Monday, January 14, 2019

Eye on Iran: White House Sought Options To Strike Iran

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President Trump's National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials said. The request, which hasn't been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad's sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells-launched by a group aligned with Iran-landed in an open lot and harmed no one. 

Iran is taking preliminary steps to design uranium fuel with a purity of 20 percent for reactors instead of having to copy foreign designs, Iran's nuclear chief said on Sunday. Iran's 2015 nuclear accord with world powers caps the level to which it is able to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent purity, well below the 20 percent it was reaching before the deal, and the roughly 90 percent that is weapons-grade.  Iran is, however, allowed to produce nuclear fuel under strict conditions that need to be approved by a working group set up by the signatories to the deal.

The United States is not looking to grant more waivers for Iranian oil imports after the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, the U.S. special representative for Iran said on Saturday, underlining Washington's push to choke off Tehran's income. "We are not looking to grant any waivers or exemptions to the import of Iranian crude," Brian Hook told a industry conference in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi. 


Well, to me, it was a very reasonable and rational thing for John Bolton to do. Think about it. Iranian-backed militias, extremists fired mortars in the vicinity of our embassy in Baghdad and our consulate in Basra, Iraq. That's a sort of declaration of war. But let's not go that war. It was a hostile act. And if you let a county like Iran get away with it, they'll do it again. And next time, they'll hit our embassy or our consulate. So I think what John Bolton did in asking for military options for the President who will always make the decision in the end was rational.

National Security Advisor John Bolton has not commented on the claims, but speaking in defense of the reported request on Sunday was Joe Lieberman, a former Democratic senator who chairs the bipartisan lobby group, United Against a Nuclear Iran. In an interview on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures," Lieberman said asking the Pentagon for options would be "a very reasonable and rational thing for John Bolton to do." "Think about it: Iranian-backed militias, extremists, fired mortars in the vicinity of our embassy in Baghdad and our consulate in Basra, Iraq," he said. "That's a sort of declaration of war," Lieberman said. "But let's not go that far. It was a hostile act. And if you let a country like Iran get away with it, they'll do it again. And next time, they will hit our embassy or our consulate."


The head of Iran's nuclear program said Sunday that the Islamic Republic has begun "preliminary activities for designing" a modern process for 20-percent uranium enrichment for its 50-year-old research reactor in Tehran, signaling new danger for the nuclear deal. Restarting enrichment at that level would mean Iran had withdrawn the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that President Donald Trump already pulled America out of in May.

Iran on Friday said the United States is suffering from "hysteria" over its inability to find alternatives to the landmark nuclear deal it walked away from last year. Washington "pulled out of a comprehensive and legitimate agreement achieved through negotiation, and is now afflicted with chronic hysteria as it can't find an alternative to it," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on his Telegram channel.


A major Iranian oil buyer that shut out supplies last year even before U.S. sanctions on the Persian Gulf state took effect is finally set to receive cargoes once again. National Iranian Tanker Co.'s Silvia I is expected to reach South Korea -- Tehran's third-biggest customer before it stopped purchases in August -- on Jan. 15, according to vessel-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

India's oil imports from Iran fell by 41 percent in December to 302,000 barrels per day oil (bpd), ship tracking data reviewed by Reuters showed, as pressure from U.S. sanctions took effect. The United States introduced tough sanctions aimed at crippling Iran's oil revenue-dependent economy in November but gave a six-month waiver to eight nations, including India, which allowed them to import some Iranian oil.

The reimposition of US sanctions on Iran has created many difficulties for Iranian students who are studying abroad - including in Europe. The root of these hardships seems to be European companies' fear of potential US penalties. Sima is an Iranian student pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering who traveled to Spain in September to take part in a one-year research program.

The United States is determined to drive Iran's oil exports down to zero in its effort to maximize economic pressure and force Tehran back to the negotiating table to discuss a "comprehensive deal" in place of the nuclear agreement US President Donald J. Trump abandoned last year, Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran and senior policy advisor to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said at the Atlantic Council's 2019 Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi on January 12.


France on Friday called on Iran to immediately stop all activities linked to ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons after Tehran said it could put two satellites into orbit in the coming weeks. "France recalls that the Iranian missile program (does) not conform with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231," Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing. "It calls on Iran to immediately cease all ballistic missile-related activities designed to carry nuclear weapons, including tests using ballistic missile technology." 

Iran called on France to avoid repeating "irresponsible and incorrect" claims about Tehran's ballistic missile work, Iranian state TV reported.  France earlier on Friday called on Iran to immediately stop all activities linked to ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons, after Tehran said it could put two satellites into orbit in the coming weeks.

About once a day, little satellites zip over northern Iran and snap a few pictures of the Imam Khomeini Space Center. The satellites, operated by a company in San Francisco called Planet, haven't recorded much - until recently. "We're seeing all kinds of activity," says Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who is analyzing the images as they come in. In recent days, he's noticed cars and trucks moving around the site.


Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen announced January 8, along with other officials on behalf of 28 members EU bloc, new sanctions targeting the Iranian regime's terrorist plots and assassinations in France, Denmark and the Netherlands. The clerical regime used to getting free rides and actions without consequences in the West was hard hit with the reality. It planned a series of terrorist attacks against its opposition in both sides of the Atlantic last year, but payback time has come in 2019.


The head of the Thomson Reuters Foundation said Monday she's "sincerely worried" about a detained British-Iranian national going on hunger strike to protest her treatment in the Islamic Republic. Monique Villa said in a statement that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's "health is already at its poorest" and that she hasn't received access to serious medical care after discovering lumps in her breasts. "This is slow and cruel torture, yet one more injustice inflicted upon her," Villa said. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran unleashed yet another crackdown on the country's struggling Christian minority before and after Christmas, prompting international calls for help - and for much tougher action against the repressive regime. The Iranian group Alliance for Rights of All Minorities reported on December 30 that "nine Christians were arrested in Karaj, Iran on alleged charges of affiliation with Christian Zionists and recruitment of Muslims to home churches..."


They seemed an unlikely pair of spies. The older man, Majid Ghorbani, worked at a posh Persian restaurant in Santa Ana's South Coast Village Plaza. At 59, he wore a thick gray mustache and the weary expression of a man who had served up countless plates of rice and kebab.

The family of Michael R. White, a Navy veteran imprisoned in Iran half a year ago, said Friday that he had traveled there with a valid visa to visit a female friend, rejecting any suggestion that he might have been engaged in espionage. "We want to be very clear - Michael spent much of his time in the Navy as a cook and recently worked as a commercial janitor - he is not now, nor has he ever been a spy," the family said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it was aware of reports of the detention of a U.S. citizen held in Iran for more than six months, amid heightened tensions between the countries following the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.  The New York Times reported on Monday that Michael R. White, a 46-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, was seized while visiting Iran and has been held in jail since July on unspecified charges. 

On the eve of its 40th anniversary, the Islamic Republic of Iran faces an uncertain future. The nation is grappling with rising protests, strikes, acts of civil disobedience and an aging supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who is rumored to have cancer. While the last of these might seem like the least significant, the illness of a previous Iranian leader had an oversized impact on the political direction of the country and its relationship with the United States.

A distinguishing feature of the world's pariahs is their hypocrisy. During the 20th century, the examples of hypocrisy could be witnessed in the Eastern bloc countries, where the elites were living separately from the people, positioning themselves as the working class advocates. For example, while the country was desolated by famine, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il became the biggest private buyer of Hennessy Paradis cognac.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed on Friday that Washington plans to host in February a two-day global summit focused on the Middle East, mainly Iran. Pompeo told Fox News that the international gathering would be held Feb. 13 to Feb. 14 in Poland to "focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence."

A Boeing 707 cargo plane traveling from Kyrgyzstan crashed on Monday while trying to land west of Tehran, the Iranian capital, state media reported, and an emergency official said that only one of the 16 on board was known to have survived. Fire immediately engulfed the aircraft after it skidded off a runway and crashed into a wall separating the Fath Airport from a residential neighborhood. Images carried by Iran's state-run media showed the burned-out tail of the plane sticking out, surrounded by charred homes.

A construction group owned by Iran's Revolutionary Guards will develop 250 kilometers (155 miles) of metro rail in cities across Iran. The chief of the Guards' Khatam al-Anbia Construction Headquarters unit, Saeed Mohammad, announced the plan Saturday at the launch of one section of the project -- a 4.5 trillion rial line linking southern Tehran and its outskirts to the city's center, according to a statement on the company's website.

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, can hardly be billed as a reformist. For that reason, he maintained his position as Iran's Supreme Leader's confidante while acting as his representative in the Iranian Supreme National Security Council for twenty-three years, from its inception until his first term election as president in 2013. Rouhani also escaped unscathed from the 2009 controversy-marred re-election of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare acknowledgment of specific Israel strikes targeting Iranian military assets in Syria, touting the campaign as the U.S. prepares to withdraw troops from its neighboring country. Speaking at the beginning of a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel has struck Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria hundreds of times in recent years in a bid to prevent Iran's efforts to entrench militarily in Syria, including an attack over the weekend.

Top U.S. diplomats are stridently pledging the Trump administration's determination to drive Iran out of Syria, even as it prepares to withdraw its military presence. Doubling down on the Trump's administration's anti-Iran message, the senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Brian Hook, vowed no U.S. reconstruction assistance to the war-torn country until Iranian forces and its proxies are completely driven out.

"The heads of Israel's defense establishment believe that Qatar's financial grant to Gaza played a major role in preventing an armed conflict between Israel and Hamas, but now the third installment of that grant is at risk," reports Shlomi Eldar. "As of Jan. 8, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given an order that the money is not to be transferred to the Gaza Strip, and Hamas is once again threatening Israel."


United States Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Al Arabiya English that Washington "would save no effort to prevent Iran from Lebanonizing Yemen". He added in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English that US is committed to the efforts led by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and that they have called to an urgent end to the fighting in Yemen.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reinforced support for the U.S. relationship with Qatar on Sunday while promising to renew attempts to resolve a standoff between the tiny Gulf nation and its rivals led by Saudi Arabia that has complicated the Trump administration's efforts to isolate Iran. During a visit to Doha as a part of a nine-country Middle East tour, Mr. Pompeo signed a memorandum of understanding with his Qatari counterpart on expanding Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which hosts the largest U.S. military installation in the Middle East with some 13,000 troops from the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with his Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad on Sunday for wide ranging talks, including on US sanctions against Tehran. The visit came just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise stop on his regional tour to urge Iraq to stop relying on Iran for gas and electricity imports.


Iran's foreign ministry summoned a senior Polish diplomat to protest at Poland jointly hosting a global summit with the United States focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said the summit - to be held in Warsaw over Feb. 13-14 - would focus on stability and security in the Middle East, including the "important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence". 

Angered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement that Poland will host an international conference on Iran in mid-February, Iranian authorities on Sunday summoned Warsaw's top diplomat in the country and called off a Polish film festival. The moves followed a tweet by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who denounced the upcoming summit as America's anti-Iran "circus." Pompeo is currently on a Mideast tour, bringing the Trump administration's anti-Iran message to the region.

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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