US State Dept | News & Updates

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US State Department Updates & News
 

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US Secretary of State heads to Russia for talks with Putin and Lavrov

Sunday, May 12, 2019




US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week. Pompeo’s visit to Russia will take place in a time of discord between the two countries on a number of critical issues, including the situation in Venezuela and Iran as well as Russia's interference in the 2016 US elections.

Pompeo left for Moscow on Sunday. This will be his first visit to Russia as the leading representative of American diplomacy.

Top US officials, including Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, accuse Russia of countering the efforts of Venezuelan interim president Juan Guaido, the democratically elected opposition leader, to overthrow regime of Nicolás Maduro.

The United States accuses Russia of using Venezuela to try and gain a foothold in the Western Hemisphere.

“We are concerned by Russian actions in Venezuela and believe that supporting Maduro is a lost cause. Therefore, we will continue to support the Venezuelan people, and this will be one of the topics for discussion,” said a senior State Department official the other day.

Pompeo will arrive in Russia on Monday. The same date he will meet with American diplomats at the US embassy in Moscow and with leaders of the American business community. He will also lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in memory of those who fought against Nazism.

On Tuesday, he will travel to Sochi where he will hold talks with Putin and Lavrov.

Pompeo’s visit will take place a few weeks before the G20 Summit in Japan’s Osaka which US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend.

“An improved relationship with Russia is in our interests,” the State Department spokesman said. “When a concern arises, we will discuss it directly, overcoming differences and finding areas in which we can cooperate.”

The official declined to say whether Trump and Putin plan to meet on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

The State Department announced that Pompeo is expected to raise the issue of Americans in Russian custody, including former marine Paul Whelan and founder of the Baring Vostok investment fund Michael Calvey.

Whelan was charged with espionage, a charge he rejects. He will remain under arrest until May 28 while investigators continue to examine his case.

Calvey was arrested in February and is awaiting trial on fraud charges, which he denies.

“The administration makes it a top priority to ensure the safety and well-being of US citizens abroad. We are ready to provide the necessary consular assistance in cases of American citizens being detained,” said a senior State Department official.


 

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US Embassy in Iraq advises citizens against all travel amid tensions with Iran
It also told Americans in Iraq to be cautious and keep a low profile
May 13, 2019


A member of Iraqi federal police forces stands guard infront of a Mosque in Baghdad. EPA
A member of Iraqi federal police forces stands guard infront of a Mosque in Baghdad. EPA

The US Embassy in Iraq has issued a warning to its citizens advising them against traveling to the country amid heightened tensions in the region.

The warning advised US citizens in the country to “remain vigilant” and to “keep a low profile”.

The recent incident where four four cargo vessels were subjected to "sabotage operations" off the coast of Fujairah, has further intensified response from both residents and officials.

The Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned the attack and stressed the need for the international community to bear the responsibility of maritime trade around the world.

Dr Al Zayani echoed regional calls for more burden sharing on maritime safety by international organisations responsible for naval trade security to help prevent more attacks.

The GCC is highly dependent on maritime trade networks to export oil, a trade that accounts for more than 90 per cent of the Arabian Gulf's economies.

Any disruption to the trade networks have sparked fears of cutting off the major source of revenue for oil producers Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Fujairah port is located close to the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic strait that separates Oman’s coast of Musandam from Iran by less than 60 kilometres. The narrow strait sees some 30 per cent of the world’s oil pass through every day.

"Such irresponsible acts will increase tension and conflicts in the region and expose its peoples to great danger," Dr Al Zayani said.
Iran"s foreign ministry spokesperson said the attacks were “alarming and regrettable” according to a statement issued on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He said the attacks will disrupt shipping safety and “he warned against plots by ill-wishers to disrupt regional security”.

The statement ended with Mr Mousavi also calling on “the vigilance of regional states in the face of any adventurism by foreign elements”.

It is still unclear who was behind the attacks but the US issued a warning saying that “Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels”.

The UAE is currently conducting an investigation into the “sabotage”.

 

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Mike Pompeo in Brussels for Iran talks as tensions escalate
Taylor Heyman and Jamie Prentis
May 13, 2019

The US deployed a Patriot missile defence system to the Arabian Gulf at the weekend



US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. AP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. AP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held urgent talks with his European counterparts in Brussels on Monday to shore up allied backing for Washington as international tensions escalate over Iran.

Mr Pompeo entered bilateral meetings with foreign ministers from France, Germany and the UK who were assembled in Brussels to discuss Iran’s recent threat to breach commitments of the 2015 nuclear deal. America's chief diplomat diverted to the European capital after rescheduling the first day of a planned trip to Russia.

The three ministers and the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini were holding a discussion on the response to Iran’s announcement on Wednesday of a 60-day deadline for its plan abandon commitments to the agreement.

.@FedericaMog will meet with the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France and UK for EU+3 meeting in the margins of today's #FAC to discuss how to best continue support full #JCPoA implementation pic.twitter.com/3Ile0RShRK
— European External Action Service - EEAS 🇪🇺 (@eu_eeas) May 13, 2019
Mr Pompeo’s trip to Brussels came after the UAE said it was investigating an apparent "sabotage attack" on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the coast of Fujairah. Also at the weekend the US announced the return of a Patriot missile defence system to the Arabian Gulf, citing an unspecified threat to US forces in the region. Last week it deployed strategic B-52 bombers in response to alleged Iranian threats.

"We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended on either side but ends with some kind of conflict," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

"I think what we need is a period of calm, to make sure everyone understands what the other side is thinking and most of all we must make sure we don't end up putting Iran back on the path to renuclearisation, because if Iran becomes a nuclear power its neighbours are likely to want to become nuclear powers.

"This is already the most unstable region in the world and it would be a massive step in the wrong direction.

Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, said he had warned of the risks of confrontation in his meeting with Mr Pompeo. "We are concerned about the development and the tensions in the region, that we do not want there to be a military escalation," he said.

Ms Mogherini indicated the EU remained supportive of the 2015 nuclear deal. “We will continue to support it as much as we can with all our instruments and all our political will,” she said.

Analysts said the incident had also concentrated minds on the risks in the region.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has engaged in an escalating series of threatening actions and statements in recent weeks. Any attacks by them or their proxies against U.S. citizens or our interests will be answered with a swift and decisive response.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 10, 2019
Mr Pompeo's Brussels visit was seen as an attempt to push the EU to align with US interests but there remains resistance to the US demands on the deal and the re-imposition of sanctions.

"The Trump administration is eager to show that Europe too is growing weary of the Iran nuclear deal. Pompeo’s visit is intended to signal to the Iranians that Europe is growing more sympathetic to US concerns over Iran," Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar, a commentary site, told The National.

"But what Pompeo fails to appreciate is that however weary Europe might be of defending the JCPOA, they are even more exasperated about dealing with a Trump administration that keeps lurching from one diplomatic crisis to another.

"The direction of Trump’s Iran policy itself has also sown doubt in Europe as to Pompeo’s authority on foreign policy - in recent weeks he has been repeatedly outmanoeuvred by national security adviser John Bolton," he added.

🇪🇺 🇺🇸 @FedericaMog receives US Secretary of State @SecPompeo in Brussels pic.twitter.com/9PrDGkhW9n
— Sabrina Bellosi (@sabellosi) May 13, 2019
The European signatories said they regretted the decision by the US to reimpose sanctions on Iran while Mr Trump said that the sanctions “dramatically strengthened our national security” before deriding the nuclear deal as “horrible” and “one-sided”.

Mr Trump has also offered Iran direct talks, saying its leaders should “call me” and suggesting that America would help to revive the country’s economy if it did not stockpile nuclear weapons.

While Mr Pompeo cancelled the Moscow leg of his Russia, he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Black Sea resort of Sochi as planned on Tuesday, a State Department official said.

Against this backdrop, any suggested implication of Iran in the incident involving the tankers off Fujairah would heap pressure on Europe to support US efforts in the region. Crude oil prices rose as much as 2 per cent.

“There are plenty of reasons to believe Iran is responsible. After all, its leaders have said that if Iran cannot export oil, neither will its competitors in the Gulf. And just last week intelligence surfaced that Iran had empowered proxies to conduct attacks. But it cannot be ruled out that attacks were not directly ordered by Tehran,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, associate fellow, International Institute of Strategic Studies.

Other analysts said judgement would be withheld until the ongoing investigation was conclusive.

“The attack is a dramatic escalation of the long standing tensions between Iran and the Gulf states, most notably Saudi Arabia. Investigations are on going and unless a third party is identified as the culprit, Iran will be seen as the ones behind the attack. If that proves to be the case, the fallout could range from greater political isolation for Iran, through to a head to head conflict," said Ghanem Nuseibeh, the founder of Cornerstone Global Associates. "Europe will find it hard to argue for a softening of the stance with Iran in as far as the current sanctions are concerned. The international community may put strong demands from Iran as a result of this."

In the 2015 agreement, Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear ambitions and refrain from developing ballistic missiles in return for a lifting of sanctions. The US withdrew from the accord last year, prompting European efforts to hold the bargain together.

Mr Pompeo has previously been critical of the EU-backed launch of INSTEX, a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ to enable EU nations and Iran to trade essential goods like food and medicine.

The EU ministers said they remain committed to trade with Tehran if it upheld its commitments in the nuclear deal but there are limits to how much they can offer Iran.

Johannes Hahn, a European commissioner, indicated businesses were voting with their feet. "We have created the conditions for European companies to do business with Iran, but nevertheless many companies are concerned that if they do business with Iran, there will be consequences for their activities in the United States, that’s why they are holding back," he said. “I cannot force a private company to do business in Iran."

 

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Pompeo shares details on 'escalating' Iran threats in Brussels: U.S. State Department
May 13, 2019

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared information on “escalating” threats from Iran with European allies and NATO officials during meetings in Brussels on Monday, the U.S. special representative for Iran said.

“Iran is an escalating threat and this seemed like a timely visit on his way to Sochi,” Brian Hook told reporters, referring to Pompeo’s planned visit to Russia on Tuesday for meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Pompeo canceled a visit to Moscow on Monday and stopped in Brussels instead, en route to Sochi.
“The secretary wanted to share some details behind what we have been saying publicly,” Hook said. “We believe that Iran should try talks instead of threats. They have chosen poorly by focusing on threats.”

Hook said Pompeo, while in Brussels, also discussed reported attacks on several oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Asked if Pompeo was blaming Iran for the attacks, Hook said: “We discussed ... what seemed to be attacks on commercial vessels that were anchored off Fujairah ... we have been requested by the UAE to provide assistance in the investigation, which we are very glad to do.”
Asked if he himself believed there was the possibility of an Iranian role, Hook had no comment.

The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz. It did not describe the nature of the attack or say who was behind it.

Saudi Arabia said Monday that two of its oil tankers were among those attacked and described it as an attempt to undermine the security of crude supplies amid tensions between the United States and Iran.

The UAE on Monday identified the vessels as very large crude carrier (VLCC) tanker Amjad and crude tanker Al Marzoqah, both owned by Saudi shipping firm Bahri. The other two were UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge A. Michel and Norwegian-registered oil products tanker MT Andrew Victory.
Reporting by Makini Brice and David Brunnstrom; Editing by David Alexander and Jeffrey Benkoe


 

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Pompeo tells Russia: we're committed to improving ties
May 14, 2019

MOSCOW (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump is committed to improving relations with Russia, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday during a visit to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Pompeo told Lavrov that the two countries may not agree on everything, but there was room for cooperation, particularly on counter-terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation.

Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Peter Graff

 

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Pompeo threatens Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with new sanctions
Wednesday, May 15, 2019 12:00:03 PM


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who for the first time traveled in this capacity to Sochi to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, did not come empty-handed.

After publicly announcing his desire to “improve relations with Russia”, “find common ground” and reach an agreement on Venezuela, Pompeo threatened the Russian leaders with new sanctions.

A new sanction bill was put forward in the US House of Representatives on 10 May, only two days after Pompeo’s intention to visit Russia was announced. The bill will be considered by the Committee on Financial Services when the outcome of the negotiations in Sochi becomes clear. Its text has been published on the official Congress website.

The new bill is not too different to its predecessors, which have been mired down by bureaucratic red tape. It proposes the immediate and unconditional introduction of new sanctions on Russian government debt, including securities related to the Russian Finance Ministry, National Wealth Fund, the Bank of Russia and other organizations linked to the government.

Furthermore, it would have the US Treasury Department make it mandatory for all American legal entities to disclose whether they have links to or shares in any of the six largest Russian state banks: Sberbank, VTB, Rosselkhozbank, Gazprombank, VEB or Promsvyazbank.

The second phase of sanctions would be imposed if Russia is found to have interfered in the 2020 US presidential elections.

If Russia is found to have meddled, at least one of the 6 state banks would be blacklisted, banned from having a correspondent account in the US, and thereby banned from performing dollar transactions. In addition, a ban would be imposed on any investments larger than $5 million in Russian energy projects outside of Russia (e.g. gas pipelines).

“I explained to Mr. Lavrov that interference in a US election campaign is unacceptable, and if this happens in 2020, relations between us will become even worse,” Pompeo said after the meeting.

“We also hope that Russia will stop supporting the Maduro regime, so that the suffering of the Venezuelan people can end,” the US Secretary of State added.

A third requirement is that the Kremlin “extend a hand” to the Ukrainian government to find a solution to the Donbas crisis, and release the captured Ukrainian sailors.

Lavrov claims to have sent Donald Trump an “aide-memoire” through Pompeo with suggestions on how to improve bilateral relations.

“We agreed on the importance of restoring communication channels. Recently these channels have been frozen, not least due to the wave of baseless accusations against us of attempting to influence the outcome of American elections and the existence of a certain collusion between us and high-ranking officials in the current US administration,” Lavrov noted.

“Naturally, we listed to what Trump said about expecting to meet with President Putin,” the Russian Foreign Minister continued, “including as part of their involvement in the G20 summit in Osaka. If we receive such an offer, we will certainly respond positively to it. We spoke about this today with Michael Pompeo.”

 

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