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Persian Gulf

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Anyone remember this one?

@Persian Gulf @yavar ?
Now the fanatical Islamists don't even let our Olympic champions shake hands with the Duchess of Cambridge!

Queen Farah is a very classy and intelligent woman and continues to represent herself excellently. I am not a fan of Reza Pahlavi (a useful idiot and traitor bought by the US), but Queen Farah is a fantastic symbol for Iran.
 

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Netanyahu says Trump knew in advance of Israel's Iran archive mission
July 2, 2019 / Updated an hour ago

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FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 30, 2019. Oded Balilty/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he informed U.S. President Donald Trump in advance of what Israel has described as a spy mission in Tehran last year to capture a secret Iranian nuclear archive.

Netanyahu said in April 2018 that Mossad operatives had spirited thousands of hidden documents out of Tehran that proved Iran had previously pursued a nuclear weapons program. Trump cited the Israeli findings in his decision, a month later, to quit a 2015 deal that had scaled down Iran’s nuclear project.

Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons and has accused Israel of faking the Tehran mission and documents trove.

Awarding an Israeli national security prize on Tuesday to the Mossad team credited with the so-called “Atomic Archive” capture, Netanyahu said he had discussed the planned operation with Trump when they met at the Davos forum in January 2018.

“He asked me if it was dangerous. I told him that there was a danger to it that was not negligible, but that the outcome justified the risk,” Netanyahu said at the closed-door ceremony, according to a transcript issued by his office.

Netanyahu said that, when he later presented main findings from an Israeli analysis of the documents to Trump at the White House, the president “voiced his appreciation for the boldness”.

“I have no doubt that this helped to validate his decision to withdraw from this dangerous (Iran nuclear) deal,” he said.
With the United States having reimposed sanctions on Iran, tensions have been soaring in the Gulf in recent weeks.

Mossad officials have said the Tehran mission took place in February 2018, but have not given details on how the documents were brought out to Israel.

Six Mossad officers - four men and two women - received Tuesday’s prize for leading the mission, which also involved “hundreds” of others, the intelligence agency’s director, Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, told an international security forum this week.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich

 

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Rouhani: Iran will enrich uranium to ‘any amount we want’
By JON GAMBRELL and NASSER KARIMI
03 July 2019

In this photo released by the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Rouhani warned European partners in its faltering nuclear deal on Wednesday that Tehran will increase its enrichment of uranium to "any amount that we want" beginning on Sunday, putting pressure on them to offer a way around intense U.S. sanctions targeting the country. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president warned European partners in its faltering nuclear deal on Wednesday that Tehran will increase its enrichment of uranium to “any amount that we want” beginning on Sunday, putting pressure on them to offer a way around intense U.S. sanctions targeting the country.

The comments by President Hassan Rouhani come as tensions remain high between Iran and the U.S. over the deal, which President Donald Trump pulled America from over a year ago.

Authorities on Monday acknowledged Iran broke through a limit placed on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

An increasing stockpile and higher enrichment closes the estimated one-year window Iran would need to produce enough material for a nuclear bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the nuclear deal sought to prevent.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has rushed an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and F-22 fighters to the region and Iran recently shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone. On Wednesday, Iran marked the shootdown by the U.S. Navy of an Iranian passenger jet in 1988, a mistake that killed 290 people and shows the danger of miscalculation in the current crisis.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting in Tehran, Rouhani’s comments seemed to signal that Europe has yet to offer Iran anything to alleviate the pain of the renewed U.S. sanctions targeting its oil industry and top officials.

Iran’s nuclear deal currently bars it from enriching uranium above 3.67%, which is enough for nuclear power plants but far below the 90% needed for weapons.
“In any amount that we want, any amount that is required, we will take over 3.67,” Rouhani said.

“Our advice to Europe and the United States is to go back to logic and to the negotiating table,” Rouhani added. “Go back to understanding, to respecting the law and resolutions of the U.N. Security Council. Under those conditions, all of us can abide by the nuclear deal.”

There was no immediate reaction in Europe, where the European Union just the day before finalized nominations to take over the bloc’s top posts.

On Tuesday, European powers separately issued a statement over Iran breaking through its stockpile limit, calling on Tehran “to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal.”

Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to have less than 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium enriched to a maximum of 3.67%. Both Iran and the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency confirmed Monday that Tehran had breached that limit.

While that represents Iran’s first major departure from the accord, it still remains likely a year away from having enough material for a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, but the West fears it could allow Iran to build a bomb.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, relatives of those killed in the 1988 downing of the Iranian passenger jet threw flowers into the Strait of Hormuz in mourning.

The downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. Navy remains one of the moments the Iranian government points to in its decades-long distrust of America. They rank it alongside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that toppled Iran’s elected prime minister and secured Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s absolute power until he abdicated the throne before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Just after dawn on July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes sent a helicopter to hover over Iranian speedboats the Navy described as harassing commercial ships. The Iranians allegedly fired on the helicopter and the Vincennes gave chase, the Navy said. Unacknowledged for years afterward by the Navy though, the Vincennes had crossed into Iranian territorial waters in pursuit. It began firing at the Iranian ships there.

The Vincennes then mistook Iran Air flight 655, which had taken off from Bandar Abbas, Iran, heading for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, for an Iranian fighter jet. It fired missiles, killing all 290 people on board.

The U.S. later would give USS Vincennes Capt. William C. Rogers the country’s Legion of Merit award, further angering Iran.

Iranian state television aired footage Wednesday of mourners in the strait, as armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast boats patrolled around them. They tossed gladiolas into the strait as some wept.

 

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France says Iran will gain nothing by breaking with nuclear deal
July 3, 2019


PARIS (Reuters) - Iran will gain nothing by departing from the terms of its nuclear agreement, said the French foreign ministry on Wednesday, responding to Tehran’s declaration that it will boost the enrichment level of its uranium.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier said Iran would raise its uranium enrichment after July 7 to whatever levels it needs beyond the 3.67% purity cap set in the 2015 deal.

Reporting by John Irish and Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by John Stonestreet

 

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Iran Guards chief says enemy focused on economic conflict
July 3, 2019

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FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012, a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo


GENEVA (Reuters) - The head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday the enemy was worried about the prospect of war and was focused instead on an economic conflict, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have increased since Trump pulled Washington out of a nuclear deal last year and moved to bar all international sales of Iranian oil.

Last month the United States came as close as it has ever come to bombing Iran, when President Donald Trump aborted a retaliatory air strike minutes before impact. Trump said he decided the strike, to punish Iran for shooting down a drone, would have killed too many people.

“In the military sphere, we have completely closed the path for the enemy,” Major General Hossein Salami was quoted as saying.

“In the current situation it is the enemies who are worried about the outbreak of war and this worry is apparent in their physical and tactical behavior ... At the current crossroads, economic war is the main field for the enemy to confront us,” he added.

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh

 

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Iraq Sets Up ‘Loophole’ in US Sanctions to Buy Iranian Power
Wednesday, 3 July, 2019

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An Iranian oil worker rides his bicycle near an oil refinery south of the capital, Tehran, December 22, 2014. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Baghdad- Asharq Al-Awsat

Iraq is establishing a financial “loophole” to continue buying vital gas and electricity from Iran despite US sanctions, AFP has learned, mirroring a European mechanism that came into effect Friday. The “special purpose vehicle” would allow Iraq to pay for imported Iranian energy in Iraqi dinars, which Iran could use to exclusively buy humanitarian goods, three senior Iraqi officials said.

The workaround would allow Baghdad to keep the lights on and avoid shortage-driven protests without triggering U.S. sanctions, as it treads an increasingly precarious tightrope between its two main allies Tehran and Washington.

One senior government official told AFP it was the product of months of talks between Iraqi, Iranian and U.S. officials.

“The Iraqi government will continue to pay Iran for gas by depositing money into a special bank account inside Iraq, in Iraqi dinars,” the official said.

“Iran will not be able to withdraw the money, but will be able to use it to purchase goods from outside Iraq.”

Iraq has an outstanding bill of around $2 billion for previous gas and electricity purchases, according to Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh. A US official told AFP that Washington was aware of the mechanism’s creation. The US Embassy in Baghdad declined to comment, while Iran’s Embassy did not respond to an AFP request.

Two additional high-level Iraqi officials confirmed Baghdad was establishing such an account with U.S. knowledge, but could not say whether payments into the account had begun.

“How else is Iraq supposed to pay what it owes Iran? We have no other choice,” the second official said.

‘IRAN’S ATM’To offset its notorious power shortages, Iraq imports around 1,400 MW of electricity and 28 million cubic meters of gas for power stations from neighboring Iran, which together make up about a third of Iraq’s power supply.

That reliance has angered the US, which slapped tough sanctions on Iran last year but has granted Iraq several temporary waivers to keep purchasing Iranian power until October.

The US insists Iraq wean itself off Iranian energy, but Baghdad has said that could take up to four years, during which it would need to keep purchasing at least Iranian gas.

To do so, the central banks of Iran and Iraq agreed in February to create a payment method that steers clear of US sanctions, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said, without providing additional details.

That would mean not dealing in U.S. dollars and purchasing only “humanitarian goods” allowed by the US - like food and medicine.

“We would become Iran’s ATM,” another Iraqi official told AFP.

According to two of the senior Iraqi officials, Baghdad’s SPV would likely be set up at the Trade Bank of Iraq.

The TBI has handled most of the Iraqi government’s international transactions since its establishment in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

A senior TBI source told AFP the bank had been involved in the negotiations but the account had not yet been created.

“The US Treasury has confidence in the TBI’s processes. We are in discussions to reach an agreement, which would be fully within US exemptions,” the source said.

It would effectively be a “loophole” around the US sanctions, said Ahmed Tabaqchali, senior fellow at the Sulaymaniyah-based Institute of Regional and International Studies. “It’s like a ledger. You record the money paid, and Iran has that much credit in Iraq,” Tabaqchali told AFP.

The system would work much like INSTEX, a mechanism recently activated by Britain, Germany and France to trade legitimately with Iran without falling foul of US sanctions.

Still, the system is fraught with several political, financial and practical complexities.

Iraq’s economy relies almost exclusively on oil revenues, paid in dollars, which leaves Baghdad extremely vulnerable to any punitive measures the US could take in response to a violation.

It also remains unclear what exactly Iran could purchase from Iraq as trade is heavily tilted in the other direction.

“Credit would develop in Iran’s favor but how would it actually cash it?” Tabaqchali said.

Importing goods from outside Iraq would require a third party willing to take the political and financial risk of such a transaction, he told AFP.

And, ultimately, much of Iraq’s transactions with Iran are cash purchases of commercial goods - something US authorities implementing sanctions are unable to monitor.

“Cash is untraceable,” Tabaqchali said.

 

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Deputy Exposes Major Disputes Between Iranian Oil, Foreign Ministers
Wednesday, 3 July, 2019

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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert/File Photo

London- Asharq Al-Awsat

Major challenges crippled Iran’s oil and petrochemical industry two months after launching a plan to boost exports, Tasnim news agency reported adding that the setback was a result of sparring between Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh.

Citing lawmaker Fadel Abu Torabi, Tasnim reported on Zanganeh having disputes with both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif, especially over critical remarks on the oil minister for not complying with diplomatic efforts backed by the administration and siding with the country’s hardliners.

“We have recently learned that Zanganeh, in addition to his disagreement with President Hassan Rouhani, has differences with the foreign minister,” Torabi said, explaining that “differences are due to criticism from Rouhani accusing Zanganeh and the oil ministry of not investing the diplomatic achievement made by the Foreign Ministry and the diplomatic agency with landing the nuclear agreement.”

Torabi reaffirmed also that the disagreement between the two top ministers mainly revolved around the nuclear deal signed with the West and the presence of Asian companies.

“One of the issues of disagreement between the foreign minister and the oil minister is the former’s belief that Zanganeh and oil ministry staffers are not interested in the presence of Asian and Oriental companies in the Iranian petrochemical and oil markets,” Abu Torabi said.

It is worth noting that Zarif’s office has been regularly challenged by discrepancies acted upon by conservatives.

Last February, Rouhani had officially rejected the resignation of Zarif.

The reason behind Zarif’s resignation was that he was not told about Syrian regime head Bashar Al-Assad paying a visit to Tehran at the time.

Deputy Exposes Major Disputes Between Iranian Oil, Foreign Ministers
 

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Iran President Rouhani: China violation JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) after 7 July start restore Arak Plutonium reactor IR 40,
 

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Europe trade channel with Iran close to first deal in days: France
July 4, 2019
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FILE PHOTO: French Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire leaves after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) - French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday he hoped a special trade channel set up with Iran would complete a first, limited transaction in the coming days.

Set up by France, Britain and Germany, Instex is a barter trade mechanism that aims to avoid direct financial transfers by offsetting balances between importers and exporters on the European side.

The mechanism is aimed at making it possible for trade between European Union members and Iran to continue in the face of stiff U.S sanctions since Washington quit a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers last year.

Those sanctions have effectively suffocated Iran’s economy by clamping down on its oil sales.

“We want Instex to enter into force in a few days, and I hope that we will be able to operate in a few days. I hope the first transaction will be completed in a few days,” Le Maire told journalists at a meeting in Poland.

“The first transaction will be a limited one, but this is a starting point and we expect Instex to be an efficient tool,” Le Maire added.

Iran has said it wants to keep the nuclear deal alive but must receive promised economic benefits. On Monday, it said it had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted, its first major breach of the nuclear pact, and it has said it will announce further measures on July 7.

France’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Instex would become operational based on Iran’s “full compliance with its JCPOA (Iran deal) commitments.”
“We aren’t going to press the yes button if there are doubts about its compliance,” said one European diplomat.

Two other European diplomats said that while possible transactions had been identified, it was too early to move ahead as due diligence was still underway and that as of yet the Iranian side had still to complete a mirror company that would facilitate the process.

However, the Europeans have created an advanced payment system that could enable some small transactions soon.

Even then, the system initially will only deal in products such as pharmaceuticals and foods, which are not subject to U.S. sanctions.

Iranian officials have repeatedly said Instex must include oil sales or provide substantial credit facilities for it to be beneficial.

Reporting by Alan Charlish in Poznan and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Hugh Lawson

 

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Tehran fumes as Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker over Syria sanctions
July 4, 2019
Jonathan Saul, Parisa Hafezi


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Oil supertanker Grace 1 on suspicion of being carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria is seen near Gibraltar, Spain in this picture obtained from social media, July 4, 2019. Stephen McHugh via REUTERS

LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) - British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a dramatic step that drew Tehran’s fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West.

The Grace 1 tanker was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing around Africa, the long route from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship. The diplomatic gesture lifted any doubt over Iran’s ownership of the vessel, which flies a Panama flag and is listed as managed by a company in Singapore

Shipping data reviewed by Reuters suggests the tanker was carrying Iranian oil loaded off the coast of Iran, although its documents say the oil is from neighboring Iraq.

While Europe has banned oil shipments to Syria since 2011, it had never seized a tanker at sea. Unlike the United States, Europe does not have broad sanctions against Iran.
“This is the first time that the EU has done something so public and so aggressive. I imagine it was also coordinated in some manner with the U.S. given that NATO member forces have been involved,” said Matthew Oresman, a partner with law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who advises firms on sanctions.

“This is likely to have been meant as a signal to Syria and Iran - as well as the U.S. - that Europe takes sanctions enforcement seriously and that the EU can also respond to Iranian brinkmanship related to ongoing nuclear negotiations.”

Authorities in Gibraltar made no reference to the source of the oil or the ownership of the ship when they seized it.

But Iran’s acknowledgment that it owned the ship, and the likelihood that its cargo was also Iranian, drew a link between the incident and a new U.S. effort to halt all global sales of Iranian crude. Iran describes that as an illegal “economic war”.

European countries have so far tried to appear neutral in the escalating confrontation between Tehran and Washington, which saw the United States call off air strikes against Iran just minutes before impact last month, and Tehran amass stocks of enriched uranium banned under a 2015 nuclear deal.

The Gibraltar government said it had reasonable grounds to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying crude oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria.
“That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria,” Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said. “With my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation.”

U.S. SANCTIONS TIGHTENED
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Gibraltar’s move.

Spain, which challenges British ownership of Gibraltar, said the action was prompted by a U.S. request to Britain and appeared to have taken place in Spanish waters. Britain’s Foreign Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Iran has long been supplying its allies in Syria with oil despite sanctions against Syria. What is new are U.S. sanctions on Iran itself, imposed last year when President Donald Trump pulled out of an agreement that had guaranteed Tehran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Those U.S. sanctions have been tightened sharply since May, effectively forcing Iran from mainstream oil markets and making it desperate for alternative customers. Iran has grown more reliant on its own tanker fleet to transport whatever oil it can sell and to store a growing stockpile of unsold output.

The U.S.-Iranian confrontation has escalated in recent weeks, taking on a military dimension after Washington accused Tehran of attacking tankers in the Gulf and Iran shot down a U.S. drone. Trump ordered air strikes but called them off at the last minute, later saying too many people would have died.

European countries opposed Trump’s decision to exit the nuclear deal last year, and they have promised to help Iran find alternative ways to export, but with little success so far.
Iran has said it wants to keep the nuclear deal alive but must receive promised economic benefits. This week it announced it had accumulated more low-enriched uranium than the deal allows and from July 7 will refine uranium to a greater purity than permitted.

By restricting Iran’s ability to move oil, U.S. sanctions have choked off Tehran’s Syrian allies, causing fuel shortages in government-controlled areas. In May, Syria received its first foreign oil for six months with the arrival of two shipments, one from Iran, a source said at the time.

Earlier this year, Reuters revealed that the Grace 1 was one of four tankers involved in shipping Iranian fuel oil to Singapore and China, violating U.S. sanctions.
The 300,000-tonne tanker is registered as being managed by Singapore-based IShips Management Pte Ltd. Reuters was unable to establish contact with the firm for comment.

It was documented as loading fuel oil in the Iraqi port of Basra in December, though Basra did not list it as being in port and its tracking system was switched off. The tanker reappeared on tracking maps near Iran’s port of Bandar Assalyeh, fully loaded.

Homayoun Falakshahi, Senior Analyst at London-based energy data firm Kpler told Reuters the ship had loaded Iranian crude in mid-April from Iran’s export port of Kharg Island.

A maritime intelligence source said the ship may have made the journey around Africa to avoid the Suez Canal, where such a large super-tanker would have had to unload its cargo and refill after passing through, exposing it to potential seizure.

Additional reporting by Kate Holton in London, Tom Miles in Geneva, Tom Perry in Beirut and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle and Janet Lawrence

 

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Iran could consider talks with U.S. only if sanctions lifted, Khamenei permits: minister
July 4, 2019

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FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012, a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s intelligence minister has said Tehran and Washington could hold talks only if the United States ended its sanctions and Iran’s top authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave his approval, state news agency IRNA reported on Thursday.

“Holding talks with America can be reviewed by Iran only If (U.S. President Donald) Trump lifts the sanctions and our supreme leader gives permission to hold such talks,” Mahmoud Alavi said late on Wednesday.
“Americans were scared of Iran’s military power, that is the reason behind their decision to abort the decision to attack Iran.

Trump said last month that he had aborted a military strike to retaliate for Iran’s downing of an unmanned U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz on June 20 because it could have killed 150 people, and signaled that he was open to talks with Tehran.
Tehran said the surveillance drone had been shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile in Iranian airspace, while Washington said it had been in international airspace.
Tension has spiked between Tehran and Washington since last year, when Trump quit a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its sensitive nuclear work.

Under the deal, Iran can enrich uranium to 3.67 percent fissile material, well below the 20 percent it was reaching before the deal, and the roughly 90 percent suitable for a nuclear weapon.

“BE CAREFUL WITH THE THREATS”
In reaction to U.S. sanctions, which have notably targeted its main foreign revenue stream in the shape of crude oil exports, Iran said in May that it would scale back its commitments to the deal.

In its first major breach of the nuclear pact, Tehran said on Monday that it had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted.

It said on Wednesday that it would boost its uranium enrichment after July 7 to whatever levels it needs beyond the cap set in the agreement. Trump responded: “Be careful with the threats, Iran. They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before.”

But in defiance of that warning, Tehran said it would stick to its plan to further scale back its nuclear commitments.
“By exiting the nuclear deal, Trump has wounded the path of diplomacy ... the best antidote to all threats is active resistance,” said Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

The European Union has urged Iran to stick to the terms of the deal, but Tehran has said its commitment will gradually decrease until Britain, France and Germany can ensure that it benefits financially from the accord - Iran’s main incentive for signing up to it.Since May, Washington has ordered all countries to stop purchasing Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system. It has also dispatched extra troops to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kevin Liffey
 

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Ships Vanish to Evade Sanctions on Iran
Thursday, 4 July, 2019

View attachment 9068
An oil tanker carrying crude oil arriving in Zhoushan, China.CreditCreditVCG via Getty Images

New York - Michael Forsythe and Ronen Bergman

A week ago, a small tanker ship approached the Arabian Gulf after a 19-day voyage from China. The captain, as required by international rules, reported the ship’s position, course, speed and another key detail: It was riding high in the water, meaning it was probably empty.

Then the Chinese-owned ship, the Sino Energy 1, went silent and essentially vanished from the grid.

It reported in again on Sunday, near the spot where it had vanished six days earlier, only now it was heading east, away from the Strait of Hormuz near Iran. If past patterns hold, the captain will soon report that it is riding low in the water, meaning its tanks are most likely full.

As the Trump administration’s sanctions on Iranian oil and petrochemical products have taken hold, some of the world’s shipping fleets have defied the restrictions by “going dark” when they pick up cargo in Iranian ports, according to commercial analysts who track shipping data and intelligence from authorities in Israel.

“They are hiding their activity,” said Samir Madani, co-founder of TankerTrackers.com, a company that uses satellite imagery to identify tankers calling on Iranian ports. “They don’t want to broadcast the fact that they have been in Iran, evading sanctions. It’s that simple.”

A maritime treaty overseen by a United Nations agency requires ships of 300 tons or more that travel international routes to have an automatic identification system. The gear helps avoid collisions and aids in search-and-rescue operations. It also allows countries to monitor shipping traffic.

Foreign companies doing business with American companies or banks risk being punished by the United States under the sanctions, which went into effect last November.

“We have sanctioned dozens of Chinese state-owned enterprises for nuclear, missile, arms and other forms of proliferation ... but it is not entered into lightly,” said Richard Nephew, a research scholar at Columbia University who oversaw Iran policy on the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

Brian Hook, the United States special representative for Iran, told reporters in London on Friday that the United States would punish any country importing Iranian oil. Hook was responding to a question about reports of Iranian oil going to Asia.

American and Israeli intelligence agencies say the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is deeply entwined with its petrochemical industry, using oil revenues to swell its coffers. Trump has labeled the military group a terrorist organization.

Iran has been trying to work around the American sanctions by offering “significant reductions” in price for its oil and petrochemical products, said Gary Samore, a professor at Brandeis University who worked on weapons issues in the Obama administration.

Last month, the Salina, an Iranian-flagged oil tanker under American sanctions, docked in Jinzhou Bay, a port in northeastern China, according to data from VesselsValue, a website that analyzes global shipping information. The Salina regularly reported its position, course and speed via the automatic identification system.

Oil tankers like the Salina, which can transport as much as a million barrels of crude, or about 5 percent of the daily consumption of the United States, are so big that they can call on only a limited number of ports. They are also more easily spotted by satellites than smaller ships like the Sino Energy 1.

That vessel, and its more than 40 sister ships, are far more difficult to track when they go off the grid. They were owned until April by a subsidiary of Sinochem, a state-owned company in China that is one of the world’s biggest chemical manufacturers.

Sinochem has extensive business ties in the United States. It has an office in Houston and works with big American companies including Boeing and Exxon Mobil. In March, it signed an agreement with Citibank to “deepen the partnership” between the two companies, Sinochem said. In 2013, a United States subsidiary of Sinochem bought a 40 percent stake in a Texas shale deposit for $1.7 billion.

Frank Ning, the chairman of Sinochem, speaking in a brief interview in Dalian, China, said that shipping had not been central to the company’s business. In a statement, the company said it had “adopted strict compliance policies and governance on export control and sanctions,” though a former employee who had helped manage the shipping business, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the company had shipped petrochemicals from Iran for years.

The tracking data also show that some of the Sinochem ships made trips to Iran before the fleet was sold, and both before and after the American sanctions went into effect.

In April 2018, for example, one of the ships, the SC Brilliant, was moored at Asalouyeh, a major Iranian petrochemical depot on the Arabian Gulf.

After Trump’s announcement last August that he would reimpose sanctions on Iran’s petroleum industry, the SC Brilliant’s voyages became less transparent.

In late September and early October, shortly before the sanctions took effect, the ship went off the grid for 10 days in the same stretch of the Strait of Hormuz where the Sino Energy 1 disappeared last week. When the SC Brilliant went off the grid, it appeared empty; when it re-emerged, it appeared full.

The pattern was repeated in February, with the ship disappearing for four days, according to the tracking data.

That month, another Sinochem ship, the SC Neptune, stopped transmitting its position when it approached the Strait of Hormuz, the tracking data show. Four days later, for a brief period, it appeared back on the grid, transmitting its location from an export terminal on Iran’s Kharg Island. It then went quiet for another 24 hours, reappearing on its way out of the strait.

In some parts of the world, including the South China Sea, it is not uncommon for ships to go silent because the automatic identification system may be overloaded by the volume of vessels, said Court Smith, a former officer in the United States Coast Guard who is now an analyst at VesselsValue. Sometimes they do so for competitive reasons, he added.

But in the Arabian Gulf, where traffic is lighter, Smith said, vessels generally do not turn off the system, known in the industry as A.I.S.

“If the A.I.S. signal is lost, it is almost certainly because the A.I.S. transponder has been disabled or turned off,” Smith said of ships in the Arabian Gulf. “The captain has decided to turn off the A.I.S.”

Another possible clue that Iran-bound ships are disabling their reporting systems is that ships making trips to countries on the western part of the gulf are not going off the grid.

The New York Times


 

Persian Gulf

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UK wants to show it can be a good poodle for Trump... Jeremy Hunt in particular is working very hard these days to parrot Trump's propaganda.
 

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