Denmark discusses Hormuz naval mission with European allies
September 6, 2019
Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod and Defense Minister Trine Bramsen attend a news conference in the Prime Minister's Office in Copenhagen, Denmark, September 6, 2019. Ritzau Scanpix/Niels Christian Vilmann/via REUTERS
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark’s prime minister said on Friday that it is in talks with a number of European allies about an international naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.
“We are looking into the possibility of a Danish naval contribution in an international European-led effort,” said PM Mette Frederiksen.
“We are in dialogue with a number of European countries about how such an effort can be organised”.
France has pushed for a European alternative after ruling out joining a U.S.-led coalition of countries protecting oil tankers and cargo ships from threats posed by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz.
U.S Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his French counterpart will discuss on Saturday how France’s navy could coordinate with Washington to ensure freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.
“When it comes to the Hormuz Strait, we deem it wise, and a number of European countries do so, too, that we try and create a European-led operation, which should not be regarded as an alternative to the American presence, but as a supplement,” Frederiksen said.
Denmark will also add about 700 soldiers, a frigate and four fighter jets to NATO forces, Defense Minister Trine Bramsen said at the briefing.
In addition, it will send a frigate to support a U.S. aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean starting early next year, she said.
The NATO country earlier this year pledged to raise its military spending to 1.5% of its gross domestic product in 2023, up from 1.35% planned this year.
U.S. President Donald Trump called off a planned visit to Denmark in early September after his idea about buying Greenland, a Danish territory, was rebuffed. In a tweet later, Trump criticized Denmark for not meeting a NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defense.
“One thing is how much money we spend on our defense seen in isolation, and another thing is our capacity and ability to form part of the defense cooperation,” Frederiksen said.
Reporting by Stine Jacobsen, Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; editing by Larry King
Pentagon Chief: Iran 'Inching' Toward Place Where Talks Could Be Held
Friday, 6 September, 2019
FILE PHOTO: Mark Esper talks to reporters at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday it seems that Iran was inching toward a place where talks could be held.
“It seems in some ways that Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks and hopefully it’ll play out that way,” Esper said.
Friction between the Tehran and Washington has grown since US President Donald Trump last year withdrew from a 2015 international accord under which Iran had agreed to narrow its atomic program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Washington has since renewed and intensified its sanctions, slashing Iran’s crude oil sales by more than 80%, Reuters reported.
At the same time US has rejected, but not ruled out, a French plan to give Tehran a $15 billion credit line.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, for his part, on Wednesday gave European powers two more months to try to save the multilateral pact.
The moves suggested Iran, the US and European powers may be leaving the door open for diplomacy to resolve a dispute over Iran’s nuclear work, which the West has suspected was aimed at developing a nuclear weapon.
However, Iran denies having sought a nuclear bomb.
Asked about the prospect, Trump told White House reporters anything was possible. “Sure, anything’s possible. They would like to be able to solve their problem,” he said, referring to inflation in Iran.
“We could solve it in 24 hours.”
According to Reuters, senior US defense official said Esper and his French counterpart will discuss on Saturday how France’s navy could coordinate with Washington to ensure freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday it seems that Iran was inching toward a place where talks could be held. “It seems in some ways that Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks and hopefully it’ll play out that way,” E
Iran uses advanced centrifuges, threatens higher enrichment
By NASSER KARIMI and JON GAMBRELL
07 Sept 2019
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Saturday said it now uses arrays of advanced centrifuges prohibited by its 2015 nuclear deal and can enrich uranium “much more beyond” current levels to weapons-grade material, taking a third step away from the accord while warning Europe has little time to offer it new terms.
While insisting Iran doesn’t seek a nuclear weapon, the comments by Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran threatened pushing uranium enrichment far beyond levels ever reached in the country. Prior to the atomic deal, Iran only reached up to 20%, which itself still is only a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.
The move threatened to push tensions between Iran and the U.S. even higher more than a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions now crushing Iran’s economy. Mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone and other incidents across the wider Middle East followed Trump’s decision.
“So far, Iran has showed patience before the U.S. pressures and Europeans’ indifference,” said Qassem Babaei, a 33-year-old electrician in Tehran. “Now they should wait and see how Iran achieves its goals.”
Iran separately acknowledged Saturday it had seized another ship and detained 12 Filipino crewmembers, while satellite images suggested an Iranian oil tanker once held by Gibraltar was now off the coast of Syria despite Tehran promising its oil wouldn’t go there.
Speaking to journalists while flanked by advanced centrifuges, Kamalvandi said Iran has begun using an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges and another 20 of IR-4 centrifuges. An IR-6 can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as an IR-1, Iranian officials say, while an IR-4 produces five times as fast.
The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one.
“Under current circumstances, the Islamic Republic of Iran is capable of increasing its enriched uranium stockpile as well as its enrichment levels and that is not just limited to 20 percent,” Kamalvandi said. “We are capable inside the country to increase the enrichment much more beyond that.”
Iran plans to have two cascades, one with 164 advanced IR-2M centrifuges and another with 164 IR-5 centrifuges, running in two months as well, Kamalvandi said. A cascade is a group of centrifuges working together to more quickly enrich uranium.
Iran has already increased its enrichment up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed under the deal, as well as gone beyond its 300-kilogram limit for low-enriched uranium.
While Kamalvandi stressed that “the Islamic Republic is not after the bomb,” he warned that Iran was running out of ways to stay in the accord.
“If Europeans want to make any decision, they should do it soon,” he said. France had floated a proposed $15 billion line of credit to allow Iran to sell its oil abroad despite U.S. sanctions. Another trade mechanism proposed by Europe called INSTEX also has faced difficulty.
Kamalvandi also said Iran would allow U.N. inspectors to continue to monitor sites in the country. A top official from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency was expected to meet with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday.
The IAEA said Saturday it was aware of Iran’s announcement and “agency inspectors are on the ground in Iran and they will report any relevant activities to IAEA headquarters in Vienna.” It did not elaborate.
In Paris, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Iran’s announcement wasn’t a surprise.
“The Iranians are going to pursue what the Iranians have always intended to pursue,” Esper said at a news conference with his French counterpart, Florence Parly.
For his part, Trump has said he remains open for direct talks with Iran. A surprise visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the Group of Seven summit in France last month raised the possibility of direct talks between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, perhaps at this month’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, though officials in Tehran later seemed to dismiss the idea.
Meanwhile Saturday, Iranian state TV said the tugboat and its 12 crewmembers were seized on suspicion of smuggling diesel fuel near the Strait of Hormuz. The report did not elaborate. In Manila, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said it was checking details of the reported seizure.
Also Saturday, satellite images showed a once-detained Iranian oil tanker pursued by the U.S. appears to be off the coast of Syria, where Tehran reportedly promised the vessel would not go when authorities in Gibraltar agreed to release it several weeks ago.
Images obtained by The Associated Press from Maxar Technologies appeared to show the Adrian Darya-1, formerly known as the Grace-1, some 2 nautical miles (3.7 kilometers) off Syria’s coast.
Iranian and Syrian officials have not acknowledged the vessel’s presence there. Authorities in Tehran earlier said the 2.1 million barrels of crude oil onboard had been sold to an unnamed buyer. That oil is worth about $130 million on the global market, but it remains unclear who would buy the oil as they’d face the threat of U.S. sanctions.
The new images matched a black-and-white image earlier tweeted by John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser.
“Anyone who said the Adrian Darya-1 wasn’t headed to #Syria is in denial,” Bolton tweeted. “We can talk, but #Iran’s not getting any sanctions relief until it stops lying and spreading terror!”
U.S. prosecutors in federal court allege the Adrian Darya’s owner is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On Wednesday, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on an oil shipping network it alleged had ties to the Guard and offered up to $15 million for anyone with information that disrupts its paramilitary operations.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Paris, David Rising in Berlin and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Saturday said it now uses arrays of advanced centrifuges prohibited by its 2015 nuclear deal and can enrich uranium "much more beyond" current levels to weapons-grade material, taking a third step away from the accord while warning Europe has little time to offer it...
A handout picture made available by the presidential office shows Iranian soldiers during the annual military parade marking the Iraqi invasion in 1980, in Tehran, Iran, 22 September 2019. EPA
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday said that Iran would present a regional peace plan to the United Nations at the General Assembly in New York this week, after the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure and the US order to deploy more troops to the region in response.
"In this sensitive and important historical moment, we announce to our neighbours, that we extend the hand of friendship and brotherhood to them," he said.
In his speech on Sunday, Mr Rouhani called on the foreign powers in the Gulf region to "stay away".
"Foreign forces can cause problems and insecurity for our people and for our region," he said in a televised speech at an annual military parade.
"If they're sincere, then they should not make our region the site of an arms race," he continued. "Your presence has always brought pain and misery for the region. The farther you keep yourselves from our region and our nations, the more security there will be for our region."
Following his speech, the armed forces paraded their latest equipment, including tanks, missiles and armoured vehicles as Rouhani and top military commanders saluted them.
The annual military parade marks the start of the week commemorating Iran's 1980-1988 war with Iraq known as the "sacred defence".
Mr Rouhani is expected to travel to New York on Monday, a day before general debate kicks off at the UN General Assembly.
His comments came as tensions have escalated between arch-foes Iran and the United States after the devastating September 14 attacks on Saudi oil installations that Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Tehran.
Following the attacks, the United States announced on Friday that it was sending reinforcements to Saudi Arabia at "the kingdom's request".
The Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, a claim rejected by the US.
But the Iran-backed group on Friday offered to halt all attacks against Saudi Arabia as part of a peace initiative.
The United Nations envoy for Yemen welcomed the offer on Saturday, saying it could bring an end to years of bloody conflict.
Implementation of the initiative by the Houthis "in good faith could send a powerful message of the will to end the war," Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said.
The Iran-backed Houthis, which control the capital Sanaa and other parts of Yemen, have been fighting against a Saudi-led coalition which supports the country's internationally recognised government in a devastating five-year war.
Mr Griffiths hailed "the desire for a political solution to end the conflict" in a statement issued from the UN headquarters in New York.
Saudi Arabia gave a cautious response, with minister of state for foreign affairs Adel Al Jubeir saying on Saturday, "We judge other parties by their deeds, actions and not by their words, so we will see [whether] they actually do this or not."
Mr Griffiths stressed "the importance of taking advantage of this opportunity and moving forward with all necessary steps to reduce violence, military escalation and unhelpful rhetoric."
In a press conference on Saturday, Mr Al Jubeir warned of "appropriate measures" once the source of the strikes on its oil facilities was confirmed.
"We have asked the United Nations to do an investigation and there are also other countries involved in the probe," he told a press conference.
"We are sure the attack was not launched from Yemen, but from the north.
"When it [the probe] is completed, we will take the appropriate procedures to deal with this aggression," Mr Al Jubeir said without specifying.
Tensions have flared in the Gulf since May, when Iran began reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal and the US said it was sending forces to waters near the Islamic republic in response to "indications of a credible threat" from its forces.
US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the deal over a year ago, and re-imposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy.
The US deployed an aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the sensitive waterways, before sending B-52 bombers, an amphibious assault ship and Patriot missile battery.
The head of Iran's navy said on Sunday that the Islamic Republic is ready to defend its marine borders and would deliver a "crushing reaction" to any aggression.
"In case of any miscalculation and aggression by the enemy, (the navy), along with other armed forces of the country, will give the most crushing reaction in the shortest time possible," Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi was cited as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.
"Today, the Islamic Republic of Irans defense power is at its highest possible level and forces of army and (Revolutionary Guards) are ready to defend marine borders of the country."
The Stena Impero was detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for alleged marine violations on July 19, 2019. (Mizan News Agency via AP)
Stena Impero was detained two weeks after Britain detained an Iranian tanker off the territory of Gibraltar, which has since been released
STOCKHOLM: The chief executive of the Swedish firm that owns the Stena Impero, the British-flagged tanker detained by Tehran on July 19, said on Sunday he had been informed that the vessel may be released within a few hours.
The Stena Impero was detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain detained an Iranian tanker off the territory of Gibraltar. That vessel was released in August.
Erik Hanell, chief executive of Stena Bulk, told the Swedish public broadcaster SVT: “We have received information now this morning that it seems like they will release the ship Stena Impero within a few hours. So, we understand that the political decision to release the ship has been taken.”
“We hope to be able to head out within a few hours, but we don’t want to anticipate events. We want to see that the ship sails out of Iranian territorial waters,” Hanell told SVT.
Hanell did not immediate respond to a request for comment.
On Sept. 4, Iran released seven of vessel’s 23 crew members. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said at the time that Sweden had been in daily contact with Iran at a high political level since the vessel was seized.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said the country will continue to reduce its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal.
| License Photo
Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Tehran will keep abandoning commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal if the United States doesn't rejoin the pact and remove sanctions.
Last year, President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the 2015 nuclear deal, and instead implemented sanctions on Iran as punishment for the country's funding terrorist attacks throughout the region.
Khamenei said the U.S. campaign of "maximum pressure" has failed and will "definitely" continue to fail.
"They imagined Iran would be forced to show flexibility if they applied policy of maximum pressure," Khamenei said. "With the help of God, they understand that the maximum pressure has caused problems for themselves."
He said the United States tried to get European allies to arrange a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a symbol of Iranian submission but that failed, too.
He called the sanctions on Iran selling crude oil a "short-term problem" that could generate "long-term benefits" because it cuts reliance on oil revenues.
At one point, Tehran was hopeful that European leaders would find a way to circumvent the oil sanctions but nothing came of the talks.
Iran continues to reduce its commitments to the JCPOA as the sanctions get harsher. Iran removed the ban on nuclear research and development, started enriching uranium to a higher purity and has taken other steps.
As long at the oil prices remain under control there is no question of Iranian sanctions going away......The whole point of attack on the Saudi oil installations was to increase the oil prices to the point where the world would have no choice but to lift sanctions from Iran so that oil from Iran could help bring down the oil prices but the plan backfired.
I doubt that after the Iranian president refusal to talk to Trump on French president insistent the Europeans would further help Iran out.
FILE PHOTO : French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian gestures as he speaks after a meeting of the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council in Moscow, Russia, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
PARIS (Reuters) - Iran and the United States have one month to get to the negotiating table, France’s foreign minister warned, suggesting that Tehran’s plan to increase its nuclear activities in November would spark renewed tension in the region.
French President Emmanuel Macron attempted, but failed to broker talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York last week.
“We consider that these initiatives, which didn’t succeed, are still on the table and it is up to Iran and the United States to seize (them) in a relatively short amount of time because Iran has announced new measures to reduce its commitments to the Vienna accord in November,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
Iran is breaching the restrictions of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers step-by-step in response to U.S. sanctions imposed since Washington pulled out of the agreement in May of last year.
It has said its next reductions would be at the start of November and diplomats fear the next move could force European powers who are trying to salvage the accord to respond, unlike after previous breaches.
“These measures risk leading to a new period of tension and new escalation so we must take advantage of the political space that exists to move forward,” Le Drian said
In New York, Macron’s efforts centered around getting both sides to agree on parameters for negotiations that included ensuring Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon, developing a regional security plan, including ending Yemen’s civil war, and the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.
Washington has repeatedly said it is prepared to hold talks with Iran on a more far-reaching deal, arguing its crippling economic sanctions will force Iran to the negotiating table. Tehran, however, has ruled out talks until those sanctions are lifted, while continuing its incremental nuclear expansion.
Macron had been trying over the past few weeks to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran, which spiked after a Sept. 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities that Saudi Arabia, the United States and European powers blamed on Iran. Tehran has denied involvement.
“There are parameters on the table today that we think we can move forward on them and France’s diplomacy is working on it,” Le Drian said
Reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Matthew Lewis
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and warned against a conflict between Tehran and Riyadh
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Pakistani Premier Imran Khan that anyone who starts a war against the Islamic republic will "undoubtedly regret" it
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Iran on Sunday on a mission to act as a "facilitator" between Tehran and Riyadh and try to defuse rising tensions in the Gulf.
Khan held talks with President Hassan Rouhani at the presidential palace and later met with Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the leader's official website.
He is expected to visit Saudi Arabia next on Tuesday.
"The reason for this trip is that we do not want a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran," Khan told reporters as he stood alongside Rouhani.
"Whatever it takes we must never allow this conflict to take place, because we know, Mr. President, that there is a vested interest that wants this to take place," he told Rouhani.
Noting that it was a "complex" issue that can be resolved through talks, Khan warned that any conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia would "cause poverty in the world".
Pakistan has strong relations with Saudi Arabia, with more than 2.5 million of its nationals living and working in the kingdom, but it also maintains good relations with Iran and represents Tehran's consular interests in the United States.
This is Khan's second visit this year to Iran, which shares a border of about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) with Pakistan.
Emphasising that the visits to Tehran and Riyadh were Pakistan's "initiative", Khan said he was also approached by US President Donald Trump to "facilitate some sort of dialogue between Iran and the United States".
Iran's supreme told Khan that the Islamic republic has "no hostility" towards its neighbours but warned that whoever instigates war will "undoubtedly regret" it, Khamenei's official website said.
Khan lauded Khamenei's "personal commitment... to the cause of Kashmir", a region split between India and Pakistan and a regular source of conflict between the two neighbours, a statement from his office said.
- Tanker attacks -
Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since the US withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May last year and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic republic.
In talks with Khan, Rouhani repeated Iran's official line that the United States must return to the deal and lift sanctions before any talks can take place.
"Any goodwill gesture and good words will be reciprocated with a goodwill gesture and good words," he said.
Rouhani said he had expressed Iran's concern about Gulf security and especially a "missile attack" Friday on an Iranian vessel off the Saudi coast.
"We expressed our concerns to the prime minister about the incidents happening to oil tankers, especially the Iranian oil tanker in the Red Sea on Friday," he said.
Tehran says the Iranian-flagged Sabiti tanker was hit by two separate explosions off the Saudi port of Jeddah, making it the first Iranian vessel targeted since a spate of attacks in the Gulf that Washington has blamed on Tehran.
Rouhani said he had presented Khan with evidence from the incident and that investigations were ongoing.
"If a country thinks that it can cause insecurity in the region and not receive a proper response, it is mistaken," Rouhani said, without elaborating.
There has been a series of still-unexplained attacks on shipping in and around the vital seaway involving Iran and Western powers, as well as drone attacks on Saudi oil installations.
Washington has accused Tehran of attacking the vessels with mines and of being behind the drone assault, something it strongly denies.
Khan met both Rouhani and Trump at the United Nations General Assembly last month, shortly after he visited Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.
The Pakistan premier said he was "very encouraged" by talking to Rouhani and will go to Saudi Arabia "in a very positive frame of mind", hoping the two countries can "iron out their differences."
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan has decided to dispatch its own self-defense troops to the Strait of Hormuz area instead of joining the U.S.-coalition to protect merchant vessels passing through key Middle Eastern waterways, the Asahi newspaper reported.
The decision is in line with a previous Japanese media report that Japan would not join its most important ally in the security mission due to its close economic ties with Iran, a major oil producer.
Global commodity trading has been rocked in recent months by the seizure of a British tanker and a series of attacks on international merchant vessels that the U.S. and Britain have blamed on Iran. Tehran denies involvement.
RAAF deploys P-8A Poseidon to Middle East in support of IMSC mission in the Gulf
18 October 2019
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has deployed one of its Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime multimission aircraft to the Middle East in support of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) aimed at assuring the safety and protection of maritime navigation in the Gulf region.
Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announced in an 18 October statement that the aircraft's advanced patrol surveillance capabilities will be used to support the safe transit of naval and merchant vessels, and thus provide "a modest but meaningful contribution" to the mission.
The P-8A is expected to remain in the region until the end of November.