all eyes on iran
December 2, 2020

Following the assassination last week of its top nuclear scientist, Iran on Wednesday imposed a law ordering the country's Atomic Energy Agency to immediately increase its enrichment of uranium.

Under the measure, the uranium will be enriched to 20 percent purity, a level that would give Iran the chance to convert its entire stockpile to bomb-grade levels within six months, The New York Times reports. Further, the law calls for the expulsion of international nuclear inspectors if U.S. oil and banking sanctions against Iran are not lifted by early February.

The law appears to be set up in a way to get President-elect Joe Biden to re-enter the nuclear deal with Iran that President Trump abandoned, the Times notes. It was ratified on Wednesday by Iran's Guardian Council, but President Hassan Rouhani said the government "does not agree with this legislation and considers it damaging for diplomacy."

Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed on Friday, and while several global intelligence officials have pinned his assassination on Israel, the Israeli government has not taken responsibility. Iran has vowed to retaliate. Catherine Garcia

April 22, 2020

Iran on Wednesday said it successfully launched its first military satellite into orbit, on the same day President Trump tweeted that he instructed the "United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea."

Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps said the satellite, called Noor, "orbited the Earth at 264 miles. This action will be a great success and a new development in the field of space for Islamic Iran." The country, which denies that its space program is trying to develop intercontinental ballistic missile technology, launched its first civilian satellite in 2009.

Trump's Wednesday morning tweet was in response to an incident that took place last Wednesday, when 11 Iranian navy boats came within 10 yards of U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf. The United States called these actions "dangerous and provocative," as well as a violation of international law. Catherine Garcia

June 23, 2019

Before leaving for Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters he is trying to create a "global coalition" against Iran.

Pompeo is also going to visit the United Arab Emirates, and said he will be talking with representatives from both countries "about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned," with a coalition "not only throughout the Gulf states, but in Asia and in Europe, that understands this challenge as it is prepared to push back against the world's largest state sponsor of terror." He wants the countries to ensure that Iran cannot get "the resources to foment terror, to build out their nuclear weapon system, to build out their missile program."

Tensions are continuing to escalate between Washington and Tehran, with Iran shooting down a U.S. drone last week and President Trump saying he called off a retaliatory military strike against the country. New U.S. sanctions against Iran are expected to be announced on Monday, and Pompeo said he is open to talking to Iranian leaders, telling reporters: "They know precisely how to find us."

Saudi Arabia and Iran are longtime foes, with the Saudis making it known they are worried about Iran's increasing influence in the region. Iran is backing the Houthi rebels in Yemen, while a Saudi-led coalition supports the Yemeni government, and the Saudi government on Sunday said Houthis launched an attack against an airport in the kingdom, killing one and injuring seven. The attack came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the United States' "interventionist military presence" is making the situation between the U.S. and Iran worse, The Associated Press reports. Catherine Garcia

June 20, 2019

President Trump approved a U.S. military strike against targets inside Iran in retaliation for Iran's downing of a $130 million American surveillance drone, but the operation, already underway in its early stages, was abruptly called off Thursday night, The New York Times reports, citing senior administration officials. Planes were in the air and ships in position to strike a handful of targets, like radar installations and missile batteries, before dawn on Friday to minimize the risk of casualties.

It's not clear whether Trump "changed his mind on the strikes or whether the administration altered course because of logistics or strategy," the Times reports. "It was also not clear whether the attacks might still go forward." Trump's advisers are split on whether to strike Iran and risk escalating a growing conflict — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and CIA Director Gina Haspel are in favor, while top Pentagon officials urged restraint, the Times says. After congressional leaders were briefed on the attack plans, Democrats urged Trump to de-escalate the situation and get congressional approval before taking military action.

Iran shot down a RQ-4 Global Hawk drone early Thursday with a surface-to-air missile, claiming it had crossed into Iranian airspace. The U.S. says it was in international airspace over the Gulf of Oman. Both sides produced evidence to bolster their claim. "Iran's ability to target and destroy the high-altitude American drone, which was developed to evade the very surface-to-air missiles used to bring it down, surprised some Defense Department officials, who interpreted it as a show of how difficult Tehran can make things for the United States as it deploys more troops and steps up surveillance in the region," the Times reports.

The White House and Pentagon declined to comment the Times but did not ask the newspaper to withhold the article. Peter Weber

June 20, 2019

Iran and the U.S. agree that Iran's paramilitary Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down a U.S. drone early Thursday, but the two countries offered different versions of the type of drone and where it was flying when hit with Iran's surface-to-air missile. Iran said it brought down a U.S. Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk "spy" drone after it crossed into Iranian airspace, but U.S. officials tell Reuters that the MQ-4C Triton reconnaissance drone was in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.

Tensions are high between Iran and the U.S. after a series of tanker attacks the U.S. blames on Iran, following punishing U.S. sanctions and efforts to scuttle an international 2015 nuclear deal. IRGC commander Gen. Hossein Salami said in a televised speech that the "the downing of the American drone was a clear message to America" that "our borders are our red line" and "any enemy that violates the borders will be annihilated." Iran doesn't "have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war," he added. Peter Weber

June 19, 2019

During his May trip to Baghdad, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared a message with Iraqi leaders that he wanted passed on to Iran: If any attacks by the country or its proxies killed any U.S. troops, there would be military action, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.

Pompeo has issued a few private warnings, the officials said. Tensions are mounting between the U.S. and Iran, with the U.S. accusing Iran of attacking oil tankers in the Middle East and Iran, which denies attacking the tankers, saying it will soon violate the 2015 nuclear deal by having too much low-enriched uranium in its stockpile. On Monday, the Pentagon announced it will send 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East, and while at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa on Tuesday, Pompeo said President Trump "does not want war," and the U.S. is in the region to "deter aggression."

U.S. officials told the Post there are concerns that because there hasn't been a confirmed Defense Secretary in several months, the hawks advising Trump — including Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton — are pushing for the military to do more than its mission in the region, which is to eliminate the remnants of the Islamic State. Bolton, the officials added, is careful about what information gets to Trump, and has reduced the number of meetings where top officials discuss the Iran policy. Catherine Garcia

May 19, 2019

Iran and the United States have both fervently expressed that they do not seek war with one another, despite heightened tensions. Now, Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally and rival of Iran, has proclaimed a similar aversion to warfare with Iran. But, as was the case with Iran and the U.S., the kingdom left open the possibility for conflict should they have no other choice.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir on Sunday said Saudi Arabia does not want or seek war with Iran, but if Iran strikes first, "the kingdom will respond with all force and determination" to defend itself. Riyadh has accused Tehran of ordering drone strikes on two Saudi Arabian oil pumping stations last Tuesday, though Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group claimed responsibility and Iran has denied involvement.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman reportedly recently discussed strengthening security and stability in the Gulf region with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he also called for a meeting later in May with other Gulf State leaders to discuss implications of Iran's possible proxy attacks. "The ball is in their court," Jubeir said, referring to Iran. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

May 13, 2019

During a meeting of President Trump's top national security aides last week, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan shared a revised military plan that includes sending up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks U.S. forces or speeds up its work on nuclear weapons, administration officials told The New York Times on Monday.

National Security Adviser John Bolton, an Iran hawk, ordered the updated plan for the meeting, which took place after the administration claimed Iran was organizing proxy groups to attack American forces in Syria and Iraq. It is unclear whether Trump, who has said he wants to remove troops from Afghanistan and Syria, has been briefed on the matter, or if he would agree to send so many troops to the Middle East.

Officials told the Times there is a divide in Trump's team when it comes to the Iran plan: Some believe it is proof Iran is a major threat to the U.S., while others say this is just a way to scare Iran out of trying anything. The plan does not call for a land invasion of Iran, the Times reports, as many more troops would be needed for such a mission. Catherine Garcia

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