MOSCOW, July 19 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed concern over the confrontation between the United States and Iran. He said this to US director Oliver Stone in an interview published on the official Kremlin website on Friday.
"This worries us because this is happening near our borders. This may destabilize the situation around Iran, affect some countries with which we have very close relations, causing additional refugee flows on a large scale plus substantially damage the world economy as well as the global energy sector," Putin said. "We would welcome any improvement when it comes to relations between the US and Iran. A simple escalation of tension will not be advantageous for anyone. It seems to me that this is also the case with the US," he added. The United States withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal on 8 May 2018 and imposed economic sanctions on Tehran's oil exports. One year later, on 8 May 2019, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran's suspension of some commitments in the framework of the nuclear deal and gave other participants in the deal two months to return to its implementation. The situation around Iran further deteriorated after the June 13 incident in the Strait of Hormuz when two tankers caught fire after presumable attacks. The United States placed responsibility for the incident on Iran. The United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia supported these accusations. Teheran rejects these allegations.
LONDON, July 20 -- Britain said Iran seized two oil tankers in the Gulf on Friday and told Teheran to return the vessels or face consequences in the latest confrontation to ratchet up tension along a vital international oil shipping route.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they had captured the British-flagged Stena Impero, announcing the move two weeks after the British navy seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar. Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency said the second vessel, the British-operated Mesdar, had not been seized. It said the ship had been allowed to continue its course after being given a warning over safety and environmental issues. The Stena Impero and Mesdar changed direction sharply within 40 minutes of each other shortly after entering the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, taking up a course towards Iran, Refinitiv tracking data showed. The data later showed Mesdar changing direction again, heading westward back into the Gulf. "These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region," British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said. Hunt later said, in comments reported by Sky News, that there would be consequences if Iran did not return control of the ships, but said Britain was not considering military options. US President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about the issue, speaking after a war of words earlier on Friday about whether the United States had shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz. Already strained relations between Iran and the West have become increasingly fraught since the British navy seized Iran's Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Oil prices gained on Friday after the latest spike in tensions along the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil supplies pass.
Iran's Guards, an elite force under the command of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said they seized the Stena Impero at the request of Iranian authorities for "not following international maritime regulations", state television reported. Northern Marine Management, which is owned by Stena AB, confirmed the Stena Impero was heading towards Iran. Norbulk, the manager of the tanker Mesdar, said the vessel had been boarded by armed personnel but was later allowed to continue its voyage.
BAGHDAD, July 12 -- Four Islamic State (IS) militants and two paramilitary Hashd Shaabi members were killed Friday in an operation to hunt down the extremist militants in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, a statement and a provincial official said.
Early in the morning, the Iraqi army, interior ministry's provincial intelligence and Hashd Shaabi units carried out an operation to hunt down IS militants in the rugged area in the northeastern part of the province after being tipped off by intelligence report, the Hashd Shaabi said in a statement. Sadiq al-Husseini, head of the security committee in Diyala provincial council, told Xinhua that the troops, so far, killed four IS militants, including a local leader, and destroyed three of their hideouts. Also during the operation, a roadside bomb struck a convoy of a joint police, intelligence and Hashd Shaabi force in al-Hafayer area at the edges of al-Sa'diyah town, some 125 km northeast of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, al-Husseini said.
Brigadier General Ali al-Sudani, head of Diyala's intelligence, escaped the attack with wounds, but a Hashd Shaabi member was immediately killed and another died later in the hospital, while three other Hashd Shaabi members were wounded by the blast, al-Husseini added. Despite repeated military operations in Diyala, some IS militants are still hiding in some rugged areas near the border with Iran, and in the sprawling areas extending from the western part of the province to the Himreen mountain range in the northern part of the province. The security situation in Iraq was dramatically improved after Iraqi security forces fully defeated the extremist IS militants across the country late in 2017. IS remnants, however, have since melted in urban areas or resorted to deserts and rugged areas as safe havens, carrying out frequent guerilla attacks against security forces and civilians.
Author: Lora Smith
WASHINGTON, July 10 -- The United States is planning to create a military coalition to safeguard commercial shipping from Iranian threats in waterways off Iran and Yemen following attacks on two oil tanker last month, U.S. media reported.
"We are engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el Mandeb," said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to reporters. Dunford also said he had discussed the plan with Mark Esper, the acting secretary of defense, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He added the Pentagon has developed a specific plan and it would be clear within a couple of weeks to see which nations join the coalition, according to the local media. Under the plan, the United States would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts while its allies would patrol waters near the U.S. command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation's flags, the reports said. Dunford called the coalition "scalable," suggesting that it will start small but will expand as more countries show interest.
President Donald Trump expressed frustration in June, questioning why the United States is protecting shipping lanes for oil-dependent countries like China and Japan, suggesting that countries should be protecting their own ships. Bilateral tensions have increased with the United States stepping up its pressure on Iran over Tehran's nuclear program, claiming that it is destabilizing the Middle East.
Washington has blamed Tehran on the June attacks on two oil tankers respectively operated by a Japanese company and chartered by a Taiwanese oil refiner near the Strait of Hormuz, a key corridor through which major oil exports flow to the world, as well as a similar tanker attack in May in waters off the United Arab Emirates. A U.S. drone was also shot down in Iran by the Middle Eastern country's paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in late June, drawing the ire of Trump. Iran has threatened in the past that it would close the Strait of Hormuz, further increasing tensions with the United States and some of its neighbors. The United States and Gulf allies also have concerns about the vulnerability of the Bab el Mandeb, a strait between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, caused by Houthi rebels who are accused by the United States of being Iranian proxies.
Author: Lora Smith
LUXEMBOURG, July 7 -- Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn has warned that escalating tensions between the US and Iran could cause a challenging refugee crisis for Europe.
Speaking to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Asselborn said Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement was a “complete misstep”. The Trump administration withdrew from the deal a year ago and reimposed sanctions on Iran’s economy and leaders, prompting it to scale back compliance and fuelling concerns that the region was sliding toward war. Iran has demanded economic relief from Europe in response to the sanctions by 7 July and threatened to resume purifying uranium to 5%, beyond the 3.67% allowed under the 2015 agreement should efforts fail.
The European troika – a decision group including the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – in June delivered Instex, a financial channel aimed at protecting some trade with Iran – most likely food and medicines – from the threat of US sanctions. However, Iran has said the trade vehicle is insufficient unless it can be used to buy Iranian oil. European officials say that oil purchases are a matter for the private sector. However, private sector companies remain wary of US sanctions. The effects of economic sanctions could also affect the roughly three million Afghan refugees living in the country of which around 1.5 to two million are estimated to be without legal status. Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi in May said that Iran would have to consider asking Afghan refugees to leave under US economic sanctions. While the Iranian government later downplayed Araqchi’s comments, the issue remains on the table.
Speaking to Welt am Sonntag, Asselborn said that there is a risk that three million Afghans could leave Iran due to the tensions between Washington and Tehran. The Luxembourg foreign minister said he estimates that most of them would not return to Afghanistan but try to reach Europe via Turkey. “There is a risk of a huge wave of refugees which poses great challenges for Europe,” he said. Europe meanwhile has been trying to delay the 7 July deadline imposed by Iran and save the nuclear deal from falling apart. In a one-hour telephone call with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Saturday night, French president Emmanuel Macron reinforced his concerns about the risks of a further weakening in the multiparty pact meant to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
“Beyond the announced 7 July deadline, the president has agreed with his Iranian counterpart to explore by 15 July the conditions for a resumption of dialogue between all parties,” according to a statement from Macron’s office.
Author: Lora Smith
WASHINGTON, June 23 -- The United States military launched cyber attacks against Iranian missile control systems and a spy network on Thursday after Tehran downed an American surveillance drone, US officials have said.
US President Donald Trump ordered a retaliatory military attack against Iran after the drone shoot down but then called it off, saying the response would not be "proportionate" and instead pledged new sanctions on the country. But after the drone's downing, Trump secretly authorized US Cyber Command to carry out a retaliatory cyber attack on Iran, two officials told the Associated Press news agency on Saturday. A third official confirmed the broad outlines of the attack. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the operation. US media outlets Yahoo News and The Washington Post also reported the cyber attacks.
SINGAPORE, June 22 -- Some Singapore Airlines (SIA) flights to Europe may take "slightly longer" routings to avoid Iranian-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz amid ongoing tensions between Iran and the United States, an SIA spokesman said on Friday.
This would affect flights to and from some SIA destinations, such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Dusseldorf, the spokesman added. The airspace over the Strait of Hormuz had been flagged as a potential danger zone by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday. The FAA issued an emergency order prohibiting US flight operators from flying in the overwater area, citing heightened tensions after a US drone was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. It also said in an advisory that it remained concerned about the escalation of tension and military activity within close proximity to high-volume civil aircraft routes, as well as Iran's willingness to use long-range missiles in international airspace with little or no warning.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, an SIA spokesman said its flights will also look to avoid the affected area, and that it only chooses routes that are safe and cleared for use by the authorities.
"For context, our decisions on the use of airspace are made based on numerous factors, such as weather, safety and security conditions, advisories from international and regional bodies, information from external independent security consultants and any restrictions that may be imposed by the national authorities responsible for the airspace," the spokesman said.
WASHINGTON, June 21 -- The Iranian leadership received an overnight warning from US President Donald Trump of a likely attack against Iran, Reuters quoted Iranian government sources as saying.
Trump reportedly demanded Iran should enter into negotiations with the United States within Washington’s deadline. In reply Iran warned the US of the risk of "regional and international consequences." Trump and Iran exchanged messages through Oman. "In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues... He gave a short period of time to get our response, but Iran's immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei to decide about this issue," one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. A second Iranian official said: "We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision. However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences."
CAIRO, June 18 -- Egypt's former President Mohamed Morsi was buried on Tuesday in eastern Cairo, his son said, a day after he collapsed in court and died shortly after.
Morsi was buried early in the morning alongside other senior figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, his son, Ahmed Morsi, said on his Facebook page. The burial was attended by members of the family in Cairo's Madinat Nasr after authorities refused to grant permission for a burial in Morsi's home province of Sharqiya in the Nile Delta, Ahmed Morsi said. "We washed his noble body at Tora prison hospital, read prayers for him at the prison hospital ... and the burial was at the Muslim Brotherhood spiritual guides," Ahmed wrote. Morsi's lawyer, Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud, confirmed the burial took place early on Tuesday.
Morsi, who was a leading figure in the Brotherhood, became Egypt's first democratically elected president in 2012, one year after the Arab Spring uprising saw the end of President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. He was deposed in July 2013 following mass protests and a military coup led by Egypt's current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, after which he was immediately arrested. He had been in detention ever since. The Brotherhood, which has since been outlawed, said Morsi's death was a "full-fledged murder" and called on Egyptians to gather for a mass funeral. In a statement on its website, the Brotherhood also called for crowds to gather outside Egyptian embassies around the world.
WASHINGTON, June 18 -- The United States is sending 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East after last week's attacks on the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a statement on Monday.
"In response to a request from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) for additional forces, and with the advice of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in consultation with the White House, I have authorized approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East," Shanahan said. "The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region," he added. "The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests," he noted. "We will continue to monitor the situation dilligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats," Shanahan concluded.
On June 13, two tankers caught fire in the Gulf of Oman after an attack. The crews, with Russian nationals among their members, were evacuated by the Iranian rescue services and taken to the port of Jask. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that Iran is responsible for the attacks. Tehran has denied any involvement in the incident. The Kokuka Courageous tanker, registered in Panama and owned by a Japanese transport company, was carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore. The Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair vessel, owned by Norway's Frontline, was sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Taiwan with petrochemical feedstock.