iran tensions
November 23, 2019

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, is wary of another attack from Iran in the Gulf, Foreign Policy reports.

"I think the strike on Saudi Aramco in September is pretty indicative of a nation that is behaving irresponsibly," McKenzie said. "My judgment is that it is very possible they will attack again."

McKenzie did not cite any evidence, so perhaps it's more of a gut feeling, but his concern seems real. "I wouldn't discount anything from Iran," he said.

He pledged Saturday while speaking at a conference in Bahrain that the United States would maintain its security commitment to the Gulf Region.

The general said he fears that Iran could orchestrate a drone- and missile-heavy attack, in the same vein of the Aramco attacks, which the U.S. and its European allies blame Tehran for, despite the latter's denial. And it appears that the U.S. military has a worst-case scenario for where such a strike might take place. One official told Foreign Policy that they're particularly focused on potential threats on desalination plants in the arid Gulf region. An attack on the plants would put the region's primary source of drinking water at risk, which could spur a humanitarian crisis. The official said targeting the plants would be a "gamechanger." Read more at Foreign Policy. Tim O'Donnell

September 7, 2019

Iran announced Saturday that it has once again breached the nuclear pact it signed in 2015.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Tehran has begun using advanced centrifuge machines — devices that enrich uranium — and is now capable of raising uranium enrichment past the 20 percent level.

The information appears to serve as a bargaining chip in Iran's negotiations with the European powers, including France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, that are trying to salvage the 2015 deal after the U.S. dropped out of the agreement last year. Kamalvandi warned Europe that it has little time to save the accord, adding that the countries should make their decision soon. "Our stockpile is quickly increasing," he said. "We hope they will come to their senses."

Tehran, which maintains its nuclear program is peaceful and that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have full and regular access to Iran's nuclear installations, began exceeding limits on its nuclear capacity in May in retaliation for mounting U.S. pressure. Read more at The Associated Press and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

August 4, 2019

The oil tanker battle continues.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps reportedly seized a foreign oil tanker that was "smuggling" 700,000 liters of fuel to Arab states, Iran's state media reported on Sunday. The Iranian forces also reportedly detained seven crew members from different countries, though it is unclear what country the ship belongs to. IRGC commander Ramezan Zirahi was quoted as saying the seizure, which reportedly took place on Wednesday, "was in coordination with Iran's judiciary authorities and based on their order."

The U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, was unable to confirm the reports. But, if true, it would be the latest move amid ongoing tensions between the Iran and several Western states that have risen since the U.S. left the 2015 nuclear pact last year. In July, British forces seized an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating sanctions. Iran retaliated by later seizing a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, which it is still holding. Tim O'Donnell

July 21, 2019

It was once again Iran's turn to send out a warning.

Tehran's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hamid Baeidinejad, warned the U.K. on Sunday against escalating tensions following Tehran's seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. On Saturday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the U.K.'s response to the seizure would be "considered, but robust."

Baeidinejad said British political voices calling for action were "quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region." He added that "Iran is firm and ready for different scenarios." The United States, France, and Germany have all expressed support for the U.K. Still, British Chancellor Philip Hammond said the government would pursue "every possible diplomatic route" in hopes of reaching a resolution with Tehran. Hunt said Parliament will be updated about "what further measures" the government would take on Monday.

In a recording of radio exchanges between a British Royal Navy frigate and Iranian armed forces vessels right before the seizure, the Iranian forces can be heard telling a ship, likely the Stena Impero, "if you obey you will be safe," while the British navy tells the ship that, because of international law, its passage must not be impeded. Tehran said the Stena Impero crew was in "good health." Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday affirmed Tehran will continue to cease complying with certain aspects of the 2015 nuclear deal if other signatories do not soon start showing "positive signals." He did not provide many specifics, including what, exactly, those positive signals would be. Other signatories include China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany — the U.S. withdrew from the pact last year.

Tehran announced in May it would start enriching uranium again unless other world powers ignored U.S. sanctions within 60 days. The European signatories have said they want to save the nuclear pact, but several European companies have complied with Washington's sanctions after facing financial pressure from the U.S.

"Obviously Iran cannot stick to this agreement unilaterally," Rouhani said at a meeting with Russian, Chinese, and other Asian leaders in Tajikistan.

Rouhani did not mention the recent attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this week, amid speculation that Iran was behind the act. Tehran has denounced any such accusations, calling them "ridiculous" and "dangerous." Tim O'Donnell

June 11, 2019

Amid rising tensions with the United States, Iran released Nizar Zakka, a 52-year-old Lebanese man and permanent U.S. resident, who had been held in Iranian prison since 2015. Zakka is reportedly en route back to Lebanon as of Tuesday.

Zakka, an IT expert, was arrested after attending a conference in Tehran, to which he was invited by the Iranian government. The U.S. protested his imprisonment and called for his release, and an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed regret over the matter, blaming Iran's judiciary branch and the limited authority of the civilian government.

It's unclear whether the decision to release Zakka represents a softening of Iran's stance in its conflict with the U.S. or whether the country will continue to release other foreigners being held in prison, including several Americans. While the White House said it was "thankful" for Zakka's release, it was not actually negotiated between the U.S. and Iran. Instead, Iran reportedly worked with Lebanon to settle the situation.

The United States says it will continue to call for the release of the other "missing and wrongly detained American citizens." Tim O'Donnell

June 10, 2019

Tehran continued its tough-talking rhetoric on Monday when Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned that the United States "cannot expect to stay safe" as it continues to wage an economic war against Iran.

Zarif, who helped broker the 2015 nuclear pact and is known for seeking diplomatic solutions to Iran's foreign policy problems, reportedly uncharacteristically ramped up his rhetoric on Monday. "The only solution for reducing tensions in this region is stopping that economic war," he said, adding that "whoever starts a war with us will not be the one who finishes it." His comments likely signify that Iran is hardening its stance toward the U.S. and other countries who choose to align with its policies toward Iran, The Associated Press reports. Over the weekend, Iran urged European countries not to comply with U.S. sanctions and normalize their economic relationships with Tehran.

Zarif's comments on Monday were while he was sharing a press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is trying to salvage the 2015 nuclear pact along with France and the United Kingdom after the U.S. dropped out in 2017. But those countries have yet to help Iran find a way around the latest U.S. sanctions. Zarif's frustration with Europe was reportedly palpable during the press conference, as he blamed the U.S. and its allies, namely Saudi Arabia, for causing instability in the Middle East following Maas' assertion that Israel's right to exist was non-negotiable. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

June 2, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said that the Trump administration is prepared for unconditional discussions with Iran.

The two countries have been mired in escalating tensions ever since 2017 when the U.S. pulled out of an international pact in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear capacity. Those tensions have created fears of a potential conflict, especially in the Middle East and Europe. Pompeo said that while the U.S. wants to sit down and solve the issue diplomatically, the White House will not relent in trying to pressure Iran to change its "malign" behavior in the Middle East.

Switzerland's Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis with whom Pompeo was meeting in Bellinzona, Switzerland, and whose country has served as an intermediary between the U.S. and Iran in the past, reiterated the seriousness of the situation. "We are fully aware, both parties are fully aware, of this tension," he said. "Switzerland, of course, wishes there is no escalation, no escalation to violence. Both parties are now increasing the pressure, and for the rest of us that is a matter of worry, but we cannot do anything unless we get a mandate from both parties."

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani previously said on Saturday that Tehran would be willing to negotiate, as well, if the U.S. shows Iran respect. The country won't, Rouhani said, be "bullied" into talks. Tim O'Donnell

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