U.S.-Iran tensions
August 15, 2020

After the United Nations Security Council on Friday resoundingly defeated U.S. efforts to extend a global arms embargo on Iran, Tehran basked in the outcome, while U.S. lawmakers and analysts viewed the result as an indictment of the Trump administration's foreign policy.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that the U.S., which garnered the support of only the Dominican Republic among the 15-member council (which includes allies like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), suffered a "humiliation," and a spokesperson for Iran's foreign ministry called it a historic failure that has led to Washington's isolation.

President Trump's critics consider it the latest example of his administration's failures regarding Iran under the leadership of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Nicholas Burns, a professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, agreed with Tehran about the decision exemplifying Washington's increasing isolation on the international stage, arguing Trump's own mistakes gave Iran "a victory it does not deserve" after his predecessors "unified the world against" the country. And Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a frequent Trump critic, said the defeat is a consequence of putting people without diplomatic experience in charge of diplomatic ventures.

The embargo is set to expire in October under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Tim O'Donnell

March 14, 2020

A U.S. spokesperson said at least 25 rockets landed inside Camp Taji, a military base north of Baghdad housing U.S. and other coalition troops in what appears to be a continuation of retaliatory attacks between the U.S. and Iran following the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani earlier this year.

The strike, which in a rare scenario happened in broad daylight, reportedly wounded three Americans and two Iraqis.

The attack occurred not long after a similar strike Wednesday at the base killed three servicemen, including two Americans, in what was the deadliest attack for U.S. troops in Iraq since late December, the event which eventually led to Soleimani's death. The Wednesday attack prompted the U.S. to strike against what U.S. officials said were weapons facilities belonging to the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group.

Iran-backed groups vowed revenge for Friday's strikes. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

January 7, 2020

President Trump backed off his threats against Iran's cultural sites, albeit begrudgingly.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Trump said he likes to obey the law, and if international agreements forbid him from targeting protected heritage sites in Iran, he'll stick to them. The president sent a tweet over the weekend hinting that places of cultural importance to Iran were among potential retaliatory U.S. targets should Iran launch any sort of attack against U.S. interests in the wake of the death of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq last week. The threat led to intense backlash in Iran, the U.S. — even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it was "not appropriate" — and the rest of the world because protected sites are, well, protected and therefore off-limits, even in bellicose times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to assure people over the weekend there was no way the U.S. would commit war crimes, and it looks like Trump has fallen in line — the president said he's "ok" with staying within the confines of international law. He did, however, complain about having to be "very gentle" with Iran's cultural institutions, despite Iranian violence. Tim O'Donnell

January 7, 2020

Assuming you're paying attention to the situation concerning Iran and the United States, you've probably seen a lot of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo these last few days.

He held a press conference Tuesday and did the media rounds Sunday, appearing on several news shows to discuss President Trump's decision to kill Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike in Iraq. But some people are wondering where Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is in all this, considering the possibility of war drums beginning to bang has grown.

Indeed, Politico reports Pompeo's role as the spokesperson for the Soleimani strike has raised some eyebrows at the Pentagon. "The worry at the Pentagon is that [Esper] defers to Pompeo," Mark Perry, author of The Pentagon's Wars: The Military's Undeclared War Against American Presidents, told Politico.

Others in Washington's foreign policy establishment reportedly think Pompeo may even be auditioning to take over as Defense Secretary. But those in Esper's camp dismissed the concerns, noting that Esper is purposefully trying to remain behind-the-scenes and out of politics just like the Defense Department is supposed to do. Making media appearances, one Trump administration official said, is "the exact opposite" of what the Defense Department does. In turn, Pompeo, who is also closer to Trump, has become the front man.

"Isn't this more of a restoration of the way the system is supposed to work?" one former Pentagon official said, referring to Pompeo — the nation's top diplomat — remaining visible and vocal on international relations issues. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

January 7, 2020

The Trump administration has maintained they want to avoid a full-scale conflict with Iran, and supporters of President Trump's decision to kill Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq last week have argued the airstrike was part of a larger strategy of deterrence.

Many folks are still on edge and worried Washington paved the way for further escalation, but a cable sent by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to U.S. diplomats reportedly shows the State Department is still open to solving the Iran crisis with words. In the cable, which was received by all U.S. missions, Pompeo ordered officials not to meet with Iranian opposition groups without permission since it could harm Washington's diplomatic efforts with Tehran, Bloomberg reports.

One of the groups on the to-avoid list is reportedly the MEK, which has paid people like Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former National Security Adviser John Bolton thousands of dollars for speaking engagements. Tim O'Donnell

January 7, 2020

The United States is far from the only foreign nation that will ultimately have a decision to make about its military forces stationed in Iraq. Several other countries with troops in the country are weighing their options in the wake of President Trump's decision to kill Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike in Iraq last week, ratcheting up tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Canada, for one, is temporarily packing things and will wait nearby while things either boil over or cool down. In a letter, Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of Canada's Defence Staff, said troops will — for now — move from Iraq to Kuwait "to ensure their safety and security."

The United Kingdom, meanwhile, apparently wants to remain in Iraq, but will respect Baghdad's sovereignty if asked to leave. They've sent a team to help prepare for a possible evacuation. Other European countries have already begun to withdraw at least a small number of forces.

As for the U.S.'s closest ally in the Middle East? Israel is reportedly staying out of it for now, but some Israeli military experts worry that a possible American withdrawal from Iraq could eventually lead to a war along Israel's northern border. Tim O'Donnell

January 7, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo kept some things hazy during a press conference detailing the Trump administration's decision-making regarding Iran.

When asked to provide an explanation for why Washington believed Tehran posed an "imminent threat" to U.S. security before President Trump ordered an airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Pompeo said only that — as is the case in any situation like this — there were "multiple pieces of information" made available to the president.

Pompeo said all the relevant risks were weighed and Trump was provided with the best information in "broad detail" from the intelligence community and other teams "in the field," but didn't provide specifics about any new intelligence the administration may have received. Instead, he pointed to Soleimani's record of violence and destabilization in the region, as well as the recent strike that killed an American killed in Iraq last month, as reason enough to go through with the airstrike.

The secretary's comments, however, likely won't satisfy those who are questioning the timing of the decision. Tim O'Donnell

January 6, 2020

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday contradicted earlier statements made by President Trump, saying the United States military will not target cultural sites in Iran.

Amid mounting tensions with Tehran, Trump told reporters on Sunday that he was open to ordering airstrikes against the sites. On Monday, Esper conceded that hitting cultural sites that do not have any military value would be a war crime, saying, "We will follow the laws of armed conflict." There are 22 Iranian sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List, including the ruins of Persepolis and the remains of the kingdom of Elam.

Last week, Trump authorized an airstrike in Baghdad that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. In response, Iran promised to retaliate, and on Saturday, Trump said the United States picked out 52 potential targets in Iran should the country follow through on its threat. A Trump administration official told The New York Times none of those sites were cultural, but Trump went on to tweet that the sites were "very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture." Facing swift backlash to his comment, Trump doubled down.

During previous administrations, the U.S. was quick to criticize groups that destroyed antiquities, including the Taliban and the Islamic State, which caused extensive damage to historic sites in Iraq and Syria. Catherine Garcia

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