Posts Tagged ‘Persian Gulf’

Tillerson heads back to deal with Gulf crisis — Meetings in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan

October 20, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Francesco FONTEMAGGI | Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not expecting a breakthrough in the stand-off between Qatar and Saudi Arabia as he travels to the region
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States will again try to resolve a Gulf crisis that Washington has alternatively fueled or tried to soothe, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads back to the region.The top US diplomat did not himself hold out much hope of an immediate breakthrough in the stand-off between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but the trip may clarify the issues at stake.

“I do not have a lot of expectations for it being resolved anytime soon,” Tillerson admitted on Thursday, in an interview with the Bloomberg news agency.

“There seems to be a real unwillingness on the part of some of the parties to want to engage.”

Nevertheless, President Donald Trump’s chief envoy is to leave Washington this weekend for Saudi Arabia and from there head on to Qatar, to talk through a breakdown in ties.

Trump, having initially exacerbated the split by siding with Riyadh and denouncing Qatar for supporting terrorism at a “high level,” has predicted the conflict will be resolved.

Tillerson, a former chief executive of energy giant ExxonMobil, knows the region well, having dealt with its royal rulers while negotiating oil and gas deals.

But the latest diplomatic spat is a tricky one, pitching US allies against one another even as Washington is trying to coordinate opposition to Iran and to Islamist violence.

– Major air base –

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran.

The sides have been at an impasse since then, despite efforts by Kuwait — and a previous unsuccessful trip by Tillerson in July — to mediate the crisis.

The blockade has had an impact on Qatar’s gas-rich economy, and created a new rift in an already unstable Middle East, with Turkey siding with Qatar and Egypt with the Gulf.

Iran, Washington’s foe, only stands to benefit from a split in the otherwise pro-Western camp, and US military leaders are quietly concerned about the long-term effects.

Trump, after initially vocally support the effort to isolate Qatar despite its role as a military ally and host of a major US airbase, has not called for a negotiated resolution.

Tillerson says there has been little movement.

“It’s up to the leadership of the quartet when they want to engage with Qatar because Qatar has been very clear — they’re ready to engage,” he said.

“Our role is to try to ensure lines of communication are as open as we can help them be, that messages not be misunderstood,” he said.

“We’re ready to play any role we can to bring them together but at this point it really is now up to the leadership of those countries.”

Simon Henderson, a veteran of the region now at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, said the parties may humor US mediate but won’t want to lose face to each other.

“Tillerson will say: ‘Come on kids, grow up and wind down your absurd demands. And let’s work on a compromise on your basic differences’,” he said.

Riyadh’s demands of Qatar are not entirely clear, but it has demanded Qatar cool its ties with Iran, end militant financing and rein in Doha-based Arabic media like Al-Jazeera.

“I haven’t seen Qatar make any concession at all other than to say negotiation is the way out of this,” Henderson said.

“The problem is that people, mainly the Saudis and the Emiratis, don’t want to loose face. It needs America to step in, but to save face, they should try to make this a Gulf-mediated enterprise with American support.”

Kuwait has tried to serve at a mediator, with US support, but the parties have yet to sit down face-to-face.

After his visit to Riyadh and Doha, Tillerson is to fly on to New Delhi in order to build what he said in a speech this week could be a 100-year “strategic partnership” with India.

Tillerson will stop in Islamabad to try to sooth Pakistani fears about this Indian outreach, but also pressure the government to crack down harder on Islamist militant groups.

by Francesco FONTEMAGGI
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Is There a Way To Get Tough on Iran Without Leaving The Nuclear Deal?

October 19, 2017
BY EMILY B. LANDAU
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 15:30
There are important elements in the administration’s new policy that may reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations.

Getting tough on Iran without leaving the nuclear deal

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump speaks about Iran and the nuclear accord at the White House on Friday. (photo credit:REUTERS)

On October 13, US President Donald Trump announced his decision not to certify the JCPOA, in contrast to his previous two decisions to certify the deal. Instead, he declared, the administration would work with Congress and US global and Middle East allies to address the flaws surrounding the deal, as well as other aspects of Iran’s behavior, widely perceived to be threatening and destabilizing. This position was reached following the administration’s policy review on Iran, underway over the past nine months, and outlines a new approach that began to emerge already with the statement in April 2017 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – delivered the day after Trump certified the JCPOA for the first time – which sketched in broad strokes the direction of US policy on Iran.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the new policy is that it covers the entirety of Iran’s behavior that is viewed negatively by the US, beyond the nuclear program: Iran’s missile program, support for terror, and regional aspirations that threaten the national security interests of the US and its allies in the Middle East. In so doing, the administration has ended the approach of the Obama administration that sought to create a divide between the nuclear and regional manifestations of Iran’s conduct, claiming that the nuclear deal “was working,” and that it was never meant to address other issues. In contrast, the Trump administration has emphasized that the JCPOA did not achieve its objective of a non-nuclear Iran, and that the deal is only one component of overall US policy toward Iran. The message is that there is a connection between the different manifestations of Tehran’s nuclear and foreign policies, and that all must be dealt with in tandem in order to confront effectively the threats and regional challenges posed by Iran.

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Also of significance is that Trump signaled that the US administration will no longer refrain from pushing back against Iran’s aggressions and provocations for fear of Iran exiting the nuclear deal. In fact – in a somewhat surprising move – Trump included his own threat of leaving the deal. He stated that if in cooperation with Congress and US allies the administration cannot reach a satisfactory solution to the problems he delineated, he would cancel US participation in the deal. The specific context seems to direct the threat primarily to Congress and US allies in an effort to urge them to work with the administration to amend the deal. However, it is also clearly a message to Iran that the administration is no longer deterred by Iran’s threats of leaving the deal.

What are the main problems that Trump raised, and how will the administration attempt to fix them? The leading problems raised by the president have to do with the regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, continued regional aggression, and use of proxies, and the radical nature of the regime and its Supreme Leader. He mentioned Iran’s ballistic missile program, hostility to the US and Israel, and its threat to navigation in the Gulf. While the opening of Trump’s speech reviewed Iran’s deadly actions since 1979 and was unnecessarily detailed, this might have been aimed to underscore that Iran has targeted the US repeatedly, rendering dealing with Iran a clear US national security interest.

As for the nuclear deal, Trump warned that in a few years Iran will be able to “sprint” to nuclear weapons. What, he asked, is the purpose of a deal that at best only delays Iran’s nuclear plans? He noted multiple violations of the deal, although most points on his list were not violations per se, but rather problems with the deal. In addition to twice exceeding the limit on the stockpile of heavy water, he pointed out that Iran failed to meet US expectations with regard to research and development of advanced centrifuges. To be sure, the precise nature of Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges is an issue that independent analysts can only study from such official statements due to the problematic lack of transparency in IAEA reports since implementation of the deal, and the confidentiality that was granted to deliberations of the Joint Commission (that oversees the JCPOA). Trump also accused Iran of intimidating IAEA inspectors, and highlighted Iran’s repeated statements that it would refuse entry of IAEA inspectors into its military sites. Of particular note was Trump’s mention of suspicions regarding cooperation between Iran and North Korea; he said that he will instruct intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough analysis of these connections.

In dealing with these problems, Trump’s major constraint is lack of leverage to compel Iran to agree to a strengthened nuclear deal. The administration’s hands are tied given that it has partners to the JCPOA that are not on the same page, and that the biting sanctions that had pressured Iran to negotiate in the first place were lifted when implementation of the deal began. Clearly it will be difficult for the US to change matters directly related to the deal without the help of Congress and European allies, and Trump stated repeatedly that he will seek their cooperation.

In Europe there is fierce opposition to Trump’s decision not to certify the deal, and it is questionable whether and to what degree Europe will be willing to cooperate with the US. It is noteworthy, however, that before the speech was delivered, some European leaders – including France’s Macron – signaled a new willingness to address issues outside the JCPOA, in particular Iran’s missile program and regional aggression. Trump hopes they will go along with new sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There is currently no basis for expecting cooperation from Russia and China.

The administration is also pinning hopes on Congress. With decertification, decision making on the JCPOA moves to Congress, and this is where the Trump administration hopes to introduce changes. Tillerson has explained that the administration will not be asking Congress to move to sanctions at this stage, a step that could lead to the collapse of the deal. Rather, the hope is to pass new legislation that will amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). The White House would like to establish a series of benchmarks that would automatically restore sanctions if Iran crosses one of the red lines – or “trigger points”; these would likely relate to Iran’s missile program and the sunset clauses in the JCPOA.

The area where the administration can most easily move forward on its own relates to its approach to the Iranian regime, particularly the regime’s support for terror and other destabilizing regional activities. This explains the strong emphasis in Trump’s speech – and in the document released in parallel entitled “President Donald J. Trump’s New Strategy on Iran” – on the IRGC, and on the need to confront it squarely for its support of terror, fanning of sectarianism, and perpetuation of regional conflict. Trump announced that he was authorizing the Treasury Department to sanction the IRGC as an entity, and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.

Overall, there are important elements in the administration’s new policy that have the potential to reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations and aggression. Much will depend on the ability to cooperate with allies and with Congress in advancing these goals. Tillerson’s clarifications were important in explaining that contrary to much media analysis, Trump is not seeking to do away with the deal, at least in the short term, or to go to war. The stated aim is to strengthen the deal, and restore US deterrence vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and the IRGC. The outcome, however, is far from guaranteed. This is due to inherent constraints, and the fact that while the policy makes sense, it is nevertheless a huge undertaking for a very controversial administration, and this in turn can further weaken Trump’s hand.

The author is a senior research fellow at INSS and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program. This article first appeared in INSS Insight.

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Analysis: Fighters in Inter-Arab Cold War Dig In For The Long Haul

October 11, 2017
BY BEN LYNFIELD

The Jerusalem Post
OCTOBER 11, 2017 09:50

“This feud has not played out behind closed doors, it is being waged with the biggest public relations and propaganda efforts in the western media.”

Analysis: Fighters in inter-Arab ‘cold war’ dig in for the long haul

A general view taken on September 24, 2017 shows the Navy Special Forces off the coast of the Qatari capital, Doha. . (photo credit:KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

Four months after first flaring up, the crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates shows no signs of abating.

Indeed, new issues of contention keep opening up in this cold war that started when the four allies imposed a trade and diplomatic embargo on Qatar, accusing it of destabilizing the region and supporting terrorism, including through incitement by its Al Jazeera satellite station. Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border, and Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE severed air links.

On June 23, Riyadh and its allies issued a 10-day ultimatum for ending the blockade that included 13 demands, among them closing Al Jazeera; scaling back ties with Tehran; and ending contact with the Muslim Brotherhood.

But the pressure has not subdued Qatar and analysts believe the stalemate could continue for some time.

“The fact that it has gone on for so long shows the Saudis are not winning,” said Joshua Teitelbaum, a specialist on the Gulf at Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center for Strategic Studies.

“Qatar has been able to stand on its hind legs and keep this from totally defeating it.” But, he added: “There’s a long way to go.”

Qatar’s staying power is attributed by analysts to factors including funding effective lobbying efforts in the West; Washington’s need to keep working relations with it on a sound footing due to its hosting a crucial US airbase; and the soundness of its economy, which is based largely on natural gas exports that are continuing.

However, notes Brandon Friedman, a scholar at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Doha might be vulnerable if Saudi Arabia and the UAE choose to significantly escalate the crisis by pulling their holdings from Qatari banks.

In recent days, the conflict has expressed itself in a rivalry over who will become UNESCO’s next secretary-general with the field of candidates including Egypt’s Moushira Khattab, a former minister under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, and Qatar’s Hamad Bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, a former minister of information and culture. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, though not members of the UNESCO board, are lobbying in favor of Khattab to prevent a Qatari victory.

Far more serious is the burgeoning dispute surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 soccer World Cup.

“This is a huge flagship issue for Qatar. The Saudis and their allies would like nothing better than to take it away,” said Teitelbaum.

The Saudis and their allies have started a lobbying campaign against the Cup being held in Doha, which is expected to focus on allegations of corruption in Qatar’s bidding for the venue. It is also expected to highlight alleged Qatari human rights abuses against workers on the project.

A senior Emirati security official, Lt.-Gen. Dhahi Khalfan of Dubai, tweeted recently that the Gulf crisis will end if Doha gives up on hosting the World Cup.

Meanwhile, a study carried out by the management consultant firm Cornerstone Global made available to the BBC cast doubt on Qatar’s ability to host the competition due to “increased political risk” stemming, in part, from the blockade.

Qatari officials perceive a Saudi hand behind the study, but the founder of Cornerstone Global, Ghanem Nuseibeh, denied that the report was funded by any of the countries mounting the blockade.

Qatari officials, meanwhile, say there is “no risk” that the event will be canceled.

In Friedman’s view, “both sides seem to be settling in for the long haul” in terms of their conflict, but he dismisses the idea that it is interminable, saying there is a possible scenario that could alleviate it in the future, namely “a geopolitical situation that would remind them that they need each other.”

This, he said, could take the form of a confrontation between Iran and the Arab Gulf states.

According to Friedman, one of the reasons the enmity between Qatar and the four allies is persisting is that neither side wants to incur the blow to its honor from backing down. “Honor and shame is something we have to be mindful of, especially with the royal families of the Gulf,” he said. “This feud has not played out behind closed doors, it is being waged with the biggest public relations and propaganda efforts in the western media. This makes it harder for either side to find a face-saving formula.”

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War of Words Escalates Between Iran, U.S.

October 8, 2017

TEHRAN THREATENS US BASES AS TRUMP RESHAPES IRAN STRATEGY

BY REUTERS
 OCTOBER 8, 2017 12:20

“If America’s new law for sanctions is passed, this country will have to move their regional bases outside the 2,000 km range of Iran’s missiles,” warns Revolutionary Guards Corps chief.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani fires back at US President Donald Trump on Iran nuclear deal, October 7, 2017. (Reuters)

“As we’ve announced in the past, if America’s new law for sanctions is passed, this country will have to move their regional bases outside the 2,000 km range of Iran’s missiles,” Guards’ commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said, according to state media.

Jafari also said that additional sanctions would end the chances for future dialog with the United States, according to state media, and issued a stark warning to American troops.

“If the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world particularly in the Middle East,” Jafari said.

The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are Iran’s most powerful internal and external security force. The Quds Force, the IRGC’s foreign espionage and paramilitary wing, and individuals and entities associated with the IRGC are on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the organization as a whole is not.

Iran sees the Sunni Muslim militants of Islamic State as an existential threat to the Islamic Republic where the majority of the population are Shi’ites.

On June 7, Islamic State claimed an attack on Tehran’s parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, killing 18 people. The Guards fired missiles at Islamic State bases in Syria on June 18 in response.

Guards commanders have framed their military involvement in Iraq and Syria, where they are fighting to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, as a fight against Islamic State.

Dozens of members of the Guards, including senior commanders, have been killed in Syria and Iraq.

MISSILE PROGRAM

The website for state TV reported Jafari as adding that the United States was mistaken if it thought it could pressure Iran into negotiating on regional issues.

Jafari also said that Tehran would ramp up its defense capabilities, including its missile program, if the US undermined a nuclear deal between Iran and Western powers.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to limit its disputed nuclear program in return for the easing of economic sanctions.

However, Trump is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the deal, a senior administration official has said, in a step that potentially could cause the accord to unravel.

“The Americans should know that the Trump government’s stupid behavior with the nuclear deal will be used by the Islamic Republic as an opportunity to move ahead with its missile, regional and conventional defense program,” Jafari said, according to state media.

The prospect of Washington backtracking on the deal has worried some of the US allies that helped negotiate it, especially as the world grapples with another nuclear crisis in the shape of North Korea.

If Trump does not certify that Iran is in compliance, the U.S. Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal. U.N. inspectors have verified Iranian compliance with the terms.

The Guards navy was also carrying out a military exercise on Sunday in the Gulf, an area of tension with the US navy in recent months.More than 110 vessels were involved in the exercise, including some that have rocket and missile capabilities, a state media report quoted a Guards commander as saying.

Djibouti: China’s armed forces send message of combat readiness at China’s only overseas base

September 26, 2017

China’s armed forces send message of combat readiness to Djibouti militants and other potential attackers, observers say

By Minnie Chan
South China Morning Post
Monday, 25 September, 2017, 11:28pm

Troops from China’s only overseas base have staged their first live-fire drills in what military analysts said was a major show of combat readiness.

The exercises in Djibouti on Friday involved dozens of officers and took place at the country’s national gendarmerie training range, the People’s Liberation Army Navy said in an online report.

Troops arrived at the base – China’s first overseas garrison – less than two months ago and the drill was meant to test the personnel’s capacity to handle a range of weapons and tasks in extreme heat, humidity and salinity, the report said.

Temperatures in the African nation routinely rise above 40 degrees Celsius at this time of year.

“This is the first time our soldiers stationed in Djibouti have left the camp to conduct combat training,” base commander Liang Yang was quoted as saying.

“The live-fire training will help explore a new training model for the [Chinese] overseas garrison.”

Image result for Djibouti, map

Footage aired by state-run CCTV showed PLA marine corps using various weapons – from pistols to automatic rifles, sniper rifles and machine guns – to fire at targets.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said the troops had to be on combat alert at all times because of the region’s complex political conditions and Djibouti’s geographic importance.

 The drills were designed to test the personnel’s capacity to handle a range of weapons and tasks in extreme heat and humidity. Photo: Handout

The African nation is at the southern entrance to the Red Sea along the route to the Suez Canal, and Eritrea and Somalia. It also hosts US, Japanese and French bases.

“The PLA troops based in Djibouti should be able to protect themselves and resist attacks from terrorists, pirates, local armed forces, or even foreign troops,” Li said.

China’s Procuratorial Daily, the top prosecutor’s official newspaper, reported earlier that a Japanese naval vessel sent divers to approach a Chinese warship as both vessels were docking at Djibouti. Without specifying the time of the encounter, the report said Chinese naval troops used “a strong light and a verbal warning” to drive away the Japanese divers.

The Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force established a base in Djibouti in 2011, and Tokyo said last year it was considering expanding the facility.

China began building what it describes as a logistics base in Djibouti last year, but docking facilities for navy ships, barracks and other military equipment are still under development.

The 36-hectare base will resupply vessels taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia.

 The exercises were the first time troops had left the facility for combat training. Photo: Handout

Beijing-based military commentator Zhou Chenming said the high-profile drills were a message to local militants “not to harass” the PLA troops.

“Since the political situation in Djibouti is very unstable, the troops need to let local armed groups know of their combat strength. They need to tell them that the Chinese forces are there not only to set up the logistics base but must also be able to deal with all kinds of security challenges,” Zhou said.

U.S. Must Suffer ‘Painful Responses’ From Iran After Trump Speech: Guards Chief

September 20, 2017

BEIRUT — The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday that the United States should experience “painful responses” following President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of Tehran at the United Nations.

In his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday Trump called Iran “a corrupt dictatorship” and accused it of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East. He also hinted he might not recertify a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran when it comes up for a mid-Oct. deadline.

“Taking a definitive stand against Trump is only the beginning of the path,” said General Mohammad Ali Jafari, according to Sepah News, the news site of the Revolutionary Guards.

“What is strategically important is that America witnesses more painful responses in the actions, behavior and decisions that Iran takes in the coming months.”

In recent months, tensions have ramped up between Iran and the United States in the Gulf, with both sides accusing each other of provocative maneuvers with military vessels.

Jafari urged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to deliver a definitive response to Trump in his speech at the United Nations on Wednesday.

“With the successive and exhausting defeats that the Americans have faced in the region from Iran, it’s natural that their nervous system and coherence of thought have fallen apart,” Sepah News quoted Jafari as saying.

In Tuesday’s speech, Trump called the 2015 nuclear deal, negotiated between Iran and six world powers, and backed by his predecessor Barack Obama, “an embarrassment”. Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its atomic program in return for easing economic sanctions.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Trump weighing aggressive Iran strategy — More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

September 14, 2017
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WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shi’ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria, and its support for militant groups, according to six current and former U.S. officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

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In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for U.S. policy but leave it to U.S. military commanders, diplomats and other U.S. officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.

The White House declined to comment.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for militants, several sources said.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said another senior administration official.

The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.

The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive U.S. interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former U.S. official said.

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi’ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.

U.S. ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.

U.S. commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.

ISLAMIC STATE FIRST

The plan does not include an escalation of U.S. military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, the four sources said.

The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.

RELATED: Ballistic missile testing in Iran

Moreover, looser rules could embroil the United States in a conflict with Iran while U.S. forces remain overstretched, and Trump has authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former U.S. official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters battling Islamic State in Syria have been wrestling with how to respond to hostile actions by Iranian-backed forces.

In some of the most notable cases, U.S. aircraft shot down two Iranian-made drones in June. Both were justified as defensive acts narrowly tailored to halt an imminent threat on the ground.

 

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Trump’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, as do U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their reservations about Iran’s adherence to the agreement, said U.S. officials involved in the discussions.

“The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran,” one of the two U.S. officials said. “Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other (issues.)”

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(Writing by Jonathan Landay.; Reporting by Arshad Mohammed,Jonathan Landay, and Steve Holland.; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and John Walcott; Editing by Howard Goller)

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https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/09/12/report-trump-weighing-aggressive-iran-strategy-against-malign-activities/23206015/

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Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s administration has been reviewing the Iran nuclear deal. | Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

More than 80 experts on nuclear proliferation urged the Trump administration not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in a statement on Wednesday.

The agreement, which was negotiated under former President Barack Obama in 2015, ended several sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is subject to regular inspections to monitor whether it adheres to those rules under terms of the agreement.

The signatories, which include many academics and some former State Department officials, wrote that they are “concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described the deal as a “very flawed and very limited agreement” and contended that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The experts who signed the letter, though, described the agreement as “an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts” and warned against leaving it.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to higher levels or increasing the number of operating centrifuges,” they wrote. “These steps would decrease the time it would take for Iran to obtain enough nuclear material for a warhead.”

President Donald Trump was a critic of the Iran deal as a candidate, but he has not taken steps to abandon it since taking office. His administration, however, has been reviewing the deal.

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/13/trump-iran-nuclear-deal-letter-242655

Iran Says It Warned Off US Ship — U.S. Navy issues denial

September 10, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran says it warned off a U.S. Navy warship during a rescue of a boat in the Gulf of Oman, while American officials say there was no direct contact.

The U.S. Navy said Sunday the incident happened Wednesday and involved a small vessel some 75 nautical miles from the USS Tempest, a coastal patrol boat. The Navy says another boat much closer offered assistance, with that vessel communicating with Iranian naval forces.

Iran offered a different version of the incident. Press TV, the English-language arm of its state broadcaster, said Sunday that the Iranian navy “warned off an American warship” while rescuing the stranded dhow, a traditional ship.

The U.S. and Iran routinely have tense encounters in the Persian Gulf.

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Iranian warship turns away U.S. battleship as Gulf tension flares: Tasnim

September 10, 2017

Reuters

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A rocket-bearing Iranian military vessel confronted an American battleship in the Gulf and warned it to stay away from a damaged Iranian fishing boat, the Tasnim news agency reported Sunday.

The American battleship turned away after the warning from the Iranian vessel, which belonged to the naval branch of the Iranian army, according to Tasnim.

The Iranian military vessel then towed the fishing boat, which had sent out a distress signal after taking on water, back to shore.

The site did not specify when the incident, which happened close to the strategic Straight of Hormuz, took place.

Tensions have been on the rise between the Iranian and U.S. military in the Gulf in recent months.

In early August, an unarmed Iranian drone came within 100 feet (31 meters) of a U.S. Navy warplane as it prepared to land on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf, a U.S. official said at the time.

And in late July, a U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots when an Iranian vessel in the Gulf came within 150 yards (137 meters) in the first such incident since President Donald Trump took office in January, U.S. officials said.

Years of mutual animosity had eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year as part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But serious differences remain over Iran’s ballistic missile program and conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

The Trump administration, which has taken a hard line on Iran, recently declared that Iran was complying with its nuclear agreement with world powers, but warned that Tehran was not following the spirit of the accord and that Washington would look for ways to strengthen it.

During the presidential campaign last September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harass the U.S. Navy in the Gulf would be “shot out of the water.”

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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Peace and Freedom Note: Reuters seems to have picked up and reported Iranian propaganda, since there are no “American battleships” on active service in the U.S. Navy. All four U.S. Navy “battleships” are retired. Certainly there is more factual information to follow this report….

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Iran Land Route Delights Qataris; Irks Saudi Arabia

September 6, 2017
Wed Sep 6, 2017 8:28AM
This photo shows workers unloading cargo of fruits at a Qatari port.
This photo shows workers unloading cargo of fruits at a Qatari port.

A land route from Turkey to Qatar via Iran is now operational, with 200 trucks of food having already arrived in the Persian Gulf peninsula.

The trucks carrying milk, fruits, vegetables, grains and other food products made the journey from the Turkish city of Mardin to the Iranian port of Bushehr in the Persian Gulf from where they were carried by Ro-Ro ships to the Qatari port of Ruwais.

Qatar is under a blockade by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt which cut trade and transport links with Doha in June in a diplomatic dispute which has exposed serious fissures in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Turkey and Iran were quick to ease the economic stranglehold on the tiny Arab nation, flying food and other commodities as the diplomatic fallout escalated, and then agreeing on a land route to export goods to Qatar.

The Doha-based Al Sharq newspaper quoted prominent Qatari businessman Ahmed al-Khalaf as saying that the new land trade line between Turkey and Qatar via Iran was reducing the cost of transportation drastically.

Meanwhile, the sea route between Turkey and Qatar initially took 11 days, while a separate land route took 14 days. The new commercial land line via Iran has shortened the duration to less than two days.

The distance between Mardin and Bushehr is about 1,700 km, which can be traveled by trucks in about 22 hours. The route by sea between Bushehr and Qatar’s Hamad Port takes just 8 hours to cover, where the wheeled cargo is carried by roll on/roll off ships.

This means a truck with Turkish goods can reach Doha via Iran in less than two days.

A long line of Turkish trucks are waiting on a road in the Iranian city of Maku in this file photo.

The Iran trade route is “a significant step in tackling the illegal blockade as less transportation time means perishable goods can be transported quickly without damage,” the Qatari daily The Peninsula wrote.

According to board member of Qatar Chamber Mohammed bin Mahdi Al Ahbabi, the new route via Iran has been reducing the cost of transportation by about 80 percent compared to air cargo.

“The cost of air freight is ranging between $1.2 and $1.5 per kilogram, while the cost of road transport (via Iran) is approximately 15 cents,” he said.

Trucks are parked at a terminal in the Iranian port of Bushehr in this file photo.

Iran’s network of road and rail lines

Chairman of Qatar Consume Ali Hassan Al Khalaf, who runs a chain of retail outlets across the country, said the new land route is going to be more sustainable and economically viable in the days to come.

“As more and more importers start using the route, the economies of scale will come into play, which will help further reduce the transportation cost,” he told the Qatari paper.

The businessmen touched on a wide network of road and rail lines which Iran has developed, saying other neighbors of the Islamic Republic such as Russia and Pakistan can also benefit from the new land route to export their goods to Qatar.

Before the diplomatic crisis, Qatar relied almost entirely on Saudi Arabia for imports. Ali Hassan Al Khalaf said unlike the Saudi land route, the Iran trade line will have lesser number of checkpoints, which will ensure a faster movement of trucks.

“This will not only save a lot of time and money, but goods will reach without losing much of their nutritional value.”

http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2017/09/06/534197/Iran-Qatar-Turkey-trade-route-Saudi-siege

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