U.S. also has accused Iran of being behind a string of incidents this month, including what officials allege was sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and a rocket that landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, while Yemen’s Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels launched a string of drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia.

A Dubai-based, government-aligned newspaper criticized Zarif in a rare front-page editorial Tuesday.

The Gulf News piece, headlined “No thank you, Mr. Zarif,” dismissed his recent offer of forming a nonaggression pact with Gulf Arab nations and said the countries are not buying Zarif’s “nice neighbor routine.”

The paper says Iran “continues to call for the overthrow of Arab governments, sends its agents to spy and sabotage, aiming at spreading chaos in Gulf countries, such as Bahrain and Kuwait and more recently off Fujairah and in Saudi Arabia.”

“Nobody wants war in this region,” the newspaper added. “But Iran should instead focus on its daunting internal problems which cannot be resolved by constantly fomenting aggression against our countries.”

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition that has waged war on Yemen’s Houthi rebels since 2015, backed by Iran. Tehran, however, denies arming the Houthis.
___
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.


 

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Iran Sends Envoy to 3 Gulf States to Explore Communication Channels with US
Monday, 27 May, 2019


Oman’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, receives Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi in Muscat. (ONA)

Dammam, London – Merza al-Khuwaldi and Asharq Al-Awsat

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi kicked off on Sunday a tour to three Gulf states in an attempt by Tehran to explore channels of communication with the United States.

His first stop took him to Oman where he met with Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the sultanate’s minister responsible for foreign affairs.

The two sides discussed aspects of the bilateral cooperation between the two countries. They also exchanged views on regional issues and developments, said the Oman news agency (ONA).

Bil Alawi had paid a visit to Tehran last week.

Araqchi made his trip amid mounting tensions with the United States, which last year withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers. Washington has been seeking to tighten sanctions against Iran over its malign regional policies.

Tensions have ratcheted up recently in the Middle East as the White House earlier this month sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over Iranian threats. On Thursday, the Pentagon outlined proposals to the White House to send military reinforcements to the Middle East to beef up defenses against Iran.

Last week, bin Alawi said that Muscat was seeking to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington. He did not confirm or deny mediation efforts by Oman.

Araqchi said there were no direct or indirect negotiations with the US, the Iranian Fars news agency quoted him as saying from Muscat.

He informed bin Alawi that Iran was prepared to establish “balanced and constructive” relations with all Gulf states based on mutual respect and interests.

“We do not want to raise tensions in the region,” he continued. Moreover, he stressed that ensuring regional stability entails ending the sanctions.

Imposing sanctions on Iran is a policy that has failed as demonstrated by past experiences, he added.

Araqchi is set to later visit Kuwait and Qatar as part of his Gulf tour.

Oman, Kuwait and Qatar have expressed their readiness to push forward reconciliation efforts between the US and Iran. They have also said they were ready to exert efforts to ease tensions between them.

On Friday, Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah said that he believes that negotiations to calm tensions have indeed started between the US and Iran.

He said Kuwait is "confident" that wisdom and reasoning will prevail in the region without the need for clashes.

This confidence stems from statements made by US and Iranian officials over their reluctance
to go to war, he told reporters.

Kuwait stands ready and is poised to carry out efforts aimed at calming and stabilizing the situation and avoiding confrontation, he added, according to the Kuwait news agency (KUNA).

Qatar, for its part, was the first country to dispatch a senior envoy to Tehran to ease tensions. Its foreign minister reportedly traveled to Iran on the eve of the arrival of the American bombers to the Gulf. Reports at the time said that Doha had offered to mediate between the US and Iran.

Araqchi’s trips coincided with a tour by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif to Pakistan and Iraq. The FM is also set to head to Turkey.


 

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Iran has sapped U.S. capacity for war: Revolutionary Guards chief
May 28, 2019 / Updated an hour ago

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran’s “absolute power” in its region has sapped the capacity of arch-enemy the United States to wage war against it, the commander of its elite Revolutionary Guards said on Tuesday, according to semi-official Mehr news agency.

He was speaking a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was not seeking regime change in Iran following moves to beef up U.S. forces in the Middle East, and that a new deal on Iran’s nuclear program was possible.

“We have been able to...empty the enemy’s capacity for war. You see the decline and crash of the enemies’ speech,” Major General Hossein Salami said, apparently alluding to Trump’s remarks during a visit to Japan.

“Today, Iran is an absolute power of the region and because of this it is not afraid of the enemy’s threats. Today, America has been defeated in its political philosophy.”

Trump appeared to soften his tone toward Iran, saying he believed it wanted to make a deal, crediting heavy U.S. economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

“We aren’t looking for regime change - I just want to make that clear. We are looking for no nuclear weapons.”

Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States after an attack earlier this month on oil tankers in the Gulf. Washington, a close ally of Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, blamed the attacks on Tehran, which denied the accusations.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich



 

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Hossam Zaki: Arab Summit Sends Clear Message on Foreign Meddling
Wednesday, 29 May, 2019


Arab League foreign ministers meet in Cairo, Egypt December 9, 2017. (Reuters)

Cairo – Sawsan Abou Hussein

Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League Hossam Zaki stressed that the organization’s upcoming emergency summit in Makkah sends a clear message on foreign meddling in the region.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that protecting national Arab security against violations and threats requires more coordination, consultations and cooperation among Arab countries.

He predicted that the summit, scheduled for Thursday, would make a strong political stance that supports the countries whose security and stability are being threatened by any foreign non-Arab parties, especially Iran.

Commenting in Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif’s proposal to Gulf states to sign a non-aggression pact with them, Zaki said that the problem with Iran is that its statements differ from its actions.

It may make positive remarks, but they are not followed up with actions, he added.

 

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Bolton: Iran Almost Certainly behind Sabotage off UAE Coast
Wednesday, 29 May, 2019


US national security adviser John Bolton. (Reuters)

Asharq Al-Awsat

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Wednesday that Iran was “almost certainly” behind the sabotage of four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates’ port of Fujairah earlier this month.

“I think it is clear these (tanker attacks) were naval mines almost certainly from Iran,” he told reporters in Abu Dhabi.

"Who else would you think is doing it?" he asked rhetorically. "Somebody from Nepal?"

Bolton had arrived in the UAE on Tuesday for talks with officials on regional security.

He will meet with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss bilateral ties and regional tensions.

The UAE has not blamed anyone for the sabotage attack. It is carrying out an investigation with Saudi Arabia, Norway, France and the US in the incident.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a pact, signed with other major powers, designed to curb Tehran’s nuclear activities.

The Trump administration has tightened sanctions on Iran, notably targeting its key oil exports, and beefed up its military presence in the Gulf, accusing Tehran of threats to US troops and interests.

Bolton said the United States was trying to be “prudent and responsible” in its approach. “The point is to make it clear to Iran and its surrogates that these kind of activities risk a very strong response from the Americans.”

He said the tanker attacks were connected to the strike on oil pumping stations on Saudi Arabia’s East-West pipeline and a rocket attack on the Green Zone in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Bolton said the US was deeply concerned with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force’s employment of Shiite militias in Iraq to launch indirect attacks against US forces deployed there.

“We will hold the Quds Force responsible if we see attacks,” he stressed.

 

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In UAE, Trump’s adviser warns Iran of ‘very strong response’
By JON GAMBRELL
9 minutes ago
29 May 2019

National Security Adviser John Bolton arrives to speak at the commencement for the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser warned Iran on Wednesday that any attacks in the Persian Gulf will draw a “very strong response” from the U.S., taking a hard-line approach with Tehran after his boss only two days earlier said America wasn’t “looking to hurt Iran at all.”

John Bolton’s comments are the latest amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran that have been playing out in the Middle East.
Bolton spoke to journalists in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which only days earlier saw former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warn there that “unilateralism will not work” in confronting the Islamic Republic.

The dueling approaches highlight the divide over Iran within American politics. The U.S. has accused Tehran of being behind a string of incidents this month, including the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the Emirati coast, a rocket strike near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and a coordinated drone attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels.

On Wednesday, Bolton told journalists that there had been a previously unknown attempt to attack the Saudi oil port of Yanbu as well, which he also blamed on Iran. He described Tehran’s decision to back away from its 2015 atomic deal with world powers as evidence it sought nuclear weapons, even though it came a year after America unilaterally withdrew from the unraveling agreement.

Bolton stressed the U.S. had not seen any further Iranian attacks in the time since, something he attributed to the recent military deployments — America recently sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf. But he warned the U.S. would strike back if again attacked.

“The point is to make it very clear to Iran and its surrogates that these kinds of action risk a very strong response from the United States,” Bolton threatened, without elaborating.

Bolton spoke before talks with Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He declined to have his remarks recorded by journalists.

A longtime Iran hawk, Bolton blamed Tehran for the recent incidents, at one point saying it was “almost certainly” Iran that planted explosives on the four oil tankers off the UAE coast. He declined to offer any evidence for his claims.

“Who else would you think is doing it?” Bolton asked at one point when pressed. “Somebody from Nepal?”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has repeatedly criticized Bolton as a warmonger. Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said later Wednesday Bolton’s remarks were a “ridiculous accusation.”

Separately in Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani said that the “road is not closed” when it comes to talks with the U.S. — if America returns to the nuclear deal. However, the relatively moderate Rouhani faces increasing criticism from hard-liners and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the collapsing accord.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi, Bolton linked the rocket fire in Baghdad, the alleged sabotage of the ships and the drone attack by Yemen’s rebels, describing them as a response from Iran and its proxies.

“I think it’s important that the leadership in Iran to know that we know,” Bolton said. He then brought up what he said could be a considered a fourth, previously unknown attack.

“There also had been an attack, an unsuccessful attack, on the Saudi port of Yanbu a couple of days before the attack on the tankers,” he said, without elaborating.

Saudi officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Bolton’s claim on Yanbu, which is the terminus, or end point, of the kingdom’s East-West Pipeline. The Houthis have already targeted two pumping stations on that pipeline during a coordinated drone assault.
Bolton also said the U.S. would boost American military installations and those of its allies in the region.

Earlier in April, on the first anniversary of Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Tehran announced it would begin to back away from the agreement.

The accord saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Trump pulled out of the accord as he said it didn’t go far enough in limiting the Iranian nuclear program, nor did it address Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Bolton said that without more nuclear power plants, it made no sense for Iran to stockpile more low-enriched uranium as it now plans to do. But the U.S. also earlier cut off Iran’s ability to sell its uranium to Russia in exchange for unprocessed yellow-cake uranium.

Iran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to offer better terms to the unraveling nuclear deal, otherwise it will resume enrichment closer to weapons level. Bolton declined to say what the U.S. would do in response to that.

“There’s no reason for them to do any of that unless that’s part of an effort to reduce the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons,” Bolton said.

“That’s a very serious issue if they continue to do that.”

Bolton’s trip to the UAE comes just days after Trump in Tokyo appeared to welcome negotiations with Iran.

“We’re not looking for regime change — I just want to make that clear,” Trump said. “We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.”

But Bolton himself, for years before becoming national security adviser, called for overthrowing Iran’s government in interviews and in paid speaking engagement before an Iranian exile group.

“I don’t back away from any of it. Those are positions I took as a private citizen,” Bolton said when asked about his prior remarks. “Right now I’m a government official. I advise the president. I’m the national security adviser, not the nation security decision-maker. It’s up to him to make those decisions.”

He also dismissed reports that he faced criticism from Trump over his hard-line stance with what he described as an old proverb: “The dogs bark and the caravan moves on.”
___
Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.


 

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