Mike Pompeo China speech defends Trump hawkish position

Mike Pompeo defends Trump’s hawkish line against China

Secretary of State set to give major policy speech

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the National Constitution Center about the Commission on Unalienable Rights, Thursday, July 16, 2020, in Philadelphia. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool via AP) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week will deliver a major speech on the shortcomings of American foreign policy toward China, arguing that the record clearly supports President Trump’s new and tougher approach to Beijing.

The policy speech, set for Thursday at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum near Los Angeles, will be the fourth in a series of addresses by the most senior national security officials of the Trump administration. Taken together, the speeches mark the most systematic and comprehensive response by a U.S. administration to address the challenges posed by China’s rise as a global economic and military power.

“We put together a series of remarks aimed at making sure the American people understood the ongoing, serious threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party to our fundamental way of life here in the United States of America,” Mr. Pompeo told The Washington Times in an interview.

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The speech will explain that the basis for U.S.-China relations since the 1970s —unfettered engagement and large-scale business ties with China — is obsolete. Mr. Pompeo will explain that the administration is fashioning new U.S. policies based on a relationship more in line with American values and principles.

The secretary of state also is expected to meet with a group of Chinese dissidents and pro-democracy advocates during his one-day visit to California.

In the interview, Mr. Pompeo said he plans to explain in detail how Mr. Trump has recognized the threat from China and the decades of harm it has caused to U.S. and other Western economies.

In response, the administration has begun to take “true concrete responses that can begin to reshape the relationship in a way that is fundamentally more fair and reciprocal for the American people, middle-class workers in America,” he said.

Past engagement policies, he said, failed to produce a moderate, pro-Western China. Mr. Trump is pursuing polices aimed at making sure China treats Americans “in a way that’s consistent with how we ask every country to behave,” Mr. Pompeo said.

The Pompeo speech will be the culmination of a series of high-level efforts to highlight the threat posed by China. White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Attorney General William P. Barr also have weighed in on various aspects of U.S.-Chinese policy, each time drawing a sharp rebuke from Beijing.

Taking on the deep state

In the wide-ranging interview, Mr. Pompeo discussed the problem of bureaucratic resistance in the State Department and in the CIA, which he used to run, to Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda. He said the administration is well-positioned to protect the security of the upcoming presidential election from foreign threats.

Mr. Pompeo also warned China not to arm Iran with advanced weapons when the arms embargo on Tehran ends in October. Beijing and Tehran are reportedly discussing a major economic and security pact in defiance of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

On the “deep state” opposition within the U.S. government, Mr. Pompeo said he has dealt with the resistance at the State Department, with its 75,000 employees, and during his role as CIA director.

“As for my experience now, 3½ years in, having first run the CIA and now as America’s chief diplomat, these are indeed big bureaucracies,” Mr. Pompeo said. “There are big bureaucracies in the private sector too, but inside government it takes a special capacity to get them all moving in the right direction.”

Policy opposition comes from “those who sit inside these bureaucracies and have policy differences.”

“I’m fine with people having different judgments, different views,” he said. “Even the senior leadership team at the State Department has different views. Air and vet them, make the case, build data sets around your argument, present them in a way that is rational and convincing.”

Disagreements also arise at the Cabinet level, but they are sorted out.

“When we’re done with [debate] and all that’s been sorted through, and the president has given guidance and I’ve issued implementation directions, the entire team has to work together to do that,” he said.

“There have been those who have decided they didn’t want be part of that,” he said. “So be it. They should leave. But everyone who remains, everybody who’s got their oar in the water still trying to pull America in the right direction has the true responsibility to execute in a way that’s consistent with President Trump’s foreign policy objective. And my mission is to make sure this organization, the State Department, and the CIA before that, did precisely that.”

Mr. Trump in May fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. Mr. Pompeo said Mr. Linick was dismissed for “undermining” the State Department. He did not elaborate. Congressional Democrats have said Mr. Linick was dismissed for investigating policy and personal matters related directly to Mr. Pompeo.

Ties with Iran

On Iran, recent news reports said Beijing is in the final stages of concluding an economic and military deal with Iran worth $400 billion for infrastructure, and closer defense and intelligence cooperation. China, which supports the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that the Trump administration repudiated in 2018, in the past has provided missiles and other military hardware to Iran despite nuclear sanctions.

“We’re watching the reporting … about the relationship between Iran and China,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We will hold every nation accountable that violates U.S. sanctions.

“I hope that the Chinese Communist Party sees that it is not in their best interest to support and provide weapons systems to the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”

Mr. Pompeo said he hopes Beijing will support U.S. efforts at the United Nations to block the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran. China, Russia and even some European allies have sent strong signals that they will oppose Washington’s efforts to preserve the embargo, a provision of the 2015 nuclear deal.

“It should not be the case that the world is going to stand by and allow an Iranian regime that continues to sponsor terror all around the world to allow them to be an arms merchant, allow them to purchase air defense systems and other capabilities that will protect them so that they are more capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We’re not going to allow that to happen. I hope that the Chinese Communist Party will join alongside of us.”

Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration is seeking to overhaul and improve U.S. radio broadcasting and information programs now that the first chief executive, Michael Pack, is now in place at the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

Mr. Pack dismissed all the directors of several government-funded radios, and the director of the flagship Voice of America, Amanda Bennett, stepped down before she could be fired. Mr. Trump has criticized VOA broadcasts, leading some critics to accuse the administration of threatening the service’s journalistic independence.

The message to be beamed abroad will be that “America is a force for good and that the threats that emanate from regimes like the Chinese Communist Party need not be tolerated and that America will be there to support those freedom-loving nations,” Mr. Pompeo said.

China and its neighbors

On recent tensions between Taiwan and mainland China, Mr. Pompeo said Mr. Trump is following the path forged by President Reagan in supporting Taipei’s defenses.

For the first time in decades, the administration agreed to sell new F-16 jets to Taiwan and has supplied other important weaponry in a bid to bolster the island’s defenses against China’s growing encroachment in waters along its periphery, Mr. Pompeo said.

Mr. Pompeo also said that what he called China’s failure to abide by its commitments in Hong Kong — Beijing recently approved a tough security law for the enclave that critics say violates a 1997 handover agreement to respect self-rule and autonomy in the former British colony — is raising worries about China’s threats to use force against Taiwan.

China has “a series of commitments they’ve made to the people who live in Taiwan and to the world, the fact that they will not use military force,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We set out in every conversation we have with our Chinese counterparts our expectation that they will live up to those commitments.”

China’s neighbors in the region, he added, increasingly appreciate the American security commitments in the face of Beijing’s aggressiveness.

Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration is actively supporting Hong Kong activists in their challenge to Chinese rule. Asked whether the curbs on freedom can be rolled back and democracy restored, Mr. Pompeo said, “The people of Hong Kong are going to demand it.”

An election is set for September, and Hong Kong voters will have a chance to “raise their voices” against Beijing in “demanding the freedom that the Communist Party promised them.”

China ignored the appeals. As a result, the administration has rescinded Hong Kong’s special economic status, Mr. Pompeo said.

On Chinese expansive maritime claims to own most of the South China Sea, Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. conducted a careful legal review before the State Department declared last week that those claims are illegal under international law.

“The Obama-Biden administration turned the other cheek when China violated basic promises” on not building military bases on disputed islands in the sea, he said. Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Obama in 2015 that China had no plans to deploy military forces on disputed islands.

Mr. Xi “then did, and the previous administration did nothing,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Beginning in April 2018, the Pentagon detected the deployment of Chinese anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles on several South China Sea islands. Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. is preparing a series of actions in response to Chinese militarization in the sea.

The Trump administration has begun providing assistance to nations China has challenged in the South China Sea. After last week’s statement from Washington, Mr. Pompeo said, China seems to have backed off the legal claim and is now negotiating agreements with individual states in the region in a bid to “pick them off one by one.”

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that [the Chinese] are not successful at that,” he said. “We cannot let China claim all of that sea as their maritime empire. This is a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

Seafarers group: Tanker off UAE sought by US ‘hijacked’

Seafarers group: Tanker off UAE sought by U.S. ‘hijacked’

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BREAKING NEWS BANNER FROM THE WASHINGTON TIMES more >

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By Jon Gambrell

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An oil tanker sought by the U.S. over allegedly trying to circumvent sanctions on Iran was hijacked on July 5 off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a seafarers organization said Wednesday.

Satellite photos showed the vessel in Iranian waters on Tuesday and two of its sailors remained in the Iranian capital.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened aboard the MT Gulf Sky, though its reported hijacking comes after months of tensions between Iran and the U.S.

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David Hammond, the CEO of the United Kingdom-based group Human Rights at Sea, said he took a witness statement from the captain of the MT Gulf Sky confirming the ship had been hijacked.

Hammond said that 26 of the Indian sailors on board had made it back to India, while two remained in Tehran, without elaborating.

“We are delighted to hear that the crew are safe and well which has been our fundamental concern from the outset,” Hammond told The Associated Press.

Hammond also said that he had no other details on the vessel. TankerTrackers.com, a website tracking the oil trade at sea, said it saw the vessel in satellite photos on Tuesday in Iranian waters off Hormuz Island.

The Emirati government, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

With a view toward Iran, Israel launches spy satellite

With a view toward Iran, Israel launches spy satellite

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In this photo released by Israel Ministry of Defense Spokesperson’s Office, the “Ofek 16” reconnaissance satellite blasts off at the Palmachim air base in central Israel Monday, July 6, 2020. The new satellite, which quickly entered orbit, joins a collection … more >

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By JOSEF FEDERMAN

Associated Press

Monday, July 6, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel said it successfully launched a new spy satellite into space on Monday as its leaders hinted it was behind a massive fire at an Iranian nuclear site last week – potentially ratcheting up a long-running covert war.

If Israel was responsible for the fire at the heavily fortified Natanz facility, it would mark another in a series of daring strikes against Iran’s nuclear program attributed to Israel, while also risking Iranian retaliation on either Israeli or Western targets.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the launch of the new Ofek 16 satellite, the latest addition to a fleet deployed over the past two decades.

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“The success of the Ofek 16 satellite very much increases our ability to act against Israel’s enemies, near and far alike,” he told his Cabinet. “It greatly expands our ability to act on land, at sea, in the air and also in space.”

Netanyahu did not mention Iran or last week’s fire. But the Islamic Republic is Israel’s top security concern and a target of its satellite intelligence-gathering efforts.

After initially playing down last Thursday’s fire, Iranian officials over the weekend confirmed the blaze was much more powerful than initially indicated and that advanced centrifuges at the top-secret facility had been damaged. Iran’s nuclear agency said the damage to the centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for both civilian and military purposes, could delay research and development for the “medium term.”

A new satellite photo released Monday by Planet Labs Inc. showed extensive damage to the centrifuge facility. The image, taken Sunday, shows the roof apparently torn away by the blast and debris scattered across the ground.

Iran has not directly blamed the fire on Israel or anyone else.

Israel, which accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the fire. But a growing pile of evidence is pointing toward Israel – one of the few countries with the motivation and capability to pull it off.

In a speech on Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi noted that it was Israel’s long-term strategy to prevent Iran from gaining the ability to build a nuclear weapon. He made no mention of the Natanz incident but noted that Israel takes “actions that are better left unsaid.”

A group calling itself the “Cheetahs of the Homeland” has claimed responsibility for the fire. The fact that Iran experts have never heard of the group, and that Iranian opposition groups denied involvement, has raised questions about possible foreign involvement. The group, claiming its members were dissidents from Iranian security services, referred to the site as “Kashan,” the home of a one-time Jewish community, instead of the modern name of Natanz.

Israel and the U.S. are believed to have created the “Stuxnet” computer virus, which attacked Iran’s nuclear program a decade ago. At the time, Ashkenazi was Israel’s military chief of staff.

More recently, Israel uncovered what it called Iran’s “nuclear archive,” a collection of thousands of documents seized by Mossad agents from a Tehran warehouse in 2018. Israel says the documents prove that Iran intended to develop nuclear weapons and hid its efforts from the international community. Earlier this year, Israel was suspected of crippling an Iranian port in a hacking attack in response to an alleged Iranian cyber attack that targeted Israel’s water supply.

The Natanz fire came less than a week after an explosion in an area east of Tehran that analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites.

Iran has long claimed its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, says Iran has been enriching uranium to about 4.5% purity – below weapons grade but higher than the terms of the 2015 U.S.-led international nuclear deal. Workers have also conducted tests on advanced centrifuges, according to the IAEA. Iran says its breaches are a response to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the deal and to impose painful economic sanctions.

Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and former Iran specialist on Israel’s National Security Council, said it was difficult to say for sure whether Israel was involved in the fire, either directly or with Western or Arab partners. He also said that not everything that happens in Iran is necessarily the result of cyberwarfare or sabotage.

“Having said that, some of the things that happened in Iran in the last week are not coincidence,” he said.

He said the perpetrators of the fire might have had several goals, most critically to slow Iran’s nuclear program. They might also have wanted to send a message to Iran that there is a cost for continued nuclear research. There might be pressure to draw Iran back to negotiations. Some international players might even dream of fomenting regime change.

“Not everything is related to Israel. But I think Israel should be the most concerned about Iran advancing,” Guzansky said.

Monday’s satellite launch did not appear to be directly connected to the developments in Natanz, given the lengthy preparations involved.

Beyond the nuclear program, Israel is alarmed by Iran’s development of long-range missiles, its support for hostile militant groups and Iran’s ongoing military presence in Syria. Israel believes Iran is trying to help the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to develop a guided-missile program.

Israel does not confirm the number of its operational satellites but Amnon Harari, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Space and Satellite Administration, mentioned at least two others: the Ofek 5, launched in 2002, and the Ofek 11, launched in 2016.

Foreign threats require “constant monitoring,” he told reporters. “You can assume that once you have more than one satellite in parallel in the sky, you achieve better visit times over the targets of interest.”

Alex Fishman, the defense analyst of the Yediot Ahronot daily, said the suspicion that Israel was involved in last week’s fire made sense, given Iran’s economic troubles and coronavirus crisis.

“Someone decided that a window of opportunity had opened, that Iran was in distress, and that now was the time to strike wherever possible,” he wrote.

Fire at Iran nuke site hit new centrifuge facility, say U.S.-based analysts

Fire at Iran nuke site hit new centrifuge facility, say U.S.-based analysts

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This photo released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, … more >

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By Jon Gambrell

Associated Press

Thursday, July 2, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A fire and an explosion struck a building above Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility early on Thursday, a site that U.S.-based analysts identified as a new centrifuge production plant.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to downplay the fire, calling it an “incident” that only affected an under-construction “industrial shed,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. However, both Kamalvandi and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed after the fire to Natanz, which has been targeted in sabotage campaigns in the past.

Kamalvandi did not identify what damaged the building, though Natanz governor Ramazanali Ferdowsi said a “fire” struck the site, according to a report by the semiofficial Tasnim news agency.

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A photograph later released by the atomic energy agency showed a brick building with scorch marks and its roof apparently destroyed. It wasn’t clear if that was the “shed” to which Kamalvandi referred. Debris on the ground and a door that looked blown off its hinges suggested an explosion accompanied the blaze.

Data collected by a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite suggested the fire broke out around 2 a.m. local time in the northwest corner of the Natanz compound. Flames from the blaze were bright enough to be detected by the satellite from space.

“There are physical and financial damages and we are investigating to assess,” Kamalvandi told Iranian state television. “Furthermore, there has been no interruption in the work of the enrichment site. Thank God, the site is continuing its work as before.”

The site of the fire corresponds to a newly opened centrifuge production facility, said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. He said he relied on satellite images and a state TV program on the facility to locate the building, which sits in Natanz’s northwest corner.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security similarly said the fire struck the production facility. His institute previously wrote a report on the new plant, identifying it from satellite pictures while it was under construction and later built.

Iranian nuclear officials did not respond to a request for comment about the analysts’ comments.

There was no previously announced construction work at Natanz, a uranium enrichment center some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. Natanz includes underground facilities buried under some 7.6 meters (25 feet) of concrete, which offers protection from airstrikes.

Natanz, also known as the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, is among the sites now monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency after Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The IAEA said in a statement it was aware of reports of the fire. “We currently anticipate no impact on the IAEA’s safeguards verification activities,” the Vienna-based agency said.

Located in Iran’s central Isfahan province, Natanz hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. There, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium. Currently, the IAEA says Iran enriches uranium to about 4.5% purity, above the terms of the nuclear deal, but far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. It also has conducted tests on advanced centrifuges, according to the IAEA.

The U.S. under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018, setting up months of tensions between Tehran and Washington. Iran now is breaking all the production limits set by the deal, but still allows IAEA inspectors and cameras to watch its nuclear sites.

However, Natanz did become a point of controversy last year as Iranian officials refused to allow an IAEA inspector into the facility in October after allegedly testing positive for suspected traces of explosive nitrates. Nitrates are a common fertilizer. However, when mixed with proper amounts of fuel, the material can become an explosive as powerful as TNT. Swab tests, common at airports and other secure facilities, can detect its presence on the skin or objects.

Natanz also remains of particular concern to Tehran as it has been targeted for sabotage before. The Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation, disrupted and destroyed centrifuges at Natanz amid the height of Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.

Satellite photos show an explosion last Friday that rattled Iran’s capital came from an area in its eastern mountains that analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites. Iran has blamed the blast on a gas leak in what it describes a “public area.”

Another explosion from a gas leak at a medical clinic in northern Tehran killed 19 people Tuesday.

Late Thursday, the BBC’s Persian service said it received an email prior to the announcement of the Natanz fire from a group identifying itself as the Cheetahs of the Homeland, claiming responsibility for an attack on the centrifuge production facility at Natanz. This group, which claimed to be dissident members of Iran’s security forces, had never been heard of before by Iran experts and the claim could not be immediately authenticated by the AP.

Pompeo urges UN arms embargo on Iran’s `terrorist regime’

Pompeo urges UN arms embargo on Iran’s `terrorist regime’

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FILE – In this Wednesday, June 24, 2020 file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington. On Tuesday, June 30, 2020, Pompeo and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Calling Iran “the world’s most heinous terrorist regime,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to extend the U.N. arms embargo against Tehran, which expires in October, and reject “extortion diplomacy.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif countered calling President Donald Trump’s administration “an outlaw bully” that is waging “economic terrorism” on his country to satisfy domestic constituencies and “personal aggrandizement.”

He called for the U.S. to compensate the Iranian people for the damage and vehemently opposed any extension of the arms embargo, warning that Iran’s options “will be firm” if it is maintained and the U.S. will bear full responsibility.

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The United States has circulated a draft Security Council resolution to extend the arms embargo indefinitely, and Pompeo said the United States’ “overwhelming preference” is to work with its 15 members to adopt it.

But he indicated that if the resolution isn’t approved, which is likely because of Russian and Chinese opposition, the U.S. will move to invoke a provision of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers to re-impose all U.N. sanctions against Iran. The Trump administration pulled out of the deal in 2018.

Pompeo spoke at a virtual open meeting of the council on implementation of resolution 2231, which was adopted in 2015 to endorse the Iran nuclear deal. The arms embargo is included in the measure.

Zarif told the council later that the U.S. violated all provisions of the deal by its withdrawal and insisted that the arms embargo be lifted completely on its Oct. 18 expiration date. “Any attempt to change or amend the timetable” for lifting the embargo is tantamount to undermining the entire resolution, he said.

Pompeo noted that Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani recently declared that “Iran will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended.”

Zarif didn’t, but the foreign minister told the council: “The international community in general – and the U.N. Security Council in particular – are facing an important decision: Do we maintain respect for the rule of law, or do we return to the law of the jungle by surrendering to the whims of an outlaw bully?”

Pompeo seized on findings in a report this month by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who said the United Nations has determined that Iran was the source for several items in two arms shipments seized by the U.S., and for debris left by attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations and an international airport.

The report also said some of the items seized by the U.S. in November 2019 and February 2020 “were identical or similar” to those found after cruise missiles and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in 2019.

Pompeo also blamed Iran for other actions, including an attack on U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq in January using its advanced missiles, and supplying Shiite militia forces who have launched dozens of rocket attacks since last year against U.S. and coalition forces fighting Islamic State extremists.

If the arms embargo is lifted, he said “Iran will be free to purchase Russian-made fighter jets that can strike up to a 3,000-kilometer radius – putting cities like Riyadh, New Delhi, Rome, and Warsaw in Iranian crosshairs.”

Pompeo said Iran would be free to upgrade and expand its submarine fleet, to purchase advanced technologies for its Middle East proxies including Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and Yemen’s Houthi Shiite rebels.

And it will be free “to become a rogue weapons dealer, supplying arms to fuel conflicts from Venezuela, to Syria, to the far reaches of Afghanistan,” he said.

Zarif refuted many of the findings of the report and accused the U.S. of “maliciously” raising matters extraneous to the nuclear agreement, “such as Iran’s defensive capabilities and regional policies,” which are also “parroted by a handful of its allies and clients.”

He said these issues were deliberately left out of the deal because both sides disagreed on certain issues. He pointed to the U.S. unwillingness to address “our grave concerns over its unfathomable level of arms sales and build-up in our neighborhood” and its interventions in the Middle East.

Pompeo said he detailed only a fraction of “the overwhelming evidence” against Iran and told the council that the U.S. call to maintain the arms embargo is backed by Middle East countries from Israel to the Gulf “who are most exposed to Iran’s predations.”

The Trump administration has won only tepid support from allies for the U.S. draft resolution to maintain the arms embargo, and European countries are expected to present a counter-proposal that would extend at least parts of the embargo for six months. It is not clear if the U.S., Russia or China would support such a proposal.

Zarif said the U.S. has no rights under resolution 2231 “nor can its enablers try to save its face via so-called middle-ground formulas.”

The council meeting took place a day after Iran issued an arrest warrant and asked Interpol for help in detaining President Donald Trump and dozens of others it believes carried out the U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad earlier this year. Trump faces no danger of arrest and Interpol later said it would not consider Iran’s request.

However, the charges underscore the heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and re-imposed crippling U.S. sanctions on Tehran.

The five other powers that signed the nuclear deal – Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany – remain committed to it, saying the agreement is key to continuing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

___

Lee reported from Washington.

Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump that Interpol rejects

Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump that Interpol rejects

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ADDS THAT IRNA IS STATE-RUN: FILE – In this Thursday, June 25, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump waves as he arrives on Air Force One at Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wis. Iran has issued an arrest … more >

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By NASSER KARIMI

Associated Press

Monday, June 29, 2020

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran has issued an arrest warrant and asked Interpol for help in detaining President Donald Trump and dozens of others it believes carried out the U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad, a local prosecutor reportedly said Monday.

Interpol later said it wouldn’t consider Iran’s request, meaning Trump faces no danger of arrest. However, the charges underscore the heightened tensions between Iran and the United States since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said Trump and 35 others whom Iran accuses of involvement in the Jan. 3 strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad face “murder and terrorism charges,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

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Alqasimehr did not identify anyone else sought other than Trump, but stressed that Iran would continue to pursue his prosecution even after his presidency ends.

Alqasimehr also was quoted as saying that Iran requested a “red notice” be put out for Trump and the others, which represents the highest-level arrest request issued by Interpol. Local authorities generally make the arrests on behalf of the country that requests it. The notices cannot force countries to arrest or extradite suspects, but can put government leaders on the spot and limit suspects’ travel.

After receiving a request, Interpol meets by committee and discusses whether or not to share the information with its member states. Interpol has no requirement for making any of the notices public, though some do get published on its website.

Interpol later issued a statement saying its guidelines for notices forbids it from “any intervention or activities of a political” nature.

Interpol “would not consider requests of this nature,” it said.

Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, dismissed the arrest warrant announcement during a news conference in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

“It’s a propaganda stunt that no one takes seriously and makes the Iranians look foolish,” Hook said.

The U.S. killed Soleimani, who oversaw the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force, and others in the January strike near Baghdad International Airport. It came after months of rising tensions between the two countries. Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile strike targeting American troops in Iraq.

___

Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

AP Interview: US envoy calls for Iran arms embargo renewal

AP Interview: US envoy calls for Iran arms embargo renewal

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FILE – In this Nov. 29, 2018 file photo, Brian Hook, U.S. special representative for Iran, speaks at the Iranian Materiel Display at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington. An expiring United Nations weapons embargo on Iran must remain in place … more >

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By JON GAMBRELL

Associated Press

Sunday, June 28, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – An expiring United Nations weapons embargo on Iran must remain in place to prevent it from “becoming the arms dealer of choice for rogue regimes and terrorist organizations around the world,” the U.S. special representative to Iran said Sunday.

Brian Hook told The Associated Press that the world should ignore Iran’s threats to retaliate if the arms embargo set to expire in October is extended, calling it a “mafia tactic.” Among its options, the Islamic Republic could expel international inspectors monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, deepening a crisis created by President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s 2015 atomic accord with global powers.

The U.N. arms embargo so far has stopped Iran from purchasing fighter jets, tanks, warships and other weaponry, but has failed to halt its smuggling of weapons into war zones. Despite that, Hook argued both an import and export ban on Tehran must remain in place to secure the wider Mideast.

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“If we let it expire, you can be certain that what Iran has been doing in the dark, it will do in broad daylight and then some,” Hook said.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hook’s remarks. However, President Hassan Rouhani described 2020 as Iran’s “most difficult year” on Sunday due to the U.S. economic pressure campaign and the coronavirus pandemic.

Hook made the comments while on a visit to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the U.S.-allied United Arab Emirates, as part of a Mideast tour. Hook met Saturday with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and planned Sunday to meet with other officials. Hook declined to say where else he would travel on his trip.

Hook spoke to AP journalists in Dubai via videoconference as Abu Dhabi’s borders remain closed to the UAE’s six other sheikhdoms over the pandemic.

The United Nations banned Iran from buying major foreign weapon systems in 2010 amid tensions over its nuclear program. That blocked Iran from replacing its aging equipment, much of which had been purchased by the shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. An earlier embargo targeted Iranian arms exports.

If the embargo is lifted, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency predicted in 2019 that Iran likely would try to purchase Russian Su-30 fighter jets, Yak-130 trainer aircraft and T-90 tanks. Tehran also may try to buy Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and its Bastian coastal defense missile system, the DIA said.

Iran long has been outmatched by U.S.-backed Gulf nations like the UAE, which have purchased billions of dollars of advanced American weaponry. In response, Tehran turned toward developing ballistic missiles as a deterrent. Hook declined to discuss an explosion Friday in Iran near an area analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites.

Being able to pay for new, foreign weapons systems, however, remains in question. U.S. sanctions imposed after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal have crushed Iran’s oil sales, a major source of revenue. Energy prices have also collapsed amid the pandemic.

Asked about how Iran would pay for the new weapons, Hook said Tehran’s lowered revenues represented “a good thing for the region” and affected its ability to back its regional proxies, like Syria.

“We have put this regime through our strategy on the horns of a dilemma,” Hook said. “They have to choose between guns in Damascus or butter in Tehran.”

That financial pressure has led to sporadic anti-government protests in Iran, including nationwide demonstrations in November that Amnesty International says saw over 300 people killed. While the Trump administration has maintained it doesn’t seek to overthrow Iran’s government, its pressure campaign has exacerbated public anger against its Shiite theocracy.

Since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran has broken all the accord’s production limits. The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iranian nuclear activity as part of the deal, says Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium continues to grow.

While not at weapons-grade levels, the growing stockpile and increased production shortens the one-year timeline analysts believe Iran would need to have enough material for a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one. Iran long has denied seeking atomic bombs, though the IAEA previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003.

Iran has threatened to expel IAEA inspectors and withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty amid the U.S. pressure campaign. North Korea, which now has nuclear weapons, is the only country to ever withdraw from the treaty.

“If we play by Iran’s rules, Iran wins,” Hook said. “It is a mafia tactic where people are intimidated into accepting a certain kind of behavior for fear of something far worse.”

Hook maintained that the U.N.’s ban on Iran exporting weapons abroad also needed to remain in place, even though it has not prevented Tehran from smuggling arms. Iranian arms in particular have turned up in Yemen, where Tehran-backed Houthi rebels fight a Saudi-led coalition.

“I don’t think anyone believes that Iran’s behavior merits loosening restrictions on their ability to move weapons,” Hook said.

____

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

Iran warns against US-led efforts to extend arms embargo

Iran warns against US-led efforts to extend arms embargo

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Friday, June 26, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Iran’s U.N. ambassador said Thursday that he believes a U.S. resolution to extend an arms embargo against his country will be defeated and warned it would be “a very, very big mistake” if the Trump administration then tries to re-impose U.N. sanctions.

Ambassador Majid Ravanchi said restoring U.N. sanctions will end the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers and release Tehran from all its commitments.

“If that happens, Iran will not be under constraint as to what course of action it should take,” he said reporters. “All options for Iran will be open.”

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Lifting the arms embargo on Tehran is part of the U.N. 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing the nuclear agreement.

Ravanchi spoke a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to seek to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran if the Security Council does not approve a resolution that would indefinitely extend the arms embargo, which is set to expire in October.

Iran will be able to purchase advanced weapons systems and become an arms dealer of choice for terrorists and rogue regimes all throughout the world,” Pompeo said. “This is unacceptable.”

Later Wednesday, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook and U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft briefed Security Council members on the U.S. draft resolution that would maintain the arms embargo indefinitely.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have escalated since 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal between Tehran and six major powers and re-imposed crippling U.S. sanctions.

The five other powers that signed the nuclear deal – Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany – remain committed to it, saying the agreement is key to continuing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

Ravanchi said ending the arms embargo in October “is an essential part of the agreement between Iran and its partners.”

“We believe there is no stomach for members of the Security Council to digest the draft resolution like the one the U.S. presented,” he said. “So, it is our view that the draft resolution will be defeated.”

Ravanchi stressed that Iran will not accept “anything less than full implementation” of the provision lifting the arms embargo.

And he added: “It would be a wise idea for the United States to reconsider the presentation of the draft because it’s not going to be approved.”

The Iranian ambassador pointed to letters from the foreign ministers of Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, to its members opposing any extension of the arms embargo.

The 2015 nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, also includes a “snap back” provision that would restore all U.N. sanctions against Iran that had been lifted or eased if the nuclear deal is violated.

Responding to Pompeo’s threat to use that provision if the U.S. arms embargo resolution isn’t approved, Ravanchi said: “This is a very, very big mistake on the part of the United States to try to snap back the resolution, because they know that is the end of JCPOA, and they should think twice before resorting to that option.”

He said Iran and many other Security Council members believe the U.S. has no legal authority to invoke snap back because it is not part of the JCPOA.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has dismissed as “ridiculous” the possibility of the Trump administration trying to use the snap back provision, stressing that since the U.S. pulled out out of the JCPOA “they have no right” to use any of its provisions.

But Pompeo and Craft insist the resolution makes clear the U.S. retains the right to use the provision.

Ravanchi said the U.S. should ask itself how it will implement snap back in the face of strong opposition to it.

And he said the U.S. should also bear in mind the consequences of having no JCPOA, and the consequences of snap back action, including its impact on other Security Council members and the council’s credibility.

The ambassador was asked whether ending IAEA inspections, stopping unannounced inspections under the nuclear agency’s additional protocol, or withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, are likely steps Iran would take if the U.S. succeeds in re-imposing U.N. sanctions.

“I am not going to tell you exactly what action we are going to take,” Ravanchi replied. ”There are a number of options available.”

U.S. sanctions 5 Iranian tanker captains for gasoline delivery to Venezuela

U.S. sanctions 5 Iranian tanker captains for gasoline delivery to Venezuela

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In this file photo, a Venezuelan oil worker holding a small Iranian flag attends a ceremony for the arrival of Iranian oil tanker Fortune at the El Palito refinery near Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, Monday, May 25, 2020. The first of … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday announced new sanctions on five Iranian ship captains that he says have delivered gasoline to Venezuela.

The U.S. has hammered the government of Venezuelan socialist leader Nicolas Maduro with sanctions in an effort to push him out of power. The Trump administration has implemented a so-called maximum pressure campaign that targets Maduro’s inner circle, the country’s economy and the types of fuel the country can import and export.

Venezuela, which sits on one of the largest proven oil reserves in the world, has grappled with humanitarian and political crises in recent years that have badly impacted refineries that are now largely unable to produce gasoline.

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Last month, one of the sanctioned Iranian oil tankers arrived at a Venezuelan refinery with its cargo, estimated to be about 1.5 million barrels of gasoline. The country’s refining network has been operating this year at about 10 percent of its 1.3 million barrels per day capacity.

Gasoline production in Venezuela has hit bottom in the last two decades. Mismanagement by the socialist government officials along with corruption amid an economic crisis is being blamed for a situation that has sparked a massive migration by those seeking to escape poverty and crime.

“The U.S. is sanctioning five Iranian captains who delivered gasoline and its components to Venezuela,” Mr. Pompeo tweeted.

“No one believes Maduro’s claims of equal and fair gasoline distribution — these rogue regimes must stop squandering their people’s wealth and resources with corrupt schemes.”

In a statement following the announcement, Mr. Pompeo said the individuals delivered roughly 1.5 million barrels of Iranian gasoline to Venezuela. The captains headed five Iranian-flagged tankers — Clavel, Petunia, Fortune, Forest, and Faxon.

He explained that as part of the sanctions, the assets of each individual will be blocked. “Their careers and prospects will suffer from this designation,” the secretary said.

“Iran’s continued support to Venezuela is yet another instance of Iran wasting its people’s resources on ill-conceived foreign adventurism that prolongs suffering abroad,” he continued. “The only solution to Venezuela’s problems is a democratic transition that restores freedom and prosperity.”

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Pompeo also reiterated his support of Venezuelan opposition Juan Guaidó, days after President Trump said he would be open to meeting with Mr. Maduro.

The U.S. and nearly 60 other nations recognize Mr. Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela, contending that Mr. Maduro’s reelection in 2018 was illegitimate.

Iran open to talks with U.S. if Washington apologizes for pulling out of nuclear deal

Iran open to talks with U.S. if Washington apologizes for pulling out of nuclear deal

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In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a Cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Iran would be open to nuclear talks with the U.S. if Washington apologizes for pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted sanctions on Tehran in exchange for limits on its nuclear development, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday.

His comments come just hours before the United Nations Security Council is expected to start negotiations over a U.S.-led plan to extend an arms embargo on Iran that was part of the Obama-era deal and is set to expire this October.

The U.S., which pulled out of the deal in 2018, has called for an extension of the embargo and has threatened to launch a resurgence of all U.N. sanctions in a move to gain backing from the U.N. Security Council to extend the arms embargo.

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“We have no problem with talks with the U.S.,” Mr. Rouhani said in a televised address Wednesday, “but only if Washington fulfills its obligations under the nuclear deal, apologies and compensates Tehran for its withdrawal from the 2015 deal.”

“But we know these calls for talks with Tehran are just words and lies,” he continued.

Earlier this month, President Trump urged Iran to return to the negotiating table and strike a new deal to limit its nuclear program.

“Don’t wait until after U.S. Election to make the Big deal. I’m going to win. You’ll make a better deal now!” he tweeted.

The U.S. has held a so-called “maximum pressure campaign” aimed at crippling Iran’s economy and leadership.

Iran thus far has rejected talks with the U.S. unless it sees some of the sanctions lifted and rejoins the original deal.

UN Security Council to begin talks on extending Iranian arms embargo

UN Security Council to begin talks on extending Iranian arms embargo

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United Nations Security Council vote on a humanitarian draft resolution for Syria, which fail to gain the support of Russia and China, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) ** FILE ** more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet this Wednesday for its first round of talks over a U.S.-led plan to extend an arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire this October.

American diplomats have circulated a draft proposal to extend the ban on the sale, supply or transfer of weapons by Iran unless approved by the 15-member council, Reuters reported.

The draft resolution would also require countries to inspect cargo that passes through their territory, including waterways, if they believe it contains banned products.

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U.S. officials have insisted that the arms embargo, which was put in place as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that the Trump administration withdrew from in 2018, should remain in place, citing Iranian violations to the Obama-era treaty.

In order to pass, the resolution needs nine votes in favor and must avoid a veto by one of the five permanent members of the council, which includes China and Russia who have both opposed the extension.

If the embargo is not extended, the Trump administration has threatened to launch a resurgence of all U.N. sanctions in a move to gain backing from the security council to renew the arms embargo.

China to Canada PM: Stop ‘irresponsible remarks’ on spy case

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FILE – In this March 28, 2018, file image made from video, Michael Kovrig, an adviser with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based non-governmental organization, speaks during an interview in Hong Kong. China told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, … more >

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By

Associated Press

Monday, June 22, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday to “stop making irresponsible remarks” after he said Beijing’s decision to charge two Canadians with spying was linked to his country’s arrest of a Chinese tech executive.

The spying charges are “completely different” from the case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, a foreign ministry spokesman said. Meng was arrested on U.S. charges connected to possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in what was widely seen as an attempt to Canada after Meng’s December 2018 arrest in Vancouver. Charges against them were announced Friday after a Canadian judge ruled Meng’s extradition case can proceed to its next stage, moving her closer to being handed over to American authorities.

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Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Ottawa, said Chinese authorities “directly linked” the cases of Kovrig and Spavor with Meng. He called on Beijing to end their “arbitrary detention.”

“There is no such thing as arbitrary detention,” said the ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian.

China urges the relevant Canadian leader to earnestly respect the spirit of the rule of law, respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop making irresponsible remarks,” Zhao said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday called the charges against Kovrig and Spavor “politically motivated and completely groundless.”

“The United States stands with Canada in calling on Beijing for the immediate release of the two men and rejects the use of these unjustified detentions to coerce Canada,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Trudeau thanked the U.S. and other allies for speaking out against China.

“It has been obvious from the beginning that this was a political decision made by the Chinese government and we deplore it,” Trudeau said Monday. “This using of arbitrary detentions as a means to advance political gains is totally unacceptable in a world based on rules.”

Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Ltd. and the daughter of its founder, is accused of lying to banks in Hong Kong about Huawei’s dealings with Iran in possible violation of U.S. sanctions.

Meng’s case is a “seriously political incident” and part of U.S. efforts to “suppress Chinese high-tech enterprises and Huawei,” Zhao said. He said Canada “played the role of an accomplice.”

“We strongly urge Canada to correct its mistakes as soon as possible, immediately release Meng Wanzhou and ensure her safe return to home,” said Zhao.

Meng is living in a mansion she owns in Vancouver, where she reportedly is working on a graduate degree. Kovrig and Spavor are being held at an undisclosed location and have been denied access to lawyers or family members.

China has also sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended imports of Canadian canola.

Zhao said visits by foreign diplomats to prisoners were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Britain, France, Germany urge Iran to allow atomic site access, reject U.S. sanctions push

Britain, France, Germany urge Iran to allow atomic site access, reject U.S. sanctions push

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In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a Cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Friday, June 19, 2020

Britain, France, Germany urge Iran to allow atomic site access, reject U.S. efforts to trigger sanctions

Britain, France, and Germany on Friday said they would not support U.S. efforts to trigger the reimposition of United Nations sanctions on Iran while the group demands Tehran provide access to its atomic energy sites.

As part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran accepted restrictions on its nuclear development in exchange for some sanctions on the country. A weapons embargo on Iran — set to expire this October — was also included in the agreement.

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The U.S., which pulled out of the deal in 2018, has called for an extension of the embargo and has threatened to launch a resurgence of all U.N. sanctions in a move to gain backing from the U.N. Security Council to extend the arms embargo.

“We firmly believe that any unilateral attempt to trigger U.N. sanctions snapback would have serious adverse consequences in the U.N. Security Council,” the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, otherwise known as the E3, said in a statement Friday.

“We would not support such a decision, which would be incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the [Iran nuclear deal],” they continued.

The U.S. said last month it is “hopeful” the 15-member U.N. Security Council will extend the embargo before it expires despite opposition from Russia and China, which both hold veto powers on the council.

On Friday, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook reiterated that the U.S. continues to seek an arms embargo extension.

Iran has not upheld its end of the bargain,” he told reporters. “Our focus is extending the arms embargo. That is our preferred diplomatic path, and we will be — we have drafted a resolution that we hope will win the support of the U.N. Security Council.”

Mr. Hook also said that he believes Russia would also be interested in extending the embargo.

“I think it’s in Russia’s interest to extend the arms embargo,” he said. “One of the preambular paragraphs in the Iran nuclear deal states that the deal will contribute to regional peace and stability. Iran has not upheld its end of the bargain.”

European diplomats have been racing to strike a compromise, Reuters reported, but it remains unclear if they can present an option that will please the U.S., as well as China and Russia.

The foreign ministers said they believe that the lifting of the arms embargo “would have major implications for regional security and stability.”

Their comments come as the U.N.-backed International Atomic Energy Agency approved a resolution that calls on Iran to provide agency inspectors access to sites where it is believed the country is storing nuclear material.

Iran in recent months has consistently denied inspectors access to two locations believed to house nuclear material. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi earlier this week said inspectors have sought to “clarify our questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities.”

The country has, however, provided access to sites that are mentioned under the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Friday that Iran’s moves to block IAEA access to the sites is “unacceptable and underscore the continued threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program to international peace and security.”

“As the IAEA Board made clear today, Iran must immediately comply with its IAEA safeguards obligations and provide the IAEA nothing short of full cooperation,” Mr. Pompeo said. “If Iran fails to cooperate, the international community must be prepared to take further action.”

Russia, meanwhile, rejected the approval of the resolution — which was introduced by Britain, France and Germany — and called the move “unproductive.”

The Russian ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted that his country and China had voted against the resolution.

“We believe that the resolution can be counterproductive,” Mr. Ulyanov said, while also “stressing the need for Tehran and IAEA to settle this problem without delay.”

• This story is based in part on wire reports.

UN links items in arms shipments and missile attacks to Iran

UN links items in arms shipments and missile attacks to Iran

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Friday, June 12, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United Nations says it has determined that Iran was the source for several items in two arms shipments seized by the United States and for debris left by attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations and an international airport, according to a new report.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said some of the items seized by the U.S. in November 2019 and February 2020 “were identical or similar” to those found after the cruise missiles and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in 2019.

He said in a report to the U.N. Security Council obtained Friday by The Associated Press that some items seized by the U.S. in international waters off Yemen are not only Iranian but may have been transferred “in a manner inconsistent” with the council resolution that endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

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The secretary-general was reporting on implementation of the 2015 resolution enshrining the nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It includes restrictions that took effect on Jan. 16, 2016, on transfers to or from Iran of nuclear and ballistic missile material as well as arms.

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the resolution’s implementation on June 30, and the U.S. is expected to press for the U.N. arms embargo against Iran, which is part of it, to be extended indefinitely before it expires in October.

Iran’s U.N. Mission responded to the report Friday saying: “Iran categorically rejects the observations contained in the report concerning the Iranian connection to the export of weapons or their components that are used in attacks on Saudi Arabia and the Iranian origin of alleged U.S. seizures of armaments.”

Its statement said the U.N. “lacks the capacity, expertise, and knowledge to conduct such a sophisticated and sensitive investigation,” adding that the report reproduces exact claims by the United States. “In essence, the U.S. is sitting in the driver’s seat to shape the so-called ‘assessment’ regarding the Iranian connection to the attacks,” Iran said.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear agreement in May 2018 and re-imposed U.S. sanctions that had been eased or lifted. American officials contend Iran is working to obtain nuclear-capable missiles, which the Iranians deny.

The nuclear agreement is still supported by the five other parties – France, Britain, Russia and China, which are all veto-wielding Security Council members, and Germany, which is currently serving a two-year term on the council.

According to Guterres report, the arms shipments seized by the U.S. were assessed by the U.N. Secretariat to include parts of anti-tank guided missiles from Iran with 2016, 2017 and 2018 production dates as well as thermal weapon optical sights with design characteristics similar to those produced by an Iranian company, and a computer keyboard with Farsi markings associated with an anti-ship missile.

Guterres said U.N. experts also assessed that sections and components of cruise missiles recovered by the U.S. from the sites of attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abha International Airport in June and August 2019 and on Saudi Aramco oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurays in September 2019 “are of Iranian origin.”

As for the delta-wing drones used in attacks on Saudi oil facilities in May and September 2019, Guterres said, “the Secretariat assesses that the un-crewed aerial vehicles and/or parts thereof used in the two attacks are of Iranian origin.”

The report also links Iranian material from the U.S. seizures and the Saudi attacks.

Guterres said the U.N. is also reviewing information in an Israeli letter last month on imagery of four Iranian anti-tank guided missiles “being employed in Libya” and information provided last month by Australia on its June 2019 seizure of arms from a dhow in international waters off the Gulf of Oman.

The U.N.’s atomic watchdog agency said earlier this month that Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium above limits in the agreement and remains in violation of its deal with world powers.

In his report, Guterres reiterated strong support for the Iranian nuclear agreement and expressed regret for the U.S. withdrawal and Iran’s actions since July 2019 to stop performing its nuclear commitments. He urged all countries “to avoid provocative rhetoric and actions that may have a negative impact on regional stability.”

The secretary-general said the Trump administration’s imposition of sanctions on Iran since 2018 remains “contrary to the goals” in the nuclear deal and the U.N. resolution endorsing it, and may also impede Tehran’s ability to implement some provisions of the agreement and the resolution.

He urged Iran to return to the agreement’s requirements and to “urgently address” concerns raised by the United Kingdom, Germany and France in relation to the 2015 resolution.

The three countries urged Guterres in a letter in December to inform the Security Council that Iran’s ballistic missile activity is “inconsistent” with a provision in the resolution calling on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

The provision does not require Tehran to halt such activity, and the Iranian government insists all its missile activities are legal and not nuclear-related.

On Jan. 14, France, Germany and the UK announced that they had referred Iran’s actions violating limits in the nuclear agreement to the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism.

Guterres urged all parties to the agreement “to resolve all differences” within that mechanism.

Iran looking to France to review black boxes from downed Ukrainian plane: Report

Iran looking to France to review black boxes from downed Ukrainian plane: Report

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This undated photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, shows the wreckage of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 at the scene of the crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. Iran has acknowledged that its armed … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Friday, June 12, 2020

Iranian officials have asked French air accident agency BEA to review the black boxes from the Ukrainian commercial airliner that was shot down in January by Iranian forces near Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.

Iranian officials initially said a mechanical problem was to blame for the fiery crash, but it was later revealed a Russian-made surface-to-air missile accidentally fired by Iranian forces was the cause of the incident, which occurred amid skyrocketing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

The fate of the black boxes from the flight, which reveal vital data and recordings from the cockpit, has been at the center of an international dispute, with several western nations calling for the information to be released.

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Iran’s United Nations envoy on Friday said that a request has been sent to the BEA (Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses or the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety when translated in English) to review the information.

“Iran’s AAIB recently made a request to the BEA that the recorders should be taken by Iran to the BEA’s premises in France to be read in the presence of representatives of other involved countries and ICAO, if the BEA is in a position to accommodate this,” Farhad Parvaresh, Iran’s representative to the U.N. agency, told Reuters in a phone call.

He explained the request from the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau’s request was discussed at a U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization council meeting earlier this week.

Amid US tension, Iran builds fake aircraft carrier to attack

Amid US tension, Iran builds fake aircraft carrier to attack

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In this Sunday, June 7, 2020 satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies, a fake aircraft carrier is seen off the coast of Bandar Abbas, Iran. As tensions remain high between Iran and the U.S., the Islamic Republic appears to have … more >

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By JON GAMBRELL

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – As tensions remain high between Iran and the U.S., the Islamic Republic appears to have constructed a new mock-up of an aircraft carrier off its southern coast for potential live-fire drills.

The faux foe, seen in satellite photographs obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the U.S. Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz, its narrow mouth where 20% of all the world’s oil passes through.

While not yet acknowledged by Iranian officials, the replica’s appearance in the port city of Bandar Abbas suggests Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is preparing an encore of a similar mock-sinking it conducted in 2015. It also comes as Iran announced Tuesday it will execute a man it accused of sharing details on the movements of the Guard’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whom the U.S. killed in a January drone strike in Baghdad.

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The replica carries 16 mock-ups of fighter jets on its deck, according to satellite photos taken by Maxar Technologies. The vessel appears to be some 200 meters (650 feet) long and 50 meters (160 feet) wide. A real Nimitz is over 300 meters (980 feet) long and 75 meters (245 feet) wide.

The fake carrier sits just a short distance away from the parking lot in which the Guard unveiled over 100 new speedboats in May, the kind it routinely employs in tense encounters between Iranian sailors and the U.S. Navy. Those boats carry both mounted machine guns and missiles.

The mock-up, which first began to be noticed among defense and intelligence analysts in January, strongly resembles a similar one used in February 2015 during a military exercise called “Great Prophet 9.” During that drill, Iran swarmed the fake aircraft carrier with speedboats firing machine guns and rockets. Surface-to-sea missiles later targeted and destroyed the fake carrier.

“American aircraft carriers are very big ammunition depots housing a lot of missiles, rockets, torpedoes and everything else,” the Guard’s then-navy chief, Adm. Ali Fadavi, said on state television at the time.

That drill, however, came as Iran and world powers remained locked in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program. Today, the deal born of those negotiations is in tatters. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in May 2018. Iran later responded by slowly abandoning nearly every tenant of the agreement, though it still allows U.N. inspectors access to its nuclear sites.

Last summer saw a series of attacks and incidents further ramp up tensions between Iran and the U.S. They reached a crescendo with the Jan. 3 strike near Baghdad International Airport that killed Soleimani, head of the Guard’s expeditionary Quds, or Jerusalem, Force.

Also on Tuesday, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said Iranian citizen Mahmoud Mousavi Majd had been convicted in a Revolutionary Court, which handles security cases behind closed doors. Esmaili accused Majd of receiving money for allegedly sharing security information on the Guard and the Quds Force, as well as the “positions and movement routes” of Soleimani.

Majd was “linked to the CIA and the Mossad,” the Israeli intelligence agency, Esmaili alleged, without providing evidence. Both the CIA and the Israeli prime minister’s office, which oversees the Mossad, declined to comment. It wasn’t immediately clear if Majd had an attorney.

Esmaili did not say when Majd would be executed, other than that it would be “soon.” He also stopped short of directly linking the information allegedly offered by Majd to Soleimani’s death. Later Tuesday, the judiciary said Majd was detained in October 2018 and sentenced to death in September 2019, before Soleimani’s killing.

Esmaili’s description also suggested Majd could be a member of Iran’s military, paramilitary or intelligence apparatus, given his ability to access what would be the establishment’s innermost secrets. It recalled the 1984 execution of Iranian navy chief Adm. Bahram Afzali, whom Iran killed along with nine others in the military over allegations they passed classified material onto the Communist Tudeh party, which then gave the material to the Soviet Union.

Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s killing with a ballistic missile strike Jan. 8 targeting U.S. forces in Iraq, an assault that left over 100 American troops with serious brain injuries. That same day, the Guard accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner in Tehran, killing 176 people.

Iran’s announcement of the looming execution shows how seriously they still take Soleimani’s assassination. An exercise targeting a mock U.S. aircraft carrier could send that message as well, particularly if it involves a swarm attack of smaller vessels, which analysts believe Iran would employ if it did get into a shooting war with the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, which patrols Mideast waters, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

___

Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

___

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

Iran doctor freed in swap for Navy veteran returns to Tehran

Iran doctor freed in swap for Navy veteran returns to Tehran

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In this image provided by the U.S. State Department, Michael White holds an American flag as he poses for a photo Thursday, June 4, 2020, with U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook at the Zurich, Switzerland, airport after White’s … more >

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By NASSER KARIMI

Associated Press

Sunday, June 7, 2020

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – An Iranian doctor based in Florida returned to his homeland Monday after being part of a swap that saw a U.S. Navy veteran held by Iran return to America.

The semiofficial Fars news agency published an image of Matteo Taerri being greeted at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by Foreign Ministry officials and his family. The agency and state television identified Taerri by his Persian name, Majid.

Taerri, a dermatologist, had been charged with attempting to export a filter to Iran that he said was for vaccine research but that U.S. authorities said required a license because it could be used for chemical and biological warfare purposes. He was also accused of structuring a series of bank deposits below $10,000 to evade reporting requirements under federal law.

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He pleaded guilty late last year and has already served months behind bars. But in April, he was permitted to be free on bond after the Justice Department withdrew its request to have him detained, citing what it said were significant foreign policy interests.

Fars quoted Taerri as calling his charges “futile and unfair.” Taerri reportedly said he tried to send the filter to Iran to help scientists at Tehran University manufacture a cancer vaccine, without elaborating.

Iran allowed Michael White, of Imperial Beach, California, to leave the country Thursday. He was detained in July 2018 while visiting a girlfriend in Iran. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online.

White was released from prison in March on a medical furlough that required him to remain in the country in the care of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents America’s interests in Iran.

Earlier last week, an Iranian scientist named Sirous Asgari returned to Tehran after being acquitted in a federal trade secrets case and deported. Asgari’s departure had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, and his supporters say the scientist contracted the virus while being held.

The White-Taerri swap comes after months of quiet diplomacy, even as the U.S. under President Donald Trump continues a maximum-pressure campaign targeting Iran after unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.

The two countries had been locked in a series of escalating incidents, including the U.S. drone strike killing an Iranian general in Baghdad and an Iranian ballistic missile attack targeting American troops in Iraq.

Other Westerns and Iranians with ties abroad have been detained by authorities in the country, likely to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, on hand for the airport ceremony, said Iran had “mobilized” its potential to release other Iranians in the U.S., without elaborating.

___

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

US shares proposal to extend Iran arms embargo with Russia

US shares proposal to extend Iran arms embargo with Russia

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Friday, June 5, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said Friday she has shared a draft U.N. Security Council resolution with Russia that would extend the arms embargo against Iran indefinitely.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said last month that Moscow will oppose any U.S. attempts to extend the arms embargo, which expires on Oct. 18, and reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran.

Craft told a press briefing that she also shared the draft with the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Estonia and hopes to give the draft to the rest of the 15-member Security Council “pretty soon.”

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But she said first she wants to talk to ambassadors and “make sure everyone understands that we are committed to making certain that the U.N. Security Council does not allow this to expire in October.”

“What I say to people is on Oct. 18 … do we want Russia selling weapons to Iran? Do we want China selling? Do we want anyone providing or selling weapons to Iran?,” Craft asked. “I’m stressing that Russia and China need to join a global consensus on Iran’s conduct. This is about not only the people of Iran but the people in the Middle East.”

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have escalated since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six major powers in 2018 and reimposed crippling U.S. sanctions.

A year ago, the U.S. sent thousands more troops, long-range bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Middle East in response to what it called a growing threat of Iranian attacks on U.S. interests in the region.

The five other powers that signed the nuclear deal – Russia, China, UK, France and Germany – remain committed to it, saying the agreement is key to continuing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

Lifting the arms embargo is part of the 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing the nuclear agreement.

In addition to opposing a new arms embargo, Russia’s Nebenzia has also dismissed as “ridiculous” the possibility of the Trump administration seeking to use the “snap back” provision in the 2015 resolution, which would restore all U.N. sanctions against Iran that had been lifted or eased if the nuclear deal is violated.

Nebenzia said the U.S. pulled out of the agreement and “they have no right” to use any of its provisions.

But Craft said the resolution “makes clear that the US retains the right” to use the “snap back” provision.

Some Western governments privately fear that maintaining an arms embargo will lead Iran to oust IAEA inspectors and move ahead on developing nuclear weapons.

The latest IAEA report release Friday said Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The nuclear deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for the curbs on its nuclear program, which Tehran said it hasn’t received, especially since the U.S. withdrawal in 2018. Iran has since slowly and openly violated the nuclear restrictions to try and pressure the remaining nations in the agreement to increase incentives to offset the economy-crippling U.S. sanctions.

Iranian lawmaker says 230 killed in November protests

Iranian lawmaker says 230 killed in November protests

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By Associated Press

Associated Press

Monday, June 1, 2020

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – An Iranian lawmaker said Monday that 230 people were killed in November’s anti-government protests in Iran, the official news agency reported.

This is the first time a prominent Iranian lawmaker has given a death toll figure for November’s protests. The unrest was the most widespread and violent Iran had seen since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

IRNA quoted lawmaker Mojtaba Zolnouri, the head of the influential parliamentary committee for national security and foreign policy as saying, “The incidents saw 230 killed.”

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Zolnouri said about one fifth of those killed were members of the security forces. He said about one quarter of those killed were passers by not involved in the protests, some of whom were shot in the head or chest from close distances. He said 22% of those killed in the unrest had criminal records.

Protesters attacked 92 security, police and public buildings in the course of the unrest, he added.

Amnesty International has said more than 300 people were killed over the four days of unrest in cities and towns across Iran in November, which were sparked by a sharp rise in subsidized gasoline prices.

During the violence and in the days that followed, Iranian authorities blocked access to the internet.

Tehran has yet to release any official statistics about the scale of the unrest, though two weeks ago the government acknowledged that the security forces shot and killed protesters.

Europeans criticize US move to revoke Iran sanction waivers

Europeans criticize US move to revoke Iran sanction waivers

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By

Associated Press

Saturday, May 30, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – The western European parties to the landmark nuclear deal with Iran on Saturday criticized a U.S. decision to end nearly all of the last vestiges of sanctions relief provided under the 2015 pact.

The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the deal with Iran in 2018, leaving the others involved – France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia – struggling to keep it alive.

The deal promises Iran economic incentives in return for curbs on its nuclear program. The deal was meant to prevent Iran from developing a bomb, even though Iran said it did not want to do that.

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With the re-imposition of American sanctions, however, Iran’s economy has been struggling, and it has been violating the restrictions of the pact in order to try to pressure the other nations to do more to help it economically.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the stakes on Wednesday, saying he would revoke all but one of the sanctions waivers covering civil nuclear cooperation. The waivers had allowed Russian, European and Chinese companies to continue to work on Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities without drawing American penalties.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of Germany, France and Britain said they “deeply regret the U.S. decision.”

“These projects, endorsed by U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, serve the nonproliferation interests of all and provide the international community with assurances of the exclusively peaceful and safe nature of Iranian nuclear activities,” they said.

“We are consulting with our partners to assess the consequences of this decision by the United States.”

Ted Cruz wants a federal investigation of Twitter for allegedly violating Iran sanctions

Sen. Ted Cruz wants a federal investigation of Twitter for allegedly violating Iran sanctions

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In this Jan. 21, 2020, file photo, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) ** FILE ** more >

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By Ryan Lovelace

The Washington Times

Friday, May 29, 2020

Sen. Ted Cruz on Friday requested that the Justice Department investigate Twitter for violating sanctions on Iran.

The Texas Republican wrote to Attorney General William P. Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin to investigate Twitter’s providing accounts and services to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.

Mr. Cruz wrote that Twitter has told him that the company’s corporate values require it to provide a platform for the Iranian accounts.

SEE ALSO: Trump’s feud with Twitter escalates after platform tags his tweet on riots for ‘glorifying violence’

“The position cannot be aligned with Iranian policy as it actually exists or with how designated Iranian officials use Twitter. Iranian officials ban Iranian citizens from accessing Twitter,” Mr. Cruz wrote. “In early April, Khamenei and Zarif used their Twitter accounts to post anti-American disinformation and conspiracy theories, not authoritative health information. They use their accounts provided by Twitter to threaten and taunt their enemies real and imagined.”

Mr. Cruz previously corresponded with Twitter in February to learn its approach to sanctions issues, and Twitter replied in April to Mr. Cruz and three of his GOP colleagues, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Marco Rubio of Florida. Twitter told the senators that the public conversation on the platform was critically important during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We consider official government voices on Twitter an important element of the service,” Twitter’s legal, public policy & trust and safety lead, Vijaya Gadde, wrote to the GOP senators. “The power of a uniquely open service during a public health emergency is clear. The speed and borderless nature of Twitter presents an extraordinary opportunity to get the word out and ensure people have access to the latest information from expert sources around the world.”

Mr. Cruz’s Friday letter said he thinks Twitter has blatantly and willfully violated the International Emergency and Economic Powers Act and sanctionable activities outlined in Executive Order 13876.

“The cohesion and legitimacy of our laws rest on their equal application to all citizens and entities, no matter how large or how powerful,” Mr. Cruz wrote. “The Department of Treasury and the Department of Justice should investigate what appears to be Twitter’s blatant and willful violation of IEEPA and E.O. 13876 by providing services to Khamenei, Zarif, and other designated Iranian entities, and, to the extent appropriate, enforce any violation through sanctions and by seeking civil and criminal penalties.”

The request for a federal investigation of Twitter comes as the social media platform’s confrontation with President Trump reached new heights on Friday. After Twitter tagged a pair of Mr. Trump’s tweets with labels regarding misinformation, Mr. Trump issued an executive order aimed at removing liability protections for social media companies that behave in a manner similar to Twitter.

On Friday, Twitter placed another warning on a tweet from Mr. Trump, saying the tweet about rioting in Minneapolis violated Twitter’s rules against “glorifying violence.”

U.S. move to revoke sanctions waivers won’t hurt Iran’s nuclear production, says AEOI

U.S. tightening sanctions won’t hurt Iran’s nuclear production, country’s atomic energy agency says

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 28, 2020

A recent U.S. decision to end nearly every remaining sanctions waiver granted to Iran under the Obama-era nuclear agreement, is not going to have an impact on Iran’s continuing nuclear development, the country’s atomic energy agency said Thursday.

The Trump administration on Wednesday announced it is revoking the waivers that were designed to allow foreign companies to do work at some of Iran’s declared civilian nuclear sites without being subjected to U.S. penalties.

Supporters of the extension of the waivers claimed that it allowed officials and experts the ability to gain inside knowledge of the Iranian nuclear sites, while critics said the waivers could give Iran access to technology that could be used in weapons development.

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Ending the waivers will now prohibit Russian, Chinese and European companies from conducting business with Iranian non-military nuclear facilities, and would ignite American sanctions if work with Iran continues.

But Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) says that this won’t hurt business.

“The ending of waivers for nuclear cooperation under (the nuclear deal) will not in practice have any effect on Iran’s work,” AEOI spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi said, according to state-run ISNA news agency.

“Of course America wants its actions to have an effect in line with pressure on Iran, but in practice nothing will happen.”

President Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran in 2018 despite European opposition, a move that allowed the U.S. to reinstate economic sanctions against Tehran that had been waived under the deal and add new sanctions.

Under the latest decision, the waivers will stop after a 60-day wind-down period that allows companies and entities involved in activities with the Iranian civilian facilities to break off ties.

Canada court won’t drop U.S. extradition case for top Huawei executive Meng

Canada court rules against Meng; extradition proceedings for Huawei executive can resume

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Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, leaves her home to go to British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. A Canadian judge ruled Wednesday the U.S. extradition case against Meng can continue to the next stage. … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Canadian Supreme Court judge on Wednesday ruled against Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer for Huawei Technologies, who is battling extradition to the United States on charges related to the Chinese high-tech giant’s dealings with Iran.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes ruled that the charges against Ms. Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder RenZhengfei, would be considered a crime if they occurred in Canada and therefore the extradition request is valid.

Lawyers for Ms. Meng, who was arrested by Canadian authorities on Dec. 1, 2018 as she prepared to travel to South America for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, had argued that she should be freed since the crimes she is alleged to have committed were not crimes in Canada.

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Chinese negotiators in recent months had sought to convince U.S. officials to drop the charges against Ms. Meng, considered a Chinese “princeling,” in talks that resulted in the landmark U.S.-China trade deal reached in January, according to U.S. officials. The case has provided a massive political dilemma for the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, involving Canada’s two biggest trading partners.

A federal grand jury in New York charged Ms. Meng and Huawei with fraud in a January 2019 indictment, accusing Huawei of operating a front company in Iran that illegally hid financial transactions involving tens of millions of dollars with Iran.

The charges said the activities were carried out to avoid U.S.. sanctions laws aimed at curbing financial dealings by the Islamist regime in Tehran.

Huawei lawyers claimed that the charges were based on U.S. sanctions that Canada has not imposed.

Huawei has been sanctioned by the Trump administration several times, most recently by placing the company on a Commerce Department list that bans most U.S. exports to the telecommunications giant.

The Trump administration has said Huawei is a state-owned Chinese company masquerading as a private firm that is seeking to corner the international market on 5G telecommunications technology.

The administration also has said Huawei is subject to Chinese intelligence laws requiring the company to make its equipment available for government eavesdropping and data collection.

Huawei has denied the charges.

U.S. sanctions Iran’s interior minister for actions in November protests

U.S. sanctions Iran’s interior minister for actions in November protests

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A wounded protester is carried to receive first aid during clashes with security forces on Rasheed Street in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. Anti-government protests have gripped Iraq since Oct. 1, when thousands took to the streets in Baghdad … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The U.S. on Wednesday announced sanctions against Iran’s interior minister, accusing him of “gross violations of human rights” against Iranians during widespread anti-government protests last year.

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement that Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli authorized Iran’s law enforcement agencies to use lethal force on protesters in November, killing dozens of them, including 23 minors.

“The Iranian regime violently suppresses dissent of the Iranian people, including peaceful protests, through physical and psychological abuse,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement Wednesday. “The United States will continue to hold accountable Iranian officials and institutions that oppress and abuse their own people.”

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The department also blacklisted seven senior Iranian law enforcement officials for their role in the protests, and a provincial commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The latest sanctions freeze all U.S.-held assets of those blacklisted and prohibit them from conducting business with an American company or person.

The move comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran that have steadily increased since a January U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top general. Iran responded by firing ballistic missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq, and accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian jetliner departing Tehran, killing all 176 aboard.

More recently, the U.S. has threatened to use defensive action against Iranian ships that come within 100 meters of an American ship, after a handful of Iran’s IRGC boats made threatening approaches to U.S. warships conducting joint operations in international waters. Iran has said it will “destroy” American ships that threaten their own and will continue conducting operations in the Persian Gulf.

Nancy Pelosi seeks Steve Linick firing info after Saudi arms sale talk

Pelosi seeks information on firing of State Department IG after Saudi arms sale talk

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In this May 14, 2020, file photo House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Four of the five members of the Congressional Oversight Commission have been appointed, but Pelosi and Senate … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Monday, May 18, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on President Trump to provide additional information about the decision to fire State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

Her message comes hours after the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee suggested that the firing could be linked to an investigation into Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration to push a controversial weapons deal with Saudi Arabia last year.

“This removal is part of a pattern of undermining the integrity of the Inspectors General and therefore our government,” Ms. Pelosi, California Democrat, said in a letter to Mr. Trump.

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The president on Friday evening announced the firing of Mr. Linick, marking the latest of several federal officials tasked with conducting oversight on various government agencies to be pushed out by the president in recent weeks. The moves have prompted concerns from Democrats that he’s attempting to dodge accountability.

Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel, New York Democrat, tweeted Monday that he has “learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.”

“We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that [Secretary] Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” Mr. Engel continued.

Republicans and Democrats in both chambers on Capitol Hill last summer issued a strong rebuke of Mr. Trump’s national security emergency declaration in an effort to push the sales through.

Citing heightened threats from Iran, the administration at the time said that funneling arms to regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was vital to keeping Iran and its proxies in check, while lawmakers argued that the multi-billion dollar deals require congressional approval.

“It is alarming to see news reports that your action may have been in response to Inspector General Linick nearing completion of an investigation into the approval of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Ms. Pelosi said.

She asked the administration to provide Congress with “clear and substantial cause for an Inspector General’s removal” within the next 30 days.

State Department unveils new global maritime advisory for shippers to avoid sanctions

State Department unveils new global maritime advisory for shippers to avoid sanctions

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The State Department on Thursday issued a new advisory to the global maritime industry that highlights shipping practices that Iran, North Korea and Syria use to avoid sanctions.

The guidance, known as a Global Maritime Advisory, provides a set of “best practices” that private ships and insurers in the energy and metals sector can reference to avoid sanctions risk.

“The United States remains committed to disrupting shipping activities by malign actors worldwide — including sanctions evasion and smuggling — which may facilitate criminal activity and threatens international peace and security,” the department said in a statement announcing the advisory.

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The advisory includes guidance to not store Iranian oil and warnings to ships to not turn off their transponders, Reuters reported.

The department said the advisory is “intended to provide actors that utilize the maritime industry for trade with information on and tools to counter current and emerging trends in sanctions evasion related to shipping and associated services.”

Iran has repeatedly attempted to impede the flow of oil through the Middle East as a direct response to the Trump administration’s global embargo on all exports of Iranian oil.

The embargo is a key piece of a broader set of economic sanctions designed to drive Iran back to the negotiating table, but key U.S. allies have hesitated to fully join the pressure campaign. The U.S. has placed similar restrictions on Syria and North Korea, among other international actors.

Russia opposes any new US attempts at UN to punish Iran

Russia opposes any new US attempts at UN to punish Iran

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Russia’s U.N. ambassador said Tuesday that Moscow will oppose any attempts by the United States to extend the arms embargo on Iran and reimpose U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Vassily Nebenzia’s comments at a video news conference made clear that the Trump administration will have a tough time advancing any measures to impose further punishment on Iran in the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has veto power.

The United States circulated a draft U.N. resolution that would indefinitely extend the U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which expires in October, to a small number of council members in late April.

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It would strike the expiration of the arms embargo from the council resolution that endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal between six major powers – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – and Iran, according to Trump administration officials and U.N. diplomats.

Russia has made no secret of its desire to resume conventional weapons sales to Tehran.

Nebenzia said the arms embargo is “a byproduct” of the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, and was temporary.

“It expires in October. … And for us that’s clear, that’s clear,” he said. “I do not see any reason why an arms embargo should be imposed on Iran.”

Nebenzia was also asked about the controversial matter of the Trump administration possibly seeking to use the “snapback” provision in the 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing the nuclear deal, which would restore all U.N. sanctions against Iran that had been lifted or eased under the terms of the agreement.

The Russian ambassador stressed that “to trigger a snapback you have to be a participant of the JCPOA, and the U.S. proudly announced on May 8, 2018 that they withdrew from the JCPOA and closed the door behind.”

“Now, they knock on the door and say, `Now just wait a second we forgot to do one little thing on the JCPOA, but let us back, we’ll do it and we’ll leave again,’” he said.

Nebenzia called the possibility the U.S. invoking snapback “ridiculous,” stressing that “for me it’s unequivocal. They are not members, they have no right” to use any instruments provided by the JCPOA.

He also asked the Trump administration what it would gain from triggering snapback “because snapback will definitely be the end of the JCPOA.”

Nebenzia that the reaction will be that “the most intrusive inspections” of any country which the International Atomic Energy Agency is carrying out in Iran “will cease.”

“My question is, is it in the U.S. interests that it happens?,” he asked.

The Trump administration is not planning at this point to raise the controversial issue of “snapback,” said U.S. officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Although President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal, the U.S. maintains that it retains the right to invoke a sanctions snapback that the deal envisaged in the event of “significant non-performance” by Iran.

That position rests on a novel State Department legal argument that was first presented in December and asserts that although the U.S. is no longer in the nuclear deal, it remains an original “participant” under the terms of the Security Council resolution that enshrined it.

That resolution does, in fact, list the parties to the 2015 agreement by name, but numerous diplomats in addition to Russia have said the American argument is specious because the Trump administration has made such a point about no longer participating in the deal.

Nebenzia was asked who the legal arbiter of whether the U.S. still has standing to trigger snapback should be.

“It is up to the members of the Security Council primarily, first of all, and to the remaining participants of the JCPOA itself,” he said.

Nebenzia quoted a letter from Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday in which Zarif says not only is the U.S. is “in grave violation” of the 2015 resolution for non-performance, “but it is blatantly attempting illegal paths to reverse the resolution in actual contempt for well-established principles of international law.”

Solely by withdrawing from the JCPOA , the U.S. “has lost any right,” he quoted Zarif as saying.

Nebenzia said he subscribes fully to Zarif’s words, adding, “this to me looks like a truthful legal interpretation.”

Doctors and nurses died as Iran ignored coronavirus concerns

Doctors and nurses died as Iran ignored coronavirus concerns

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In this March 26, 2020, file photo, Iranian army soldiers work in a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for coronavirus patients set up by the army at the International Exhibition Center in northern Tehran, Iran. Dozens of medical staffers have died of … more >

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By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

CAIRO (AP) — They are regarded as heroes, their fallen colleagues as martyrs. But for doctors and nurses still dealing with Iran’s growing number of coronavirus infections, such praise rings hollow.

While crippling sanctions imposed by the U.S. left Iran ill-equipped to deal with the fast-moving virus, some medical professionals say government and religious leaders bear the brunt of the blame for allowing the virus to spread – and for hiding how much it had spread.

Those medical workers say they were defenseless to handle the contagion. And as a result, doctors and nurses in Iran have been hard hit by the virus. During the first 90 days of the outbreak alone, about one medical staffer died each day and dozens became infected.

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“We are heading fast toward a disaster,” said a young Isfahan doctor who has been working tirelessly, checking dozens of suspected coronavirus patients before referring them to hospitals.

It is no secret that Iran has been hit hard by the coronavirus. Official government figures show that around 100,000 people were infected by the virus and around 6,500 have died. But a report by the research arm of Iran’s parliament said the number of cases could be eight to 10 times higher, making it among the most hardest hit countries in the world. The report said the number of deaths could be 80% higher than officials numbers from the health ministry, about 11,700.

The Iranian government is currently reporting a decline in the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, even though local authorities are expanding cemeteries in places like Tehran where the municipal council said it had to add 10,000 new graves to its largest cemetery, Behshet Zahra.

Interviews with more than 30 medical professionals and a review of communications by doctors on messaging apps and other documents by an Associated Press reporter in Cairo revealed many previously unreported details. The reporting paints a fuller picture of the roots and extent of the country’s disjointed response as the deadly virus spread throughout the population.

In the beginning, medical staffers faced the outbreak with very limited equipment. Some washed their own gowns and masks or sterilized them in regular ovens. Others wrapped their bodies in plastic bags they bought at supermarkets.

The makeshift equipment didn’t help as dozens of medical professionals without adequate protection died along with their patients.

Iran’s leaders, several medical professionals said, delayed telling the public about the virus for weeks, even as hospitals were filling up with people suffering from symptoms linked to the virus. And even as doctors and other experts were warning the Iranian president to take radical action, the government resisted, fearing the impact on elections, national anniversaries, and economy.

One doctor interviewed by The Associated Press — who, like all medical workers interviewed for this story, spoke only on the condition that they not be named for fear of persecution — said he and his colleagues were even discouraged from using protective equipment. He said government officials claimed wearing masks would cause panic.

The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed on March 10 that the doctors, nurses, and medical staffers who died in the fight against coronavirus in Iran were “martyrs.” Pictures of deceased doctors have been placed alongside those of soldiers who were killed in the bloody Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, which claimed the lives of a million Iranian and Iraqis.

“They are normalizing death,” a Tehran-based health consultant said.

A list compiled by a group of Iranian doctors found that a total of 126 medical staffers have died since the virus was first reported, mostly in the provinces of Gilan and Tehran, while over 2,070 contracted the virus.

Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, acknowledged the deadly toll of COVID-19 on the medical profession, telling the AP the total number of deaths is 107. Jahanpour said 470 had tested positive for the virus. But he places the blame on the U.S. “Remember this is a country under sanctions,” he said. Even so, Iran has maintained throughout the crisis its own industries made enough protective material to fight the virus.

Iran reported its first two cases on Feb. 19 in the city of Qom – 140 kilometers (88 miles) south of Tehran and home of highly revered Shiite shrines. It would become the epicenter of the outbreak.

But doctors interviewed by the AP said that before the official announcement, they started to see cases with the same symptoms as the novel coronavirus and warned the national health ministry that it needed to take action.

Some doctors shared with the AP letters sent to the ministry. The doctors at first said they attributed the respiratory problems among patients and deaths to the H1N1 flu. Days later, they started to call for testing for H1N1 and other diseases to rule them out; the rate of infections and deaths seemed unusually high.

Through channels on the Telegram messaging service, they exchanged data. They reached out to the health ministry and proposed a set of recommendations and actions. At the top of the list: quarantine, and restricting travel and flights with China. But it would be another two weeks before the government took action.

“We gave a lot of information to the government through letters and communication channels,” said a Mazandaran-based doctor and activist. He said he and others medical professionals were ignored by government officials.

Two days after announcing first cases, Iran held its parliamentary elections where thousands lined up to vote. That same day, doctors in Gilan – one of the worst hit areas in Iran– appealed to the governor for help, saying their hospitals were flooded with patients amid a shortage of masks and other protection equipment.

“The health personnel of the province are exposed to a huge threat,” a letter sent by the doctors read.

But government officials played down the danger of the virus, calling the physicians’ plea for a quarantine “medieval” and floating unfounded conspiracy theories that the U.S. created the coronavirus to promote a fear mongering campaign.

The feared paramilitary Revolutionary Guard kept health facilities under tight control and medical statistics were treated as top secret, the medical staffers said.

Death certificates were not recording the coronavirus as the cause of deaths — either because not all severe cases were tested or just for the sake of keeping the numbers down. Thousands of unaccounted deaths were attributed to secondary causes like “heart attack” or “respiratory distress.”

A doctor in Tehran said the health ministry gave orders not to refer critical cases to hospitals to be tested for the virus — to keep the numbers low, she said.

“We suppose they (want to) say they’re doing good,” she said.

Iran’s president replaces trade chief as car prices up 60%

Iran’s president replaces trade chief as car prices up 60%

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Associated Press

Monday, May 11, 2020

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s president has dismissed its trade and industry minister amid ongoing economic problems that have seen car prices skyrocket by more than 60%.

Iran has been in the grip of a severe economic crisis since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling trade sanctions on Iran.

President Hassan Rouhani appointed Hossein Modares Khiabani as the ministry’s caretaker chief, according to the president’s official website.

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The report did not elaborate on why Rouhani dismissed the previous industry minister, Reza Rahmani, but in recent months, the car market in Iran has spiked more than 60%.

Rouhani urged the new caretaker minister to stabilize the car market.

Khiabani has 17 years of experiences working in the Iranian Trade and Industry Ministry.

Iran ready for Michael White-Sirous Asgari prisoner swap with U.S.

Iran ready for prisoner swap with U.S.

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This photo provided courtesy of the White family, shows U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Mashhad, Iran. Two Americans imprisoned in the Middle East have been released. Iran has granted a medical furlough to U.S. Navy … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Sunday, May 10, 2020

U.S. officials are denying reports of a coronavirus-initiated prisoner swap with Iran that could mean the return of a Navy veteran to the United States and a 60-year-old university professor to Tehran.

A spokesman for Iran’s rulers told the website Khabaroline.ir that their government is prepared to discuss a mutual prisoner release without conditions.

“But, the U.S. has refused to answer so far,” cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei said, according to the Associated Press.

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A senior U.S. government official told the AP there is no prisoner trade offer on the table or even an offer to begin discussions between Washington and Tehran.

The two men being held in custody in Iran and the U.S. are California resident Michael White and Sirous Asgari. Mr. White was detained in July 2018 while he was visiting a girlfriend in Iran. He was later convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and releasing sensitive information online.

Iran has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic with more than 100,000 confirmed cases. Mr. White was released from prison in March on a medical furlough that required him to remain in Iran.

Mr. Asgari was arrested by the FBI in 2013 but was later acquitted for stealing trade secrets. He has been held in indefinite custody by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy Homeland Secretary secretary, told the AP the two cases have never been linked. He said Iran had been “slow to accept Asgari’s return,” according to them.

Mr. Rabiei said it seems as if the U.S. is more willing to “bring the situation to an end” than it has been in the past, according to the AP.

“We hope that as the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease threatens the lives of Iranian citizens in the U.S. prisons, the U.S. government actually will prefer lives to politics,” Mr. Rabiei said, according to the AP.

It wouldn’t be the prisoner swap between the two countries. Iran released a Princeton University researcher in December who had been held for three years on espionage charges in exchange for the release of a detained Iranian scientist.

Ensuring the release of American detainees and hostages is a high priority for the Trump administration, White House officials told the AP.