Monday, July 22, 2019

U.K. Warns Iran Of 'Serious Consequences' For Seizing Oil Tanker

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Britain on Saturday threatened Iran with "serious consequences" for seizing a British-owned oil tanker the previous evening as the government warned ships to avoid the crucial shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz. The British government said in a statement after an emergency meeting that it had "advised U.K. shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period." The crisis has caught Britain at a singularly vulnerable moment. Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to resign on Wednesday. 

The Trump administration is weighing a decision to end waivers that allow Iran to operate a civilian nuclear program with international assistance, in a move that would dismantle a key pillar of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, according to two current U.S. officials and a former official familiar with the discussions. The administration has been locked in an internal debate over the decision, and if carried out, the move could cause the unraveling of the international nuclear agreement that has been in jeopardy since President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal last year.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that Iran has to decide if it wants to act like a "normal nation" but that it showed "no indications" of changing direction amid increasing tensions.  "The Iranian regime has to make a decision that it wants to behave like a normal nation," Pompeo said at a news conference with Ecuadorian President LenĂ­n Moreno, according to a video of his remarks published by Reuters. 


The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency - the U.N. body monitoring Iran's nuclear activities - has died at the age of 72, the agency said in a statement Monday.   Yukiya Amano, a Japanese diplomat, was planning to step down early for unspecified health reasons. The agency's secretariat, which is based in Vienna, did not say when he died or give a cause of death. The agency "regrets to inform with deepest sadness of the passing away of Director General Yukiya Amano," the statement said, adding that the IAEA flag would be lowered to half-staff. 

Most of the Democrats running for president have promised to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal if they win the Oval Office. It won't be that easy.  By the time Inauguration Day rolls around in 2021, there might not even be a deal left - it has been hanging on by a thread since President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out last year. Even if it still exists, sections of the 2015 agreement are set to expire in the coming years, Trump's punishing sanctions on Iran will be hard to fully unwind, Iran has elections that could put more anti-deal hard-liners in power and Tehran has already threatened to unwind itself from the deal in the months ahead

Breaking just moments ago, the U.S. defense secretary, he just authorized the deployment of military personnel to Saudi Arabia as the U.S. now moves to counter the hostile state, the rogue regime of Iran. U.S. Central Command is increasing surveillance in the Straits of Hormuz tonight. And now, Sky News reports out of Britain that the United Kingdom is advising ships to stay away from the Straits of Hormuz for an interim period.


British ministers are making plans aimed at targeting Iran with sanctions in the aftermath of the Iranian seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.  British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce on Sunday diplomatic and economic measures, including potential asset freezes, as a response to the incident, according to the report.

Tankers are offloading millions of barrels of Iranian oil into storage tanks at Chinese ports, creating a hoard of crude sitting on the doorstep of the world's biggest buyer. Two and a half months after the White House banned the purchase of Iran's oil, the nation's crude is continuing to be sent to China where it's being put into what's known as "bonded storage," say people familiar with operations at several Chinese ports.

The US State Department hosted Tuesday a diplomatic consultancy meeting behind closed doors to discuss maritime navigation security to deter threats in the region. Meanwhile, Washington rejected offer of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to formally and permanently accept enhanced inspections of Iran's nuclear program, in return for the permanent lifting of US sanctions.


Twitter has suspended several Iranian news accounts over alleged harassment of people who follow the Baha'i faith. Young Journalists Club (YJC), run by state broadcaster IRIB, state-run IRNA, and Mehr were among the Farsi-language accounts suspended on Saturday. Some agencies, including Fars agency and English-language Press TV, remained active on the site. The affected agencies speculated that the suspensions were linked to their coverage of tensions in the region.


RAMI DABBAS: Well, it is an alliance against the US interests between the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism which is Iran and the most famous international terrorist group Al-Qaeda which is formidable and menacing to the American interests, it is cooperation and alliance between these terrorist forces against American and Western interests.

Last month, news emerged that a devastating cache of explosives had been discovered in London by security agencies back in 2015. The three tons of ammonium nitrate was "more than was used in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people," the Daily Telegraph reported. The lethal stockpile was linked to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'a group that has been designated as a terrorist organization-in whole or part-by much of the West. Hezbollah is sponsored by Iran, and back in 2015, the U.K. had just signed on to the Iranian nuclear deal. Nothing was made public.


Iran's most revered Revolutionary Guards commander says talking with President Trump would be admitting defeat. The country's supreme leader has ruled out any dealings with Washington. But now, in a surprising split among Iranian hard-liners, some are expressing a different opinion: It's time to sit down and resolve 40 years of animosity with the United States, by talking directly to Mr. Trump.

Iran said on Monday that it had arrested 17 Iranian citizens on charges of spying for the United States and had already executed some of them, Iranian and Western news media reported. At a news conference in Tehran, an official who identified himself as a director of counterespionage in the Intelligence Ministry described the arrests of people he said had been trained by the C.I.A., but he did not name them and gave few details of their alleged spying. 

Rather than tangle with a stronger U.S. military, Iran is poking and prodding its Western antagonists in ways apparently designed to avoid triggering war but that nonetheless seem to heighten the risk of missteps and miscalculation that could lead to an armed conflict with global consequences. The tensions picked up Friday with Iran reporting it had seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, one day after the U.S. said it destroyed an Iranian drone that had flown within threatening range of an American warship in the Strait of Hormuz.

Ships plying the Strait of Hormuz are getting caught in the middle as Iran pushes back against U.S. sanctions and maneuvers around a more muscular American regional presence, raising the risk of direct military confrontation. A British-flagged oil tanker Iran seized on Friday became the latest casualty of an Iranian response to perceived aggression that stops short of full conflict. Iran initially said it impounded the British vessel after it collided with a fishing boat. 

As tensions between Washington and Tehran rise across the region, the United States is making life more difficult for Iran in Iraq. The Treasury Department sanctioned four Iraqis who are close to Iran on July 18. Those sanctioned include two former provincial governors and two militia leaders, all known as figures close to Iran. The four individuals are Ahmed Abdullah al-Jabouri, known also as "Abu Mazen," Rayan al-Kildani, Nawfal al-Akoub and Waad Qado (Abu Jaffar al-Shabaki).


Tensions between Iran and the West reached a peak in the Persian Gulf on the evening of July 19 as Iran detained a British-flagged ship and warned another one allegedly in retaliation for the detention of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar. Although diplomacy is still the most popular approach as far as other players are concerned, all other options also appear to be on the table as Iran remains defiant.


Iran's supreme leader said on Monday that a U.S. plan to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians through development fueled by international investment was a "dangerous plot" to destroy Palestinian identity with money. "This dangerous plot aims to eliminate Palestinian identity among the Palestinian people ... This is the main point that one should resist, and not allow them to eliminate the Palestinian identity using money," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, according to his website. 

An Israeli Cabinet minister says Iran knows "who not to mess with" because Israel is the only country in the world that is killing Iranian operatives. Tzachi Hanegbi spoke to Israel Radio on Sunday after Iran's seizure of a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. He was referring to Israel's strikes on Iranian targets in Syria. Israel has long viewed Iran as its greatest threat and has urged Western countries to take stronger measures against Tehran.

Iran's state TV says a delegation from the Palestinian militant group Hamas that is visiting Iran has met with the country's supreme leader. The TV report on Monday says Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held talks with Hamas' deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, who is heading the delegation. The Hamas delegation also met with Kamal Kharrazi, an adviser to Khamenei.


Iran is working to transfer weaponry to Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon by sea, to avoid assaults that have targeted arms shipments, Israeli officials believe.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have announced that they have raised nearly $300,000 in the latest stage of their campaign for Hezbollah. In a video published on Saturday, the director general of Houthi radio station Sam FM posed with wads of cash as the team celebrated raising 74,010,000 Yemeni riyals (Dh1.1 million, or $296,000) for the Lebanese militants. "From Yemen the faith to Lebanon's resistance, salute to the well-being of Yemen," they yell.

Saudi Arabia's minister of state for foreign affairs on Sunday condemned Iran's seizure of a British flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and urged the international community to take action to deter such "unacceptable" behavior.  "Any attack on the freedom of navigation is a violation of international law," Adel Aljubeir said in a Twitter post.  "Iran must realize its acts of intercepting ships, including most recently the British ship, are completely unacceptable. The world community must take action to deter such behavior," he added.


A British warship tried without success to stop Iran's seizure on Friday of an oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz, an audio recording of the episode released on Sunday shows, underscoring the perils to Persian Gulf shipping and the global economy during escalating tensions between Iran and the West. "If you obey, you will be safe," an English-speaking officer from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran says in a radio call to the tanker, Stena Impero, which was sailing under a British flag.

Britain on Saturday denounced Iran's seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf as a "hostile act" and rejected Tehran's explanation that it seized the vessel because it had been involved in an accident. Iran's Revolutionary Guards posted a video online showing speedboats pulling alongside the Stena Impero tanker, its name clearly visible. Troops wearing ski masks and carrying machine guns rappelled to its deck from a helicopter, the same tactics used by British Royal Marines to seize an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar two weeks ago. 

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Saturday that he was worried that Iran had taken a "dangerous path" after it seized a British-flagged tanker on Friday in the Strait of Hormuz.  Iran's Fars news agency reported that the Stena Impero had been taken to the port of Bander Abbas, which faces the strait, after it said the tanker had been involved in an accident with an Iranian fishing vessel.  

Iran's seizure of a British oil tanker was a response to Britain's role in impounding an Iranian supertanker first, senior officials said Saturday, as newly released video of the incident showed Iranian commandos in black ski masks and fatigues rappelling from a helicopter onto the vessel in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The seizure prompted condemnation from the U.K. and its European allies as they continue to call for a de-escalation of tensions in the critical waterway.

The United Kingdom is trying to defuse an escalating standoff with Iran just days before Britain's ruling Conservative Party announces the successor to Theresa May, who is resigning. Some 160,000 members of the Tory Party have until today to return their ballots selecting a new leader. The winner, to be announced on Tuesday, is expected to be Boris Johnson. Johnson is a mercurial, pro-Brexit former foreign secretary who was also the London mayor and is not known for his diplomacy. 

Boris Johnson is expected to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom this week with a mandate to deliver Brexit. But before he can even say Brussels, the new leader will confront an international crisis started by Iran. This is an opportunity for Mr. Johnson to display independence and strength while nudging Europe toward a new approach to the Islamic Republic. On Friday Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized a British-flagged oil tanker and its 23 crew members in the Strait of Hormuz.

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