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U.S. pulls staff from Iraq amid concerns over Iran
May 15, 2019
John Davison, Raya Jalabi

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Washington ordered the departure of non-emergency American employees from its diplomatic missions in Iraq on Wednesday in another show of concern about alleged threats from Iran.

President Donald Trump’s administration is applying new sanctions pressure on Tehran and sending additional forces to the Middle East to counter what it says is a heightened threat from Iran to U.S. soldiers and interests in the region.

Iran calls that “psychological warfare”, and a British commander cast doubt on U.S. military concerns about threats to its roughly 5,000 soldiers in Iraq, who have been helping local security forces fight Islamic State jihadists.

The U.S. State Department said employees at both the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil, capital of semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, were being pulled out immediately due to safety concerns.

It was unclear how many personnel were affected, and there was no word on any specific threat. Visa services were suspended at the heavily-fortified U.S. missions.

“Ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and citizens is our highest priority ... and we want to reduce the risk of harm,” a State Department spokesman said.

Also on Wednesday, Germany, which has 160 soldiers in Iraq, suspended military training operations, citing increasing regional tensions. And the Netherlands suspended a mission providing assistance to Iraqi local authorities, Dutch news agency ANP said.

“DANGEROUS SITUATION”
Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday he had indications “things will end well” despite the rhetoric.

Iraq has said it will keep strong ties with Iran, but also with the United States and regional neighbours, some of whom, like Saudi Arabia, consider Tehran an arch-rival.

“I think we are now in a quite dangerous situation where a miscalculation by either side could lead us into conflict,” U.S. Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN in an interview on Wednesday.

“When you project force into a very volatile region and you’ve got real tension between Iran and the Saudis — we have to be careful. We need a strategy,” Coons said, echoing a call by Congress for the government to brief lawmakers.

The State Department reissued travel advisory for Iraq saying U.S. citizens were at high risk of violence and kidnapping. “Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq,” it said.

A senior Iranian official said on Wednesday that any conflict in the region will have “unimaginable consequences.”

Reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Raya Jalabi in Erbil; Additional reporting by Susan Heavy and Makini Brice in Washington; Writing by Raya Jalabi and John Davison; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Cawthorne

 

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Putin Urges Tehran to Stick to Nuclear Deal
16 May, 2019

Moscow - Raed Jaber

Kremlin reduced chances of US-Russia reaching agreements on the Iranian matter and said continued escalation in the region is likely. This came following talks between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian President Vladimir Putin, described as constructive and positive by Moscow.

Meanwhile, Putin warned that Russia is not a "fire brigade" which "rescues everything,” and further urged Tehran to stick to the nuclear deal.

During a joint press conference with Austrian counterpart Alexander Van der Bellen, Putin said: “I have repeatedly said during the talks with our Iranian partners that, to my mind, it would be more expedient for Iran to remain in this agreement at whatever cost.”

"As soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse, Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction," he added.

"The Americans withdrew," he continued, " the agreement is being destroyed, and European countries can do nothing to salvage it and cannot really work with Iran to compensate economic losses."

"We cannot rescue everything that does not fully depend on us. We’ve played our part," Putin added as he expressed regret for the latest developments regarding the nuclear deal.

For his part, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “So far we notice the continued escalation of tensions around this subject.”

"We are saddened to see the decisions taken by the Iranian side," Peskov noted while arguing that Washington has been provoking Iran, and that "there were no assurances from Pompeo."

Pompeo held talks in Sochi on Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and was hosted by Putin.

 

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Iran Says Exercising Restraint Despite Escalation of US Sanctions
16 May, 2019


Iran is exercising “maximum restraint in spite of the fact the United States withdrew from (the) JCPOA last May,” Zarif said. (File photo:AP)

Tokyo - Asharq Al-Awsat

Iran is committed to its obligations under an international nuclear deal despite the US withdrawal from the landmark agreement, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday, describing the reimposition of US sanctions "unacceptable".

Zarif made the comments in a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono in Tokyo, adding that Tehran is exercising "maximum restraint in spite of the fact the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 last May.

For his part, Kono said it was essential to maintain the nuclear agreement and urged Iran to keep implementing it, Reuters reported.

US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA and is ratcheting up sanctions on Iran to strangle its economy.


 

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Iranians react angrily to education minister comments on sending students into war

Arab News
May 16, 2019

LONDON: Iranians have reacted angrily to comments made by the country’s education minister Mohammad Bathaee about the regime’s willingness to send schoolchildren to war.

In a speech on May 10, Bathaie said: “We have 14 million students in school, and they are willing to sacrifice their lives if we need them, such as in the period of the sacred defense,” making a reference to the Iran-Iraq War.

The Iranian Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child condemned the minister's statements.

And Iranians also took to social media to vent their anger at the comments. Prominent singer Zepa Murmalki said: “This is the minister in charge of educating the next generation of Iranians." Others claimed the minister’s own son had not performed military service.

Tensions between Iran and the US, and its Gulf allies, have been rising in recent weeks. The US has sent further military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and its interests in the region.

It is not the first time Iran has been warned about the use of child soldiers. Human Rights Watch has consistently accused the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of sending children of Afghan refugees to fight in Syria.

And a report in UK newspaper the Mirror earlier this week revealed that Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen have been accused of luring child soldiers to fight by giving them keys and promising them it is to “enter paradise” when they die in the country’s ongoing conflict.

In December 2018, a senior Houthi military official acknowledged to Associated Press that they had inducted 18,000 child soldiers into their army — some as young as 10-years-old — since the beginning of the Yemeni conflict in 2014


 

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Iran’s foreign minister: US sanctions ‘unacceptable’
AP
May 16, 2019
  • Zarif’s said Iran’s actions are within the country’s rights under the current deal
  • Iran threatened to return to higher enrichment if a no new nuclear deal is set
TOKYO: Iran’s foreign minister says his country is committed to an international nuclear deal but that the escalating US sanctions are “unacceptable.”
The remarks come amid rising tensions in the Mideast, with allegations of sabotage targeting oil tankers near the Arabian Gulf, a drone attack by Yemen’s Iranian-allied rebels and the dispatch of US warships and bombers to the region.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif told Japanese officials on Thursday in Tokyo that his country’s response to the US actions is within the frameworks of the current nuclear deal and Iran’s rights.

Iran recently threatened to resume higher enrichment in 60 days if no new nuclear deal is in place, beyond the level permitted by the current one between Tehran and world powers. The US pulled out of the deal last year.

 

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Hardliners target Iran's president as U.S. pressure grows
May 16, 2019
Babak Dehghanpisheh

GENEVA (Reuters) - Growing U.S. pressure on Iran has weakened pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani and made his hardline rivals more assertive at home and abroad, recent developments show.

When he succeeded firebrand leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013, Rouhani was seen as an establishment figure who would do little to end Iran’s long standoff with the West. Two years later, his administration signed the nuclear deal with six world powers that spurred hopes for wider political change.

Rouhani’s authority is now waning: his brother, a key adviser on the 2015 deal, has been sentenced to jail on unspecified corruption charges, a hardline rival heads the judiciary and his government is under fire for responding too softly to U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanctions squeeze.

Trump has said lifting sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program did not stop Tehran meddling in neighboring states or developing ballistic missile capabilities and Rouhani’s outreach to the West was a fig leaf.

Yet the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal a year ago and subsequent attempts to end Iran’s oil exports have led to a sharp increase in regional tension: the U.S. military said on Tuesday it was braced for “possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces” from Iran-backed forces in neighboring Iraq.

Rouhani has urged opposing factions to work together and noted limits on his power in a country where an elected government operates under clerical rule and alongside powerful security forces and an influential judiciary.

“How much authority the government has in the areas that are being questioned must be examined,” the presidency’s website quoted Rouhani as saying on Saturday, an apparent attempt to fend off public anger at plummeting living standards.

Ebrahim Raisi, who became head of the judiciary in March and is a contender to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, retorted that all branches of government had sufficient authority to carry out their duties.

Local media interpreted the statement as a direct rebuke from Raisi, who ran against Rouhani in the 2017 presidential election.

On May 4, Rouhani’s brother Hossein Fereydoun was sentenced to prison. The judiciary has not given details of the charges against him and attempts by Reuters to seek comment were unsuccessful. The judiciary has said it has no political motivation for the cases it tries.

“OFFENSIVENESS AND ARROGANCE”

Rouhani has two years until his term ends, but if he is seen by Iranians as responsible for their problems, his successor is more likely to take a hard line with the West, some analysts say.

“[Hardliners] couldn’t ask for a better ally than the Trump administration,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the Crisis Group.

When Rouhani announced last week that Iran would roll back some of its commitments under the international nuclear deal a year after Trump withdrew, the hardline daily Kayhan newspaper called the move “late and minimal”.

“If Mr. Rouhani’s government had reacted reciprocally from the beginning to the broken promises of America and Europe, they (the Americans and Europeans) would not have reached this level of offensiveness and arrogance,” an article in the newspaper said on Thursday.

Restrictions on social media, championed by hardline officials and clerics, are putting further political pressure on Rouhani, who promised in his 2017 and 2013 election campaigns to lift such curbs.

Telegram, a messaging app popular in Iran, was banned last year. Twitter is also banned and hardliners have set their sights on Instagram, used by some 24 million Iranians.

In his comments on Saturday, Rouhani said the government does not have full authority over the cyberspace, underlining the limits to his powers.

He and other officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have active Twitter accounts despite the ban.

Last month, Instagram shut down several accounts under the names of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, the country’s most powerful military and economic force, after Washington declared the Guards a foreign terrorist organization.

Some lawmakers are now seeking a complete ban on Instagram, one of the few social media platforms yet to be blocked.

Javad Javidnia, the deputy in charge of cyberspace affairs at the prosecutor general’s office in Tehran, said last month Instagram would be blocked unless the government found an effective way to monitor its content, Fars news agency said.

Telecoms Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi told Reuters in an interview last month that he used social media actively, including Twitter, and wanted fewer restrictions. But he said filtering usually takes place with a judicial decree.

“Ayatollah Raisi has recently started his work in this area and we will have to see what his view will be,” he said.

“FILL THE EMPTY SPOT”
The Guards have used authorities response to heavy flooding in March to criticize the government and promote their effectiveness.

A video of the head of the Guards’ ground forces lambasting the government after visiting a flood-stricken area in western Iran in early April was widely circulated on social media.

“There are a lot of problems. There is no management. No government official has the courage to go there,” Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said in the video. “It’s horrible.”

Hardline news sites posted pictures of members of the Guards helping remote villages, with their uniforms covered in mud.

Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, a Rouhani ally who has tried to attract investment, has been accused by hardline politicians of giving away the nation’s wealth and criticized for not doing more to bypass sanctions.

The Guards have developed expertise in bypassing sanctions through years of experience and are now eyeing opportunities arising from the new U.S. economic restrictions.

Khatam al Anbia, the Guards’ huge engineering and construction arm controls over 800 affiliated companies worth billions of dollars. Its head, Saeed Mohammad, said at an oil and gas exhibition in Tehran on May 2 that the firm has the ability to develop a phase of South Pars, the world’s largest gas field, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

“Our goal is to fill the empty spot left by foreign companies,” he said.

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharefedin in London and the Dubai newsroom; editing by Philippa Fletcher

 

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Iran’s top diplomat presses efforts to save nuclear deal
By NASSER KARIMI
an hour ago
17 May 2019

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Shinzo Abe
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, speak at Abe's official residence in Tokyo Thursday, May 16, 2019. Iran’s foreign minister has said his country is committed to an international nuclear deal and criticized escalating U.S. sanctions “unacceptable” as he met with Japanese officials in Tokyo amid rising tensions in the Middle East.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister traveled Friday to China on his Asian tour aimed at keeping world markets open to Tehran amid an intense sanctions campaign from the U.S. as tensions across the Persian Gulf remain high.

Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran that has seen America order nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq.

Tensions have also ratcheted up in the region after authorities said that a sabotage operation targeted four oil tankers on Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack Tuesday on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline.

Saudi Arabia directly blamed Iran for the drone assault, and a local newspaper linked to the Al Saud royal family called on Thursday for America to launch “surgical strikes” on Tehran.

This all takes root in 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. But Trump took a soft tone Thursday, a day after tweeting that he expected Iran to look for talks. Asked if the U.S. might be on a path to war with the Iranians, the president answered, “I hope not.”

Iranian officials remain skeptical.

Imposing sanctions while seeking talks is like “pointing a gun at someone and demanding friendship,” said Iranian Gen. Rasool Sanaeirad, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.

On Friday, Zarif arrived in Beijing to speak to his Chinese counterpart. China was one of the signatories on Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw it limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crushing economic sanctions.

“So far, the international community has mainly made statements instead of saving the deal,” Zarif said, according to a report by the state-run IRNA news agency. “The practical step is quite clear: Economic relations with Iran should be normalized. This is what the deal clearly addresses.”
Zarif earlier visited Japan, a major importer of crude oil from the Persian Gulf.

Iran recently said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached with Europe 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 writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.



 

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Russian President Putin during press conference with Austrian president Alexander Van der Bellen 15/5/2019: "We are not ‘a fire brigade' "we cannot save everything" at time of height of probability of military conflict between the United States and Iran



for Iranian members who thinks in case of any conflict Russia or China will intervene or even help or even give lip service think twice never mind UNSC


Putin has sent it signal and message to west clearly after pampeo vist to Russia
 

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Iran changes tactics, destinations on oil exports, maritime official says
May 18, 2019 / Updated 11 minutes ago

(Reuters) - Iran has adopted new tactics and new destinations in shipping its oil exports following the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, a senior Iranian maritime official was quoted as saying on Saturday by the semi-official ILNA news agency.

“The Oil Ministry’s tactics in exporting oil and petroleum products have changed, ... and perhaps the destinations of oil cargoes from our ports have changed,” Hadi Haqshenas, maritime affairs deputy director at Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, told ILNA.

Haqshenas gave no details of the new tactics or destinations.

Iranian crude oil exports have fallen in May to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) or lower, tanker data showed and industry sources said, after the United States tightened the screws on Tehran’s main source of income, deepening global supply losses.

Iranian exports have become more opaque since U.S. re-imposed sanctions in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers.

Tehran no longer reports its production figures to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and there is no definitive information on exports.

“Of course, it cannot be denied that the loading of oil and products has fallen compared to the past, but the shipping of oil cargoes from out ports has definitely not stopped,” Haqshenas said, without giving figures.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom. Editing by Jane Merriman

 

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China Says Opposes ‘Unilateral’ US Sanctions Against Iran
18 May, 2019


Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on May 17, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images)

Beijing - Asharq Al-Awsat

The Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, told Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday that China resolutely opposes “unilateral” sanctions imposed by the United States.

China supports Iran to safeguard its legitimate rights and understands Iran's situation, Wang Yi said in a meeting with Zarif in Beijing, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

Tensions have escalated in recent days with increasing concerns about a potential US-Iran conflict. Iran has said it is committed to its obligations under an international nuclear deal despite the US withdrawal from the landmark agreement last year, and has called the reimposition of US sanctions unacceptable.

Zarif urged China to take "concrete actions" to safeguard the 2015 nuclear deal as he warned of a "dangerous" situation amid the escalating tensions with the US.

US officials said the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf, one of the world's most strategic waterways, was in reaction to photographs showing that Iran had loaded missiles onto small traditional boats.

On Wednesday, the US State Department ordered the evacuation of most personnel from the US embassy and consulate in Iraq over an alleged "imminent" threat from Iraqi militias with close links to Tehran.

Zarif said Thursday there is "no possibility" of negotiations with the United States to reduce spiraling tensions, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

"No, there is no possibility for negotiations," the news agency cited Zarif as telling reporters in Tokyo, where he met with Japanese officials.

 

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For Iranians, economic crisis looms larger than US tensions
By MEHDI FATTAHI and NASSER KARIMI
48 minutes ago
19 May 2019


In this Saturday, May 18, 2019 photo, a couple takes photos with bas reliefs of ancient Persian soldiers in an old neighborhood in downtown Tehran, Iran. The Associated Press spoke to a variety of people on Tehran’s streets recently, ranging from young and old, women wearing the all-encompassing black chador to those merely loosely covering their hair. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Across Iran’s capital, the talk always seems to come back to how things may get worse.

Battered by U.S. sanctions and its depreciating rial currency, Iran’s 80 million people struggle to buy meat, medicine and other staples of daily life. Now they wonder aloud about America’s intentions as it rushes an aircraft carrier and other forces to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceives from Iran.

The Associated Press spoke to a variety of people on Tehran’s streets recently, ranging from young and old, women wearing the all-encompassing black chador to those loosely covering their hair.

Most say they believe a war will not come to the region, though they remain willing to defend their country. They think Iran should try to talk to the U.S. to help its anemic economy, even as they see President Donald Trump as an erratic and untrustworthy adversary.

“Trump is not predictable at all and one doesn’t know how to react to him and what is the right thing to do against him,” said Afra Hamedzadeh, a 20-year-old civil servant and university student. “Since he controls the global economy we are somehow left with few options.”

But opinions vary across Iran’s capital, Tehran, depending on whether you speak to someone coming out of Friday prayers, in the back of a shared taxi cab, or exiting the coffee shops popular with young people.

“If America could do anything, it would have done many things by now,” said the chador-wearing Zoherh Sadeghi, a 51-year-old housewife coming out of prayers. “It can’t do anything. It can’t do a damn thing.”

That’s an opinion shared by 35-year-old office worker Massumeh Izadpanah.

“When someone keeps trying to scare you it means that they think they are not yet ready for war. When someone really wants war it starts the war right away. Like when Iraq attacked us, all of a sudden bombs were dropped,” she said. “But right now America just says, ‘I’m coming,’ to scare Iran.”

A young nation, many across Iran were alive for its bloody 1980s war with Iraq, a conflict that began when dictator Saddam Hussein invaded and dragged on for eight years. That war, in which Saddam used chemical weapons and Iran launched human wave attacks, killed 1 million people.

Since Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year, state television increasingly has focused attention on that war’s wounded.

In Tehran’s southern Javadieh neighborhood, veteran Mohammad Ali Moghaddam said he was ready to fight again.

“I would encourage my three sons and grandsons to go to defend Iran too,” said Moghaddam, a 58-year-old welder.

Arezou Mirzaei, a37-year-old mother of two in central Tehran, is more worried.

“I think the government should do something to avoid war,” Mirzaei said. “If war was good, then Afghanistan and Iraq would not be the mess that we see on TV.”

Taxi driver Jafar Hadavand, 34, agrees.

“I think both sides will be losers if they fight each other,” Hadavand said. “I think there are wise people on both sides to advocate peace, not war.”
Still, many pointed to the economy, not the possible outbreak of war, as Iran’s major concern. Iran’s rial currency traded at 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear deal. Now it is at 148,000, and many have seen their life’s savings wiped out.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate is 12 percent. For youth it’s even worse, with a quarter of all young people unemployed, according to Iran’s statistic center.

“The economic situation is very bad, very bad. Unemployment is very high, and those who had jobs have lost theirs,” said Sadeghi, the housewife. “Young people can’t find good jobs, or get married, or become independent.”

Sores Maleki, a 62-year-old retired accountant, said talks with the U.S. to loosen sanctions would help jumpstart Iran’s economy.

“We should go and talk to America with courage and strength. We are able to do that, others have done it,” Maleki said. “We can make concessions and win concessions. We have no other choice.”

But such negotiations will be difficult, said Reza Forghani, a 51-year-old civil servant. He said Iran needed to get the U.S. to “sign a very firm contract that they can’t escape and have to honor.” Otherwise, Iran should drop out of the nuclear deal.

“When someone refuses to keep promises and commitments, you can tolerate it a couple of times, but then certainly you can’t remain committed forever. You will react,” Forghani said. “So I don’t think we should remain committed to the deal until the end.”

Yet for Iran’s youth, many of whom celebrated the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal in the streets, the situation now feels more akin to a funeral. Many openly discuss their options to obtain a visa — any visa — to get abroad.

“Young people have a lot of stress and the future is unknown,” said Hamedzadeh, the 20-year-old civil servant. “The future is so unknown that you can’t plan. The only thing they can do is to somehow leave Iran and build a life abroad.”

 

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Reports: Iran quadruples production of enriched uranium
By NASSER KARIMI and JON GAMBRELL
20 May 2019

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity amid tensions with the U.S. over Tehran’s atomic program, nuclear officials said Monday, just after President Donald Trump and Iran’s foreign minister traded threats and taunts on Twitter.

Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what’s needed for an atomic weapon.

But by increasing production, Iran soon will go beyond the stockpile limitations set by the accord. Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to come up with new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels in a Middle East already on edge. The Trump administration has deployed bombers and an aircraft carrier to the region over still-unspecified threats from Iran.

Already this month, officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers were damaged in a sabotage attack; Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia; and U.S. diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something dismissed by Tehran.

A rocket landed Sunday near the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, days after nonessential U.S. staff were ordered to evacuate from diplomatic posts in the country. No one was reported injured. Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that the rocket was believed to have been fired from eastern Baghdad, an area home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.

The Iranian enrichment announcement came after local journalists traveled to Natanz in central Iran, the country’s underground enrichment facility. There, an unidentified nuclear scientist gave a statement with a surgical cap and a mask covering most of his face. No one explained his choice of outfit, although Israel is suspected of carrying out a campaign targeting Iranian nuclear scientists.

The state-run IRNA news agency later quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as acknowledging that capacity had been quadrupled. He said Iran took this step because the U.S. had ended a program allowing it to exchange enriched uranium to Russia for unprocessed yellowcake uranium, as well as ending the sale of heavy water to Oman. Heavy water helps cool reactors producing plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons.

Kamalvandi said Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, of the development. The Vienna-based agency did not respond to a request for comment. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build them.

Before Iran’s announcement, Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
Trump’s remarks reflect what has been a strategy of alternating tough talk with more conciliatory statements he says is aimed at keeping Iran guessing at the administration’s intentions. He also has said he hopes Iran calls him and engages in negotiations.

He described his approach in a speech Friday, saying, “It’s probably a good thing because they’re saying, ‘Man, I don’t know where these people are coming from,’ right?”

But while Trump’s approach of flattery and threats has become a hallmark of his foreign policy, the risks have only grown in dealing with Iran, where mistrust between Tehran and Washington stretch back four decades. While both Washington and Tehran say they don’t seek war, many worry any miscalculation could spiral out of control.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif soon responded by tweeting that Trump had been “goaded” into “genocidal taunts.” Zarif referenced both Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan as two historical leaders that Persia outlasted.
“Iranians have stood tall for a millennia while aggressors all gone,” he wrote. “Try respect - it works!”

Zarif also used the hashtag #NeverThreatenAnIranian, a reference to a comment he made during intense negotiations for the 2016 nuclear accord.

Trump campaigned on pulling the U.S. from the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since Trump withdrew America a year ago from the pact, the U.S. has re-imposed previous sanctions and come up with new ones, as well as warning other nations they would be subject to sanctions as well if they import Iranian oil.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told journalists in Geneva that Iran should not doubt the U.S. resolve, warning that “if American interests are attacked, they will retaliate.”
“We want the situation to de-escalate because this is a part of the world where things can get triggered accidentally,” Hunt said.

Meanwhile, Oman’s minister of state for foreign affairs made a previously unannounced visit Monday to Tehran, seeing Zarif, the state-run IRNA news agency said. The visit by Yusuf bin Alawi comes after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said last week.

Oman long has served as a Western backchannel to Tehran and the sultanate hosted the secret talks between the U.S. and Iran that laid the groundwork for the nuclear deal negotiations.

In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s military intercepted two missiles fired by the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. The missiles were intercepted over the city of Taif and the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, the Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya reported, citing witnesses. The Saudi Embassy in Washington later confirmed the interceptions.

Hundreds of rockets, mortar rounds and ballistic missiles have been fired into the kingdom by the rebels since a Saudi-led coalition declared war on the Houthis in March 2015 to support Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

The Houthis’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel denied that the rebels had any involvement with this round of rocket fire.

Between the two targeted cities is Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that Muslims pray toward five times a day. Many religious pilgrims are in the city for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
___
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Bassem Mroue in Baghdad, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed.



 

yavar

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Iran AEOI production of 3.67% enriched uranium quadruples
The spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi, made the remarks while addressing reporters at Natanz nuclear facility on Monday.
"This issue does not mean an increase in enrichment level or an increase in centrifuge machines or a change in the type of centrifuges, but the production capacity of these 3.67% enriched uranium will be quadrupled," Kamalvandi said.
 

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France: Europe Will Not Yield to Ultimatums from Iran
Tuesday, 21 May, 2019 - 11:15
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French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. (AFP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

France declared on Tuesday that Europe will not succumb to ultimatums from Iran and threats to withdraw from the nuclear deal.

"I do not think that Europe will get drawn into this idea of an ultimatum," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters.

Le Maire said Europeans were facing extremely strong pressure from the United States regarding trade with Iran, and that threats by Tehran to pull out of its nuclear deal with global powers were not helpful in that regard.

US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers. He followed it with severe sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and oil exports.

Two weeks ago, Tehran said it would relax some of its commitments under the accord it struck with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Iran said this month that cap no longer applied in response to the US withdrawal from the deal.

Under the deal Iran may enrich uranium to 3.67% purity – far below the 90% of weapons grade, and also below the 20% level to which Iran refined uranium before the deal.

Iran has threatened that in 60 days it would resume enrichment beyond the 3.67% level unless remaining signatories of the deal find a way to safeguard its vital oil and banking sectors.


France: Europe Will Not Yield to Ultimatums from Iran
 

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Iran President Seeking Wartime Executive Powers to Deal with ‘Economic War’
Tuesday, 21 May, 2019 - 09:00
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Reuters)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seeking expanded, wartime executive powers to better deal with an "economic war" sparked by the US administration's pullout from the nuclear deal and imposition of severe sanctions, reported the IRNA news agency.

Addressing a group of clerics, Rouhani cited the 1980s war with Iraq, when a wartime supreme council was able to bypass other branches to make decisions regarding the economy and the war.

The report did not say what the new powers would entail, but quoted Rouhani as saying that "today, we need such powers."

He revealed Iran is facing unprecedented problems in "banking and selling oil", but that the country "is united that we should resist the US and the sanctions."

In addition, he said he favors talks and diplomacy, but not under current conditions, state news agency IRNA reported.

"Today's situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only" it quoted him as saying.

US President Donald Trump said earlier on Monday that Iran would be met with "great force" if it attempted anything against US interests in the Middle East, adding that Tehran has been very hostile toward Washington.

Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for an event in Pennsylvania that he was willing to have talks with Iran "when they're ready."


https://aawsat.com/english/home/art...-wartime-executive-powers-deal-‘economic-war’
 

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