Crisis in the Arabian Gulf

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Al-Jubeir: Houthi attack proves they are indivisible part of IRGC
Thursday, 16 May 2019


Yemen's Houthis are an indivisible part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and are subject to the IRGC’s orders, Adel al-Jubeir said. (File photo: AFP)

Yemen's Houthis are an indivisible part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and are subject to the IRGC’s orders, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, said on Thursday.

He added that this is confirmed by the Houthi targeting of facilities in the Kingdom.

In a series of tweets on his official account, al-Jubeir said that the Houthis prove that they implement Iran’s agenda "by sacrificing the need of the Yemeni people for the benefit of Iran".


2- The Houthis are an indivisible part of #Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (#IRGC) and subject to the IRGC’s orders. This is confirmed by the #Houthis targeting facilities in the Kingdom
— Adel Aljubeir عادل الجبير (@AdelAljubeir) May 16, 2019
On Tuesday, the Houthi militias claimed responsibility for twin drone strikes on Saudi Arabia’s main East-West oil pipeline. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the vital conduit for global oil supplies in case of a military confrontation with the United States.

Several Arab countries have condemned the attacks on two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia, with Egypt adding that coordination with the Kingdom was at the highest level to counter challenges and threats.

 

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Abdul-Malik al-Houthi: Military escalation will extend to depths of enemy states
16 May 2019

His comments came only a day after two oil-pumping stations in Saudi Arabia were targeted by explosive-laden drones. (Screengrab)
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English

Yemen’s Houthi militias are developing more military capabilities, which have “proven their effectiveness”, but what’s to come is “bigger and greater”, the militias’ leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said in a recorded speech shared by al-Masirah TV on Wednesday.

“The fifth year (of war) is the year where there is more and more development of military capabilities. We do not need to explain the effectiveness of these capabilities- they have proven their importance and effectiveness. But what’s to come is bigger and greater, and we will leave the proof of that to the application and actual results,” al-Houthi said.

His comments came only a day after two oil-pumping stations in Saudi Arabia were targeted by explosive-laden drones, an attack which the Houthi militias claimed. They were located in Saudi Arabia’s town of Al al-Duwadimi and the city of Afif.

The Kingdom, as well as several Arab countries, said that it was a “cowardly act of terror aimed at destruction”, and “a serious threat to the regional and international security, and the world economy.”

The militia-sponsored al-Masirah report stated that this was al-Houthi’s first television interview. Al-Houthi said that there is current production of weapons, but the details of this are secret.

“The details will remain secret, but there is production of important, suitable and effective weapons… The missiles are able to reach Riyadh, and beyond Riyadh, to Abu Dhabi, to Dubai, to vital and sensitive targets- and they know what we mean by vital, sensitive and influential targets. I hope this message reaches them, and that they understand it well,” al-Houthi said.

 

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UK raises threat level for personnel in Iraq due to Iran risk: Sky News
Reuters
May 16, 2019

LONDON: Britain has raised the threat level for military forces and diplomats in Iraq because of a heightened security risk from Iran, Sky News said on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office declined to immediately comment on the report.
Britain also put its personnel and their families in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar on an increased state of alert, Sky said.

 

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Trump's irritation with top aides grows over Iran strategy
By Kevin Liptak, Jeremy Diamond, Jim Acosta, Kaitlan Collins and Kylie Atwood, CNN

May 16, 2019


Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump has become irritated at an emerging impression his hawkish national security advisers are marching him closer to war with Iran despite his isolationist tendencies, according to people familiar with the matter.

Instead, Trump is signaling his intent to speak with the Iranians as tensions rise in the Persian Gulf, and his national security team has taken steps they hope could facilitate a new diplomatic opening.

The likelihood of such an opening appears slim. But Trump has raised concern with the heightened rhetoric, believing a large-scale military intervention with Iran would be devastating to him politically, people familiar with the situation said. The President has told members of his team that starting a new conflict would amount to breaking his campaign promise to wind down foreign entanglements. And he's chafed at suggestions his aides, led by national security adviser John Bolton, are somehow leading him to war.

As recently as last week, Trump was calling outside advisers to complain about Bolton, people familiar with the conversations said. Trump is frustrated that Bolton has allowed the Iran situation to reach a point where it seems like armed conflict is a real possibility, but his frustrations with his national security adviser actually began earlier this spring over Venezuela, when a similar dynamic -- Bolton and other aides openly hinting at military options -- caused Trump to warn his team to tamp down the rhetoric.

As tensions with Iran have escalated over the past week, National Security Council officials close to Bolton were initially dismissive of the need to draw up deescalation options, including during a meeting late last week with State and Pentagon officials.

But in a follow-up session on Wednesday with the same group, those NSC officials were singing a different tune, according to an administration official. Instead, the officials asked the Pentagon to draw up additional deterrence and deescalation options for the President to review, according to an administration official.

Trump denied on Wednesday there was any "infighting" over his Middle East policy. But he reiterated his desire to open talks with Iran, a wish he's been advocating heavily in meetings over the past week.

"Different opinions are expressed and I make a decisive and final decision - it is a very simple process. All sides, views, and policies are covered," he tweeted. "I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon."

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, denied Thursday there were any divisions inside the administration over Iran. But she made clear that Trump's views would prevail.

"The President is the ultimate decision maker and he's going to take all of the information and intelligence that is given to him and he will make the decision that he thinks is best to keep Americans safe. It's that simple," she told reporters. "There's only one person that was elected to make those decisions and that was the President. He'll be the one that decides."

Even as Trump indicates he wants to cool tensions with Iran, it was his desire to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and ramp up sanctions on Iran -- against the advice of his earlier national security advisers -- that has brought Trump closer to the precipice of conflict with Iran.

Trump has directed aides in recent months to tighten the vises on Iran's economy, believing that he could pressure Iran's leaders to negotiate a better nuclear deal with him. But while that pressure strategy has done damage to Iran's economy, it has done more to back Iran into a corner -- and caused it to lash out -- rather than draw it back to the negotiating table.

Now, Trump is taking more active steps to open diplomatic channels. On Thursday, Trump will meet with the president of the Swiss government in order to try to establish a channel with which he can speak to Iranians as tensions between the country and the US heighten, according to a person familiar with ongoing discussions inside the White House.

Trump will meet with Ueli Maurer, the Swiss government president, at the White House to discuss the nations' relationship and "matters such as Switzerland's role in facilitating diplomatic relations and other international issues," the White House said in a statement.

The US and Iran do not have an official diplomatic relationship, but Switzerland serves as the protecting power for the US in the country. That means they represent US interests in Iran, performing services for US citizens in the country like visa processing. They also serve as a channel for diplomacy between the two nations though there are other mechanisms for the two nations to communicate.

Last week, after Trump publicly appealed to Iran to call him amid heightened tensions with Tehran, the White House contacted the Swiss to share a phone number the Iranians could call the President on, according to a diplomatic source familiar with the move.

The source said the Swiss likely won't hand over the number unless the Iranians specifically ask for it and it's thought they are highly unlikely to do so. White House officials say Trump's overtures are sincere.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, even though he is an Iran hawk, has also pressed to open up diplomatic channels with Iran. The top Trump administration hostage negotiator sent a letter to Iran earlier this year saying that the US would enter into negotiations on prisoners if Iran released the ailing 82-year-old Baquer Namazi. The Iranians rejected the offer, saying they would not meet with any preconditions. Since then, the more muscular militaristic approach has been adopted.

The Iranians have thus far shown no public willingness to speak to Trump, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said this week that negotiations with the US would be akin to "poison."

Trump has been advocating heavily for some type of diplomatic contact behind the scenes, even as his national security team scales up its rhetoric on Iran and weighs military options.

Last week, the Pentagon positioned an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers in the region, and the White House has updated war plans to include the deployment of more than 100,000 US troops to the Middle East in the event that Iran strikes American forces in the region or speeds up its development of nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, the US announced it was ordering a partial evacuation of the US embassy in Baghdad and the US consulate in Erbil, Iraq, based on new threats in the region.

A number of US allies have questioned the response to the new intelligence, however, and have not ordered similar evacuations of their diplomatic compounds. Even within the US administration, officials describe an increasing level of concern in recent months among career staffers at the direction of the Trump administration's Iran policy.

Bolton and his coterie of Iran hawks at the NSC have been pushing for "action for action's sake," one administration official involved in the discussions said, without a clear strategy or set of goals. The concern is that there is simply a desire to scale up the pressure on Iran, escalating tensions with no clear off-ramp. Before re-entering government as Trump's national security adviser, Bolton openly advocated for regime change in Iran.

Now, there is serious wariness emerging over Bolton among Trump's circle of outside advisers, who enjoys open-door access to the President and spends hours with him each day.

"We need to be careful of his judgment," one of Trump's outside advisers said of the national security adviser.

Another adviser said Trump has "no interest in doing that at all" when it comes to getting into a military conflict with Iran.

Trump campaigned heavily in 2015 and 2016 against becoming involved in foreign wars, and lambasted President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, later determined to be based on faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Bolton was serving as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security at the time.

Bolton's penchant for ratcheting up tensions has at times caused anxiety in other areas of the administration, according to people familiar with the matter. The former Fox News pundit enjoys an open-door policy with the President and spends more time with him than any other member of the national security team, those sources said.

Trump was initially hesitant to put Bolton in his national security realm in an official capacity. Instead, the man with the distinguishable mustache was often seen walking past the cameras on the White House driveway and into the West Wing for routine foreign policy meetings with the President. When Trump finally did hire Bolton, Trump directed aides to tell people Bolton promised him he wouldn't start any wars. Trump regularly jokes to world leaders, ambassadors and military officers that Bolton wants to invade countries and start wars.

Those hawkish tendencies and easy access to Trump have sometimes left other members of Trump's foreign policy circle scrambling. Last year, Bolton's request for military options for Iran caused concern among some Pentagon officials, sources tell CNN.

The dynamic wasn't as pronounced when key administration posts were filled with officials viewed as steadying forces -- such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis or former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- according to the people familiar with the matter. But with those officials gone, Bolton has appeared to have a freer hand -- leaving some officials at the State Department and the Pentagon mindful of taking steps that would keep him in check.

Pompeo and Bolton have a strained relationship, people familiar with it say, even though they are largely alined on policy. Both are hawkish, but Pompeo believes he is more deft and diplomatic in his approach, according to the sources. The secretary of state often rolls his eyes when he is asked about Bolton.

Trump, meanwhile, has long chafed at any suggestion his decisions or actions are being manipulated or orchestrated by someone other than himself. Asked last week about Bolton in light of recent turmoil in Venezuela, North Korea and Iran -- all places where the US has taken a strong stand without much progress -- Trump said his national security adviser has "strong views" but that "I actually temper John."


 

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Trump Tells Pentagon Chief He Does Not Want War With Iran
  • May 16, 2019

President Trump told Patrick Shanahan, left, the acting defense secretary, that he does not want to go to war with Iran.CreditCreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times

By Eric Schmitt, Maggie Haberman and Mark Landler

WASHINGTON — President Trump has told his acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, that he does not want to go to war with Iran, according to several administration officials, in a message to his hawkish aides that an intensifying American pressure campaign against the clerical-led government in Tehran must not escalate into open conflict.

Mr. Trump’s statement, during a Wednesday morning meeting in the Situation Room, came during a briefing on the rising tensions with Iran. American intelligence has indicated that Iran has placed missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf, prompting fears that Tehran may strike at United States troops and assets or those of its allies.

No new information was presented to the president at the meeting that argued for further engagement with Iran, according to a person in the room. But Mr. Trump was firm in saying he did not want a military clash with the Iranians, several officials said.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump was asked during a visit by the Swiss president, Ueli Maurer, whether the United States was going to war with Iran.
“I hope not,” he replied.

The president has sought to tamp down reports that two of his most hawkish aides — the national security adviser, John R. Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — are spoiling for a fight with Iran and are running ahead of him in precipitating a military confrontation.

“There is no infighting whatsoever,” Mr. Trump said in a tweet on Wednesday evening. “Different opinions are expressed, and I make a decisive and simple decision — it’s a very simple process. All sides, views, and policies are covered.”

But Mr. Trump added he was confident Iran “will want to talk soon,” signaling an openness to diplomacy that officials said is not shared by Mr. Bolton or Mr. Pompeo.

The Fake News Washington Post, and even more Fake News New York Times, are writing stories that there is infighting with respect to my strong policy in the Middle East. There is no infighting whatsoever....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2019
....Different opinions are expressed and I make a decisive and final decision - it is a very simple process. All sides, views, and policies are covered. I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2019
The president’s professed hopes for a dialogue with Iran seem unlikely to produce a breakthrough any time soon. In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran said there was “no possibility” of discussions with the administration to ease the tensions, Agence France-Presse reported.

“The escalation by the United States is unacceptable,” Mr. Zarif told reporters, according to AFP.

Mr. Pompeo has outlined 12 steps that Iran must take to satisfy the United States — measures that some in the Pentagon view as unrealistic and could back Iranian leaders into a corner. He recently described American policy as being calculated to produce domestic political unrest in Iran.
Mr. Bolton, as a private citizen, long called for regime change in Tehran. He has resisted compromises that would open the door to negotiations with Tehran, has stocked the N.S.C. with Iran hard-liners and has masterminded recent policy changes to tighten the economic and political vise on the country’s leaders.

Mr. Trump is less frustrated with Mr. Bolton over his handling of Iran — he favors the tougher measures as a warning to Tehran — than over the evolving narrative that his national security adviser is leading the administration’s policy in the Middle East, according to three officials.

The president, they said, is well-versed and comfortable with the administration’s recent steps, which have included imposing increasingly onerous sanctions on Iran and designating the military wing of the government, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as a foreign terrorist organization.
Still, the gravity of the Iranian threat has become the subject of a fierce debate among administration officials. Some officials have argued that it did not warrant a dramatic American response, like deploying thousands of troops to the Middle East, or the partial evacuation of the United States Embassy in Baghdad.

The Pentagon last week presented Mr. Trump with options to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East, if Iran attacked American forces or accelerated its work on nuclear weapons. The options were ordered by Mr. Bolton, who has kept an unusually tight grip on the policymaking process for a national security adviser.

Mr. Bolton, officials said, has quietly voiced frustration with the president, viewing him as unwilling to push for changes in a region that he has long seen as a quagmire. That, in turn, has led people in the White House to view Mr. Bolton with deepening skepticism, with some questioning whether his job is in trouble.

Mr. Trump also is impatient with another of Mr. Bolton’s major campaigns: the effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. After the opposition’s failed attempt to peel away key Maduro allies and turn the Venezuelan military against him, Mr. Maduro appears harder to dislodge than ever.

 

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Iran tells Middle East militias: prepare for proxy war
Exclusive: Top military leader delivers message at Baghdad meeting as tensions rise

Martin Chulov Middle East correspondent
Thu 16 May 2019


Qassem Suleimani (centre), the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds force.
Qassem Suleimani (centre), the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds force. Photograph: AP

Iran’s most prominent military leader has recently met Iraqi militias in Baghdad and told them to “prepare for proxy war”, the Guardian has learned.

Two senior intelligence sources said that Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s powerful Quds force, summoned the militias under Tehran’s influence three weeks ago, amid a heightened state of tension in the region. The move to mobilise Iran’s regional allies is understood to have triggered fears in the US that Washington’s interests in the Middle East are facing a pressing threat. The UK raised its threat levels for British troops in Iraq on Thursday.

While Suleimani has met regularly with leaders of Iraq’s myriad Shia groups over the past five years, the nature and tone of this gathering was different. “It wasn’t quite a call to arms, but it wasn’t far off,” one source said.

The meeting has led to a frenzy of diplomatic activity between US, British and Iraqi officials who are trying to banish the spectre of clashes between Tehran and Washington and who now fear that Iraq could become an arena for conflict.

The gathering partly informed a US decision to evacuate non-essential diplomatic staff from the US embassy in Baghdad and Erbil and to raise the threat status at US bases in Iraq. It also coincided with a perceived separate risk to US interests and those of its allies in the Persian Gulf and led to a heightened threat that more than a decade of proxy conflicts may spill over into a direct clash between Washington and Tehran.

Leaders of all the militia groups that fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) were in attendance at the meeting called by Suleimani, the intelligence sources claimed. One senior figure who learned about the meeting had since met with western officials to express concerns.

As the head of the elite Quds force, Suleimani plays a significant role in the militias’ strategic directions and major operations. Over the past 15 years, he has been Iran’s most influential powerbroker in Iraq and Syria, leading Tehran’s efforts to consolidate its presence in both countries and trying to reshape the region in its favour.

The US has become increasingly vocal about the activities of Iranian proxies in the Middle East. Donald Trump this month named Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a western-designated terrorist group financed by Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, as partly responsible for a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel.

On Sunday, four ships – two of them Saudi oil tankers – were reportedly sabotaged off the UAE coast. The following day, drones launched by Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen attacked two Saudi pipelines. Saudi state media on Thursday called for “surgical strikes” against Iranian targets in response and its senior officials have told Washington that they expect it to act in its interests.

Adding to concerns is a belief that a convoy of Iranian-supplied missiles was last week successfully transported across Iraq’s Anbar province into Syria, where it was transferred safely to Damascus, regional diplomats told the Guardian. The transfer managed to evade US and Israeli intelligence, despite the latter’s interdiction of dozens of alleged missile deliveries in the past three years that have been flown into various Syrian airbases via an airbridge.

Fears of an Iranian-run land corridor emerging from the fight against the Islamic State, in which Shia militia groups played a prominent role, have been central to concerns that postwar Iraq and Syria could be subverted by regional manoeuvrings.

That Iran could emerge emboldened from the Isis fight has dominated recent discussions among Donald Trump’s uber-hawks, the national security adviser, John Bolton, and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, both of whom are central to an escalating US sanctions programme and Washington’s abandonment of an international nuclear deal signed by Tehran and the former US president Barack Obama.

The Trump administration has remained wary of the Iraqi militias. Although they jointly led the fight against Isis, such groups were integrated into the Iraqi state structure, and have drawn increasing comparisons with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. While they include some Sunni, Christian and Yazidi units, they are dominated by Shia groups, the most powerful of whom enjoy the direct patronage of Iran.

The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, appeared to align the UK on Thursday with US claims that Tehran’s threat posture had changed. “We share the same assessment of the heightened threat posed by Iran,” he said on Twitter. “As always we work closely with the USA.”

Earlier this week, a British general challenged the Trump administration’s claims that an imminent threat had emerged from Iran, creating a rare public schism between the two countries whose alliance has at times been tested by the erratic nature of Trump’s regional policy.

The UK, though, is understood to have been central to the recent concerns being raised, and efforts to de-escalate a crisis in which the US has imposed a “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran and Iranian officials have vowed to defend their interests, in the face of hardline sanctions and an oil blockade that is biting deep into Tehran’s coffers.

Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, told US broadcaster NPR that Iran was not interested in escalating regional tensions but had the “right to defend ourselves.”

The US has ordered a naval battle group and a squadron of B-52 bombers to the region, in response to the perceived increased threat. In Yemen, meanwhile, where a Saudi-led war against Iranian-allied Houthi forces is into its fifth year, early-morning airstrikes killed six people, including four children, a health ministry official said.

 

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New York Times: Intelligence officials declassify photo of boat with Iranian missile
By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

(CNN)Intelligence officials have declassified a photograph of an Iranian missile on a small boat in the Persian Gulf in their efforts to help show the increasing threat from Iran as divisions grow within the Trump administration about what the intelligence means, the New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has become frustrated with some of his top advisers over his administration's approach to Iran, according to the Washington Post.

CNN first reported last week that US intelligence showed Iran moving short-range ballistic missiles aboard boats in the Persian Gulf. The intelligence was one of the critical reasons the US decided to move an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers into the region, several US officials with direct knowledge of the situation told CNN.


The photographs of the Iranian missiles are the intelligence that caused the White House to increase its warnings about a threat from Iran, the Times reported Wednesday.

Two US officials told the newspaper that the declassified photograph alone isn't convincing enough validation of a threat from Iran. The declassified photograph has not been released by the Department of Defense.

Other classified photographs show Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has been designated by the Trump administration as a terrorist group, loading missiles onto the boats at several Iranian ports, the two US officials told the Times.

The officials warned that releasing other photos could compromise confidential sources and methods of gathering intelligence, the Times reported.
The intelligence has sparked heated debate among the White House, Pentagon, the CIA and US allies over the level of threat from Iran, according to the Times.

Trump's national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believe the photographs and other intelligence could indicate that Iran is preparing to attack US forces, the Times noted.

Other senior administration officials, congressional members and US allies feel that Iran's actions may mostly be defensive against the US, according the newspaper.

The Post reported that Trump has been angry and annoyed recently over what he believes is "warlike planning" from his top advisers, including Bolton, who has advocated for regime change in Tehran. Trump is concerned that the US could be rushed into a military confrontation with Iran, and instead wishes to pursue a diplomatic approach to easing tensions, several US officials told the Post.

National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis pushed back against the reporting, telling the Post that this "doesn't accurately reflect reality."
Trump has denied that there's any infighting among his administration regarding Iran policy.

"Different opinions are expressed and I make a decisive and final decision — it is a very simple process," Trump tweeted on Wednesday. "All sides, views, and policies are covered. I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon."

On Thursday, the Trump administration is set to hold a classified briefing on Iran with congressional leaders from both parties and top Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committee.

 

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U.A.E. Says It Won’t Be ‘Baited’ Into Iran Crisis as Tensions Mount
By Zainab Fattah and Manus Cranny
May 16, 2019
  • Minister Gargash stresses need for ‘deescalation’ after attack
  • Investigation into hit on tankers to be completed within days

The United Arab Emirates “won’t jump the gun” and accuse Iran of sabotaging ships off its coast, a senior government official said, as rising tensions in the Gulf stoke concerns the region is teetering on the brink of another war.

In an hour-long briefing, the U.A.E.’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, struck a cautious tone, stressing his country is “very committed to deescalation” and would exercise “caution and prudence” in a “brittle, difficult” situation. He said an investigation of the attack on the four ships, which includes Saudi and Norwegian vessels, was being assisted by American and French investigators and should wind up within days.

“We need to address Iran’s behavior clearly, but at the same time not to be baited into crisis,” Gargash said in an interview with Bloomberg Television late on Wednesday. “This is the region we live in and it’s important for us that we manage this crisis.”

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, and neither the U.A.E. nor Saudi Arabia have identified suspected culprits. Gargash dismissed an anonymous U.S. official’s claim blaming Iran, saying the U.A.E. is closer to the investigation.

Tensions have been rising in the Gulf since the U.S. stopped granting waivers last month to buyers of Iranian oil, tightening the crippling sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The U.S., citing unspecified threats from Iran, has accelerated the movement of a carrier battle group to the region and dispatched bombers and a Patriot anti-missile battery. On Wednesday, citing an “increased threat stream,” it ordered its non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq.

Iran has responded to the accelerated U.S. military movement by threatening to abandon limits on uranium enrichment enshrined in the nuclear deal unless the remaining signatories find a way to let it access the economic benefits it expected to reap under the accord. The U.S. pullout from the agreement has made European companies and banks shy from doing business with Iran for fear of falling afoul of the American sanctions.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels escalated the frictions in the region with drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities on Tuesday. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition that’s been fighting the Houthis for the past four years hit rebel targets on Thursday in retaliation, and a Saudi prince accused Iran of ordering the drone attacks.

“We will also retaliate and retaliate hard when we see the Houthis hit civilian targets within Saudi Arabia,” Gargash told reporters in a separate briefing on Wednesday evening.

— With assistance by Manus Cranny, and Giovanni Prati


 

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Saudis blame Iran for drone attack amid calls for US strikes
By AYA BATRAWY
16 May 2019

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of being behind a drone strike that shut down a key oil pipeline in the kingdom, and a newspaper close to the palace called for Washington to launch “surgical” strikes on Iran, raising the specter of escalating tensions as the U.S. boosts its military presence in the Persian Gulf.

Concerns about possible conflict have flared after the U.S. dispatched warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged but unspecified threat from Iran. There also have been allegations that four oil tankers were sabotaged Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack on the Saudi pipeline.

The fears have grown out of President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions — the latest levied as recently as last week — that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Saudi Prince Khalid bin Salman, who is King Salman’s son and the country’s deputy defense minister, tweeted that the drone attack on two Saudi Aramco pumping stations running along the East-West pipeline were “ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Houthis” — a reference to the Yemeni rebel group.

A state-aligned Saudi newspaper went further, running an editorial calling for “surgical” U.S. strikes on Iran in retaliation. Iran has been accused by the U.S. and the U.N. of supplying ballistic missile technology and arms to the Houthis, which Tehran denies.

The front-page editorial in the Arab News, published in English, said it’s “clear that (U.S.) sanctions are not sending the right message” and that “they must be hit hard,” without elaborating on specific targets. It said the Trump administration had already set a precedent with airstrikes in Syria, when the government there was suspected of using chemical weapons.

Ali Shihabi, who runs the Saudi-leaning Arabia Foundation in Washington, said there’s a sense that if the Iranians can get away with targeting Saudi oil infrastructure, then “the whole security infrastructure in the Gulf will be called into question and security premiums on oil will rise.”

He said it would seem that Riyadh would like to coordinate with Washington how it responds to Iran, but “eventually what may happen is that just Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have to do something.”

“Nobody is going to start a war with them (Iran), but I think they should be defanged and, you know, things like their naval capabilities, things like their missile capabilities should be downgraded at least to make their capacity to inflict such dangerous activity more painful, more costly,” Shihabi said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also is defense minister and controls major levers of power in the Sunni kingdom, has not commented publicly on this week’s incidents. In a Saudi TV interview in 2017, he said the kingdom knows it is a main target of Shiite Iran and there is no room for dialogue with Tehran.

A top Emirati diplomat said late Wednesday the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen would “retaliate hard” for attacks on civilian targets, without elaborating.

However, Anwar Gargash also said the UAE is “very committed to de-escalation” after the alleged sabotage of the tankers off the country’s coast. He declined to blame Iran directly, although he repeatedly criticized Tehran.

In response to the oil pipeline attack, the coalition said it launched airstrikes on Houthi targets in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, killing at least six people, including four children. At least 40 other people were wounded, according to Yemen’s Health Ministry.

Residents of Sanaa scrambled to pull wounded people from the rubble of a building hit by the airstrikes. Fawaz Ahmed told The Associated Press he saw three bodies — a man, a woman and a child, all buried together.

The coalition, which includes the UAE, has been at war with the Houthis since 2015, carrying out near-daily airstrikes. The pipeline attack marked one of the rebels’ deepest and most significant drone strikes inside Saudi territory since the conflict began.

Washington already has warned shipping companies that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf region and said it deployed an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers there to counter the threat.

Last week, U.S. officials said they had detected signs of Iranian preparations for potential attacks on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East but did not provide any evidence to back up the claims.

The U.S. State Department has ordered all nonessential government staff to leave its embassy and consulate in Iraq. Germany and the Netherlands both suspended their military assistance programs in the country in the latest sign of tensions.

Iraq is home to powerful pro-Iranian militias, while also hosting more than 5,000 U.S. troops. The U.S. military’s Central Command said its troops were on high alert, without elaborating.

European nations have urged the U.S. and Iran to show restraint. Also, a senior British officer in the U.S.-backed coalition fighting the Islamic State group, Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, said earlier this week that there had been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria. His
comments exposed international skepticism over the U.S. military buildup.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said during a visit to Tokyo that Iran has the right to respond to the “unacceptable” U.S. sanctions, but has exercised “maximum restraint.”

Speaking about Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, Zarif was quoted as also saying: “A multilateral deal cannot be treated unilaterally.”
Iran recently said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached by July 7. That would potentially bring it closer to being able to develop a nuclear weapon, something Iran insists it has never sought.
___
Associated Press writers Ahmed Al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, Jon Gambrell in Dubai and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed.

 

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Trump tries to tamp down talk of war with Iran
By DEB RIECHMANN and MATTHEW LEE
44 minutes ago
17 May 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he hopes the U.S. is not on a path to war with Iran amid fears that his two most hawkish advisers could be angling for such a conflict with the Islamic Republic.

Asked if the U.S. was going to war with Iran, the president replied, “I hope not” — a day after he repeated a desire for dialogue, tweeting, “I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

The tone contrasted with a series of moves by the U.S. and Iran that have sharply escalated tensions in the Middle East in recent days. For the past year, national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been the public face of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.

The friction has rattled lawmakers who are demanding more information on the White House’s claims of rising Iranian aggression. Top leaders in Congress received a classified briefing on Iran Thursday, but many other lawmakers from both parties have criticized the White House for not keeping them informed.

Iran poses a particular challenge for Trump. While he talks tough against foreign adversaries to the delight of his supporters, a military confrontation with Iran could make him appear to be backtracking on a campaign pledge to keep America out of foreign entanglements.

Lawmakers and allies, however, worry that any erratic or miscalculated response from Trump could send the U.S. careening into conflict.

Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and reinstated sanctions on Tehran that are crippling its economy.

Tensions rose dramatically May 5, when Bolton announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group would be rushed from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf ahead of schedule in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” without going into details.

Since then, four oil tankers, including two belonging to Saudi Arabia, were targeted in an apparent act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, according to officials in the region, and a Saudi pipeline was attacked by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen. The U.S. also ordered non-essential staff out of Iraq and has dispatched additional military assets to the region.

The Senate will receive a classified briefing on Iran on Tuesday, according to Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The House has requested a classified briefing as well.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said briefings are necessary because informing leaders “is no substitute for the full membership of the Congress.” She said a failure to inform lawmakers is “part of a pattern” for the Trump administration “that is not right,” because the power to declare war resides with Congress.

“I hope that the president’s advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way” against Iran, Pelosi said.

Trump has dismissed suggestions that any of his advisers, particularly Bolton, are pushing him into a conflict.

“John has strong views on things, but that’s OK. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing isn’t it?” Trump said recently when asked if he was satisfied with Bolton’s advice. “I have different sides. I mean, I have John Bolton, and I have other people that are a little more dovish than him. And ultimately I make the decision.”

Mark Dubowitz, an advocate of a hardline policy toward Iran and chief executive of the Federation for Defense of Democracies, said, “Trump is smart to let these advisers play the roles they play and it really does help him lay the table for negotiation, but ultimately, it comes back to his ability to oversee a negotiation and do so wisely and judiciously, and that’s an open question.”

Tensions started to spiral last year when Trump pulled out of a deal the U.S. and other world powers signed with Iran during the Obama administration. The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbing of its nuclear program.

Trump agreed with critics of the deal that it didn’t address Tehran’s work on ballistic missiles or its support of militant groups around the region. His administration reinstated sanctions that had been lifted under the deal — the Europeans and other signatories are still in it — and has piled on more.

Trita Parsi, an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University who advised the Obama administration on Iran, thinks the Iranians are trying to exploit Trump and Bolton’s divergence on foreign policy issues.

He cited a recent tweet from Hessamoddin Ashena, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, directed squarely at Trump and Bolton, who is easily recognized in public by his white, bushy mustache.

“You wanted a better deal with Iran. Looks like you are going to get a war instead. That’s what happens when you listen to the mustache,” the Iranian adviser said.
____
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.


 

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Top U.S. lawmakers press Pompeo for answers on Iran arms control report
May 17, 2019 / Updated an hour ago


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairmen of three congressional committees on national security on Thursday pressed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to explain whether a Trump administration arms control report was politicized and slanted assessments about Iran.

The chairmen of Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees in the U.S. House of Representatives - all Democrats - asked Pompeo in a letter to provide a State Department briefing and documents no later than May 23.

The letter cited a Reuters story from April 17 that reported how the administration’s annual report to Congress assessing compliance with arms control agreements provoked a dispute with U.S. intelligence agencies and some State Department officials.

The dissenting officials, sources said, were concerned that the document politicized and skewed assessments against Iran.
“Our nation knows all too well the perils of ignoring and ‘cherry-picking’ intelligence in foreign policy and national security decisions,” the chairmen said in their letter. They referred to the selective use of intelligence “to justify the march to war” in Iraq in 2003.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tensions have risen between the United States and Iran this month following statements from Washington that the U.S. military was braced for “possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq” from Iran-backed groups.

U.S. President Donald Trump has told top advisers he does not want to get the United States involved in a war with Iran, three U.S. officials said on Thursday.

The letter signed by Chairmen Eliot Engel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Smith of Armed Services and Adam Schiff of Intelligence also questioned why the unclassified report was only 12 pages compared to 45 the previous year.

Trump has tightened economic sanctions on Iran and intensified efforts to contain its power in the Middle East after withdrawing Washington a year ago from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, raising fears among some in Congress about intelligence possibly being misused to lay the groundwork to justify military action. Under the accord, Tehran curbed its uranium enrichment capacity, a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb, and won sanctions relief in return.

Trump is sending an aircraft carrier group, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East to counter what Washington has called a heightened threat from Iran in the region.

Iran described the U.S. moves as “psychological warfare”, and a British commander cast doubt on U.S. military concerns about threats to its roughly 5,000 soldiers in Iraq.

Reporting by Mary Milliken, David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland

 

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U.S. Congress to get classified Iran briefings next week: sources
May 17, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Officials from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration will conduct classified briefings on the situation with Iran next week, congressional sources said on Thursday, after both Democratic and Republican lawmakers asked for more information.

Congressional aides said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan would hold a session on Tuesday afternoon for all members of the Senate.

Trump’s fellow Republicans control a majority of seats in the Senate.

Aides in the House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, said they also expected a briefing next week with Pompeo, but other details had not yet been made final.

Members of the U.S. Congress have complained for weeks that Trump’s administration has not shared enough information with them as tensions flared with Iran, with even some Republicans saying they have been left in the dark.

Relations between Washington and Tehran have become more fraught following Trump’s decision this month to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.

Earlier this week, Washington pulled some diplomatic staff from its embassy in Baghdad following weekend attacks on four oil tankers in the Gulf.
Trump said on Thursday he hoped the United States was not heading toward war with Iran.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle


 

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Iran FM Says No Talks with US
Friday, 17 May, 2019


FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to the media in Tbilisi, Georgia, April 18, 2017. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

London - Asharq Al-Awsat

Iranian officials on Thursday rejected negotiations with the United States amid growing tension between the two countries.

In Tokyo for talks with Japanese officials, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there was "no possibility" of negotiations with Washington. "I don't know why President Trump is confident," he told reporters.

Iran is committed to its obligations under an international nuclear deal despite the US withdrawal from the landmark agreement, he said, calling the reimposition of US sanctions "unacceptable".

Iran is exercising "maximum restraint in spite of the fact the United States withdrew from (the) JCPOA last May," Zarif said at the beginning of his meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister.

He was referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in 2015 by the United States, Iran and other countries, under which Iran curbed its uranium enrichment capacity and won sanctions relief in return.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement last year and is ratcheting up sanctions on Iran, aiming to strangle its economy by ending its international sales of crude oil.

He has sent an aircraft carrier group, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East to counter what Washington calls a heightened threat from Iran to US soldiers and interests in the region.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Tehran does not seek war with the US despite mounting tensions.

"There won't be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance," Khamenei was cited as saying by the state media. "We don't seek a war, and they don't either. They know it’s not in their interests."

Chairman of Iran's Strategic Council of Foreign Relations (SCFR) Kamal Kharrazi said Thursday that "no one in Iran is ready to negotiate with Trump."

In an interview with French television, he said: "We don't see any reason to engage in negotiations with the team currently present at the White House which is seeking to change the Iranian regime."

He added that Tehran "does not trust" the US administration.




 

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Iran’s regional proxies ensure it will never fight alone
By ZEINA KARAM5
17 May 2019

BEIRUT (AP) — In the event of war with the United States, Iran “will not be alone.”

That message was delivered by the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group to a mass rally in Beirut in February marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. “If America launches war on Iran, it will not be alone in the confrontation, because the fate of our region is tied to the Islamic Republic,” Hassan Nasrallah said.

From Lebanon and Syria to Iraq, Yemen, and the Gaza Strip, Tehran has significantly expanded its footprint over the past decade, finding and developing powerful allies in conflict-ravaged countries across the Middle East. Hezbollah is one of the most prominent members of the self-styled “axis of resistance,” armed groups with tens of thousands of Shiite Muslim fighters beholden to Tehran.

Iran has used such groups in the past to strike its regional foes, and could mobilize them if the latest tensions with the United States lead to an armed conflict — dramatically expanding the battlefield.

Here’s a look at Tehran’s allies in the Mideast:

HEZBOLLAH
The militia, whose Arabic name translates into “Party of God,” was established by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard during Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s. Today it is among the most effective armed groups in the region, extending Iran’s influence to Israel’s doorstep.

In a paper for the Brookings Institute earlier this year, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman described the group as revolutionary Iran’s “most successful export” and Tehran’s “multi-purpose tool.”

Hezbollah was formed to combat Israel following its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It waged an 18-year guerrilla war against Israeli forces, eventually forcing them to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000. Six years later, it battled Israel to a bloody stalemate in a monthlong war.

Today, the group has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles that can reach deep into Israel, as well as thousands of highly disciplined and battle-hardened fighters. Hezbollah has fought alongside government forces in Syria for more than six years, gaining even more battlefield experience and expanding its reach.

At home, the group’s power exceeds that of the Lebanese armed forces, and along with its allies has more power than ever in the parliament and government.

Despite the rhetoric, Hezbollah says it is not seeking another war with Israel, and it is not likely to join in any regional confrontation — at least not in the early stages — unless provoked. Hezbollah has lost hundreds of fighters in Syria, exacting a heavy toll on the Shiite community from which it draws most of its support.

___
THE HOUTHIS

Yemen’s Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, swept down from the north and captured the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict on the side of the government the following year. The war has since killed tens of thousands of people and generated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as an Iranian proxy, and along with Western nations and U.N. experts has accused Tehran of providing arms to the rebels, including the long-range missiles they have fired into Saudi Arabia. Iran supports the rebels but denies arming them.

The Houthis have given up little ground since the coalition entered the war, and have targeted the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with long-range missiles. Earlier this week they claimed a drone attack that shut down a major oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, which responded with airstrikes on Yemen’s rebel-held capital that killed civilians.
___
IRAQ MILITIAS
Iran has trained, financed, and equipped Shiite militias in Iraq that battled U.S. forces in the years after the 2003 invasion and remobilized to battle the Islamic State group a decade later.

The groups include Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataeb Hezbollah and the Badr Organization, all three led by men with close ties to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the architect of Tehran’s regional strategy.

The militias fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a collection of mostly Shiite militias that were incorporated into the country’s armed forces in 2016. Together they number more than 140,000 fighters, and while they fall under the authority of Iraq’s prime minister, the PMF’s top brass are politically aligned with Iran.

U.S. forces and the PMF fought side-by-side against Islamic State militants after Iraq’s parliament invited the U.S. back into the country in 2014. But now that the war is largely concluded, some militia leaders are calling on U.S. troops to leave again, threatening to expel them by force if necessary. This week, the U.S. ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq, amid unspecified threats in the region said to be linked to Iran.
___
GAZA MILITANTS
Iran has long supported Palestinian militant groups, including Gaza’s Hamas rulers and particularly the smaller Islamic Jihad group.

Hamas fell out with Iran after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, losing millions of dollars in monthly assistance. The group today is in a severe financial crisis; its employees and public servants in Gaza have not been paid full salaries in years.

Tehran is said to have continued its military support to Hamas’ armed wing, but the group appears to get most of its aid from Qatar, making it less likely that it would rally to Tehran’s side in a regional conflict. Islamic Jihad, another Sunni militant group, is seen as much closer to Iran but still not as deeply intertwined as Hezbollah or other groups.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched hundreds of rockets from Gaza during a bout of fighting with Israel earlier this month. Israel accused Islamic Jihad of triggering the violence, which was the worst since a 2014 war. The movement did not deny the Israeli accusations.
__
Associated Press writers Philip Issa in Baghdad and Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.

 

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Trump more cautious than his top advisers on Iran
By DEB RIECHMANN and MATTHEW LEE
17 May 2019
25 minutes ago

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One for a trip to New York to attend a fundraiser, Thursday, May 16, 2019, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he hopes the U.S. is not on a path to war with Iran amid fears that his two most hawkish advisers could be angling for such a conflict with the Islamic Republic.

Asked Thursday if the U.S. was going to war with Iran, the president replied, “I hope not” — a day after he repeated a desire for dialogue, tweeting, “I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

The tone contrasted with a series of moves by the U.S. and Iran that have sharply escalated tensions in the Middle East in recent days. For the past year, national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been the public face of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.

The friction has rattled lawmakers who are demanding more information on the White House’s claims of rising Iranian aggression. Top leaders in Congress received a classified briefing on Iran Thursday, but many other lawmakers from both parties have criticized the White House for not keeping them informed.

Iran poses a particular challenge for Trump. While he talks tough against foreign adversaries to the delight of his supporters, a military confrontation with Iran could make him appear to be backtracking on a campaign pledge to keep America out of foreign entanglements.

Lawmakers and allies, however, worry that any erratic or miscalculated response from Trump could send the U.S. careening into conflict.

Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and reinstated sanctions on Tehran that are crippling its economy.

Tensions rose dramatically May 5, when Bolton announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group would be rushed from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf ahead of schedule in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” without going into details.

Since then, four oil tankers, including two belonging to Saudi Arabia, were targeted in an apparent act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, according to officials in the region, and a Saudi pipeline was attacked by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen. The U.S. also ordered non-essential staff out of Iraq and has dispatched additional military assets to the region.

The Senate will receive a classified briefing on Iran on Tuesday, according to Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. The House has requested a classified briefing as well.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said briefings are necessary because informing leaders “is no substitute for the full membership of the Congress.” She said a failure to inform lawmakers is “part of a pattern” for the Trump administration “that is not right,” because the power to declare war resides with Congress.

“I hope that the president’s advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way” against Iran, Pelosi said.
Trump has dismissed suggestions that any of his advisers, particularly Bolton, are pushing him into a conflict.

“John has strong views on things, but that’s OK. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing isn’t it?” Trump said recently when asked if he was satisfied with Bolton’s advice. “I have different sides. I mean, I have John Bolton, and I have other people that are a little more dovish than him. And ultimately I make the decision.”

Mark Dubowitz, an advocate of a hardline policy toward Iran and chief executive of the Federation for Defense of Democracies, said, “Trump is smart to let these advisers play the roles they play and it really does help him lay the table for negotiation, but ultimately, it comes back to his ability to oversee a negotiation and do so wisely and judiciously, and that’s an open question.”

Tensions started to spiral last year when Trump pulled out of a deal the U.S. and other world powers signed with Iran during the Obama administration. The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbing of its nuclear program.

Trump agreed with critics of the deal that it didn’t address Tehran’s work on ballistic missiles or its support of militant groups around the region. His administration reinstated sanctions that had been lifted under the deal — the Europeans and other signatories are still in it — and has piled on more.

Trita Parsi, an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University who advised the Obama administration on Iran, thinks the Iranians are trying to exploit Trump and Bolton’s divergence on foreign policy issues.

He cited a recent tweet from Hessamoddin Ashena, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, directed squarely at Trump and Bolton, who is easily recognized in public by his white, bushy mustache.

“You wanted a better deal with Iran. Looks like you are going to get a war instead. That’s what happens when you listen to the mustache,” the Iranian adviser said.
____
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.



 

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