Posts Tagged ‘Persian Gulf’

Iran Sending Warships to the Atlantic Ocean

August 15, 2017

BY: 
August 14, 2017 2:45 pm

Iran is preparing to send a flotilla of warships to the Atlantic Ocean following the announcement of a massive $500 million investment in war spending, according to Iranian leaders, who say the military moves are in response to recent efforts by the United States to impose a package of new economic sanctions on Tehran.

The military investment and buildup comes following weeks of tense interactions between Iran and the United States in regional waters, where Iranian military ships have carried out a series of dangerous maneuvers near U.S. vessels. The interactions have roiled U.S. military leaders and prompted tough talk from the Trump administration, which is currently examining potential ways to leave the landmark nuclear deal.

Iran’s increasingly hostile behavior also follows a little-noticed United Nations report disclosing that Iran has repeatedly violated international accords banning ballistic missile work. Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and some policy experts also believe that Iran has been violating some provisions in the nuclear agreement governing nuclear-related materials.

With tensions over sanctions and Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement growing, Iranian parliamentary members voted to increase war spending by more than $500 million. This is at least the second recent cash influx to Iran’s military since the landmark nuclear deal that unfroze billions in Iranian assets and saw the United States awarding Tehran millions in cash.

Iranian lawmakers reportedly shouted “death to America” as they passed the measure, which boosts spending to Iran’s contested missile programs by around $260 million.

The bill also imposes sanctions on U.S. military officials in the region. Additionally, Iranian officials are moving to set up courts to prosecute the United States for the recent sanctions, which Iran claims are in violation of the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, following several aggressive encounters with U.S. military vessels in the Persian Gulf, Iranian military leaders announced that they would be leading a flotilla of warships into the Atlantic Ocean.

“No military official in the world thought that we can go round Africa to the Atlantic Ocean through the Suez Canal but we did it as we had declared that we would go to the Atlantic and its Western waters,” Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari was quoted as saying over the weekend.

“We moved into the Atlantic and will go to its Western waters in the near future,” Sayyari said.

U.S. military officials reported Monday yet another “unsafe” encounter with an Iranian drone that was shadowing a U.S. carrier in the Persian Gulf region and reportedly came close enough to an American F-18 jet to risk the pilot’s life.

As with other similar encounters during the past months, the Iranian craft did not respond to repeated radio calls by the United States. While the drone is said to have been unarmed, it is capable of carrying missiles.

Iranian leaders have been adamant that the country will not halt its work on ballistic missile technology, which could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

The United States has issued several new packages of sanctions as a result of this behavior, but U.N. members have yet to address the issue, despite recent reporting that found Iran is violating international accords barring such behavior.

“Little-noticed biannual reporting by the UN Secretary General alleges that Iran is repeatedly violating these non-nuclear provisions,” Iran Watch, a nuclear watchdog group, reported on Monday.

“Thus far, the United States has responded to such violations with sanctions and designations of Iranian and foreign entities supporting Tehran’s ballistic missile development,” the organization found. “However, the U.N. and its member states have not responded. More must be done to investigate allegations of noncompliance and to punish violations of the resolution.”

Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), a proponent of a more forceful policy on Iranian intransigence in the region, told the Free Beacon that the Trump administration must make it a priority to address Tehran’s increasingly bold military activity.

“Iran was emboldened to flex its military muscle after eight years of President Obama’s passivity and his delivery of cold, hard cash to the regime, but they should make no mistake: President Trump was elected to put a stop to rogue regimes pushing America around, and the American people know he will address the world’s lead sponsor of terrorism with resolve,” Duffy told the Free Beacon.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, said that Iran’s recent behavior shows the regime has not moderated since the nuclear deal was implemented. The Obama administration sold the deal in part on promises that it could help bring Tehran into the community of nations.

“Every time the Islamic Republic has cash, it chooses guns over butter,” Rubin told the Washington Free Beacon. “What the [nuclear deal] and subsequent hostage ransom did was fill Iran’s coffers, and now we see the result of that.”

“What [former President Barack] Obama and [former Secretary of State John] Kerry essentially did was gamble that if they funded a mad scientist’s lab, the scientist would rather make unicorns rather than nukes,” Rubin said. “News flash for the echo chamber: Iranian reformist are just hardliners who smile more. Neither their basic philosophy nor their commitment to terrorism have changed.”

Update 6:52 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from Rep. Duffy.

Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.

US Navy Reports Another Tense Encounter With an Iran Drone in the Persian Gulf

August 14, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The U.S. Navy says it had a second tense encounter with an unarmed Iranian drone in the Persian Gulf in recent days.

The 5th Fleet in Bahrain said Tuesday the encounter involved the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and an Iranian Sadegh drone.

Lt. Ian McConnaughey, a 5th Fleet spokesman, said the drone was following the Nimitz and other ships during flight operations Monday night.

McConnaughey says the drone “did not use any aircraft navigation lights while it made several passes in close proximity to Nimitz and its escort ships during active flight operations, coming within 1,000 feet (300 meters) of U.S. aircraft.”

McConnaughey says the drone was unarmed. That model can carry missiles.

Another Iranian drone came close to a U.S. fighter jet on Aug. 8.

Emergency teams battle oil spill off Kuwait

August 13, 2017

© AFP/File | Kuwait is a major producer of oil and gas, which make up around 95 percent of its export revenues

KUWAIT CITY (AFP) – Emergency workers are battling to contain an oil spill near a joint Kuwaiti-Saudi oilfield in the Gulf, an official said Sunday.”Emergency oil teams are still struggling to put an oil spill near Kuwait’s southern Ras Al-Zour area under control,” said Kuwait Petroleum Corporation spokesman Talal al-Khaled in a statement carried by the official KUNA news agency.

Image result for Al-Khafji oilfield, map

There were no official reports on the source or size of the spill in the waters off Kuwait’s southern coast, near the joint Kuwaiti-Saudi offshore Al-Khafji oilfield.

Kuwaiti media however on Sunday quoted local oil experts as saying the spill originated from an old 50-kilometre (31-mile) pipeline from Al-Khafji.

The experts estimated that as many as 35,000 barrels of crude oil may have leaked into the waters off Al-Zour, where Kuwait is building a massive $30 billion oil complex that includes a 615,000-barrel-per-day refinery.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, located south of Kuwait along the Gulf coast, said the spill had not reached their waters.

Saudi Arabia said that it had put into action a “crisis management plan” and was conducting an aerial survey of its oil plants along the coast in a statement published by the official SPA news agency.

The Kuwait Petroleum Corporation said teams from Saudi Arabian Chevron and the Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) were cleaning the coastal waters.

Kuwait is a major producer of oil and gas, which make up around 95 percent of its export revenues

Nepal immigration officials trafficking women

August 8, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | More than 60 percent of Nepali domestic workers who end up illegally in the Gulf travelled through the main airport in the capital Kathmandu, the report said

KATHMANDU (AFP) – Immigration officials at Nepal’s international airport are colluding with traffickers to illegally send Nepali women to the Gulf where they are often exploited and abused, said a parliamentary report released Tuesday.

The parliamentary committee tasked with international relations and labour rights said the government had failed to protect Nepalis working overseas and turned a blind eye to allegations of trafficking.

More than 60 percent of Nepali domestic workers who end up illegally in the Gulf travelled through the main airport in the capital Kathmandu, the report said.

“(They) travel on tourist visas via Tribhuvan International Airport in direct collusion with immigration officials, airline company staff, security officials and the traffickers.”

“The rest travel via different cities in India, Sri Lanka, China and various African countries,” the report said.

The women are lured to Gulf countries on promises of well-paid jobs in department stores or hotels. Instead, they are sent to work in private homes where their passports are usually confiscated.

Rights activists in Nepal have long demanded the government do more to protect the four million Nepalis who work overseas — mostly in the Gulf and Malaysia.

With remittances from migrant workers accounting for nearly a third of Nepal’s GDP according to government figures, activists suspect the authorities are reluctant to put pressure on host nations.

“The government has been closing its eyes to the problem of human trafficking,” Mohna Ansari, spokeswoman for the Nepal’s Human Rights Commission, told AFP.

Lawmakers on the parliamentary committee met with women who had escaped from abusive homes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Many had suffered physical, mental and sexual violence, the report said.

“Some women who have escaped and reached an embassy office have made reports about the human traffickers, but Foreign Affairs Ministry has failed to request the Home Ministry to take action against the culprits,” it added.

The number of migrants leaving Nepal for work has surged in recent years with nearly half a million leaving in 2015, up from 200,000 in 2008, according to the latest available government figures.

The vast majority are men working in construction, but around 20,000 women leave each year.

Nepal has previously attempted to ban women from working as maids in private homes in the Gulf over allegations that they are often overworked for low wages and treated poorly, but enforcement has been patchy.

Tensions flare between Iranian Revolutionary Guards and US Navy

July 30, 2017

AFP

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© AFP Photo/US Navy Handout | The USS John C. Stennis, the USS Nimitz, and the USS Bonhomme Richard along with USS Antietam, USS O’Kane, USS Higgins, USS Denver and USS Rushmore steaming through the Gulf of Oman in 2007.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-07-30

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards said on Saturday that U.S. Navy ships came close to their vessels in the Gulf and shot flares.

The USS Nimitz and an accompanying warship drew close to a rocket-bearing Iranian vessel on Friday and sent out a helicopter near a number of Guards vessels close to the Resalat oil and gas platform, the Guards said in a statement published by their official news site Sepah News.

“The Americans made a provocative and unprofessional move by issuing a warning and shooting flares at vessels …,” the statement said. “Islam’s warriors, without paying attention to this unconventional and unusual behaviour from the American vessels, continued their mission in the area and the aircraft carrier and accompanying battleship left the area.”

U.S. military statement said a U.S. Navy helicopter saw several IRGC vessels approaching U.S forces at a high rate of speed and deployed flares after it could not establish communications with the boats.

The statement said the interaction was “safe and professional.”

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

In a statement, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said the patrol craft, named Thunderbolt, fired the warning shots in front of the Iranian vessel after it ignored radio calls, flares and the ship’s whistle.

The vessel belonged to the Revolutionary Guards, the statement said, adding that it stopped its unsafe approach after the warning shots were fired.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Iranian boat was armed but that the weapons were unmanned. The Thunderbolt was accompanied by a number of other vessels, including those from the U.S. Coast Guard.

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 programme 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”.

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Iran Has No Intention of Giving Up Ballistic Missile Program

July 29, 2017

Tensions between Iran and the US are heating up over missile tests and sanctions. Tehran has accused Washington of acting against the letter and spirit of an international nuclear accord.

Iran Raketenstart beim Imam Khomeini Space Centre (Reuters/Tasnim News Agency)

Iran vowed to continue with its missile and space program on Saturday, condemning new US sanctions as an attempt to undermine the international nuclear accord signed in 2015 between international powers and Tehran.

“We will continue with full power our missile program,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Ghasemi told state broadcaster IRIB on Saturday.

“We consider the action by the US as hostile, reprehensible and unacceptable, and it’s ultimately an effort to weaken the nuclear deal,” he added.

The US Treasury slapped new sanctions on Iran on Friday, a day after it tested a satellite-launch rocket into space. The sanctions targeted six subordinates of Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which develops Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The US suspects Iran of trying to develop space technology for use in a long-range ballistic missile.

Flurry of US sanctions on Iran

The US Treasury sanctions in response to the space launch were the second in less than two weeks, and came as Congress sent a separate sanctions package targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea to US President Donald Trump’s desk for a signature.

The Iran sanctions target the country for its ballistic missile program, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for “destabilizing” activities in the Middle East and human rights abuses.

In a joint statement Friday, Britain, France, Germany and the US – members of the so-called P5+1 group of countries, also including China and Russia, that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran – condemned Iran’s test space launch as “provocative” and “destabilizing.”

“We call on Iran not to conduct any further ballistic missile launches and related activities,” they said, calling the launch a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that endorsed the nuclear deal.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley expressed mistrust of Iran.

“Iran’s widespread support for terrorists tells us we can’t trust them. Iran’s breaking its obligation on missile testing tells us we can’t trust them. Yesterday’s launch proves that yet again,” she said.

Letter and spirit of nuclear deal

Under the Iran nuclear accord, Tehran agreed to drop its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions that had been imposed by international powers.

Iran argues the new sanctions, especially those passed by Congress, violate both the letter and spirit of the international nuclear agreement.

The UN resolution authorizing the nuclear deal prohibits Iran from testing ballistic missiles, but the wording is legally vague. It “calls upon” Iran not to carry out work “designed to” deliver nuclear warheads.

However, Iran says its ballistic missiles are conventional weapons not “designed to” carry nuclear warheads even if they are “capable of” delivering them.

Since Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons and has given up its program, Tehran argues, the UN resolution does not apply to its ballistic missiles.

Image result for Javad Zarif, John Kerry, Photos

File:John Kerry Speaks With Hossein Fereydoun and Javad Zarif before Press conference in Vienna

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Friday tweeted his country’s position on the nuclear deal (JCPOA).

Iran – unlike the U.S. – has complied in good faith with the letter AND spirit of JCPOA. Rhetoric & actions from U.S. show bad faith. 1/3

Every word of JCPOA carefully negotiated. Iran does not develop missiles that are “DESIGNED to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons”.2/3

Iran is not & will not be developing nuclear weapons; so by definition cannot develop anything DESIGNED to be capable of delivering them.3/3

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Ghasemi, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the country’s military and missile development were domestic issues that no country had a right to intervene in.

“Iran does not recognize any limits to its scientific and technological progress and will not wait for the approval or permission of any country regarding the activities of its scientists and experts,” the spokesman said.

Both the US State Department and International Atomic Energy Agency have confirmed Iran is abiding by the nuclear agreement and has dismantled its nuclear weapons program.

Deliberately undermining deal?

The Trump administration is reviewing the nuclear accord and has upped its hostile rhetoric against Iran, suggesting the US could “tear up” the deal as it reverts to a policy of regime change in Tehran.  Trump entered the White House vowing to be the best friend of Israel, whose right-wing government is against the nuclear deal and is concerned over Iran’s influence in the region.

But some within the Trump administration and Congress are urging Trump to hold off for now, concerned that a unilateral US exit from the accord would isolate Washington from its European allies.

Image result for Bob Corker, photos

Bob Corker

“You can only tear up the agreement one time,” said Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this week at an event organized by the Washington Post newspaper.

Since Iran is not now developing a nuclear weapon, he said, “you want the break up of this deal to be about Iran, you don’t it to be about the United States because we want our allies with us.”

The US is adding demands to the nuclear deal and wants to renegotiate it, he said, including requesting access to Iranian military facilities that would certainly be rejected by Tehran.

“If they don’t let us in,” Corker said, then “boom.”

 http://www.dw.com/en/iran-vows-to-continue-missile-program-as-tensions-with-us-flare/a-39884397
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Trump: Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon

Broader regional struggle 

The ratcheted-up tensions between the two adversaries come as Iran uses asymmetrical power and proxies to extend its influence across the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria.

US-ally Israel has particularly been concerned about Iran and Hezbollah’s expansion in Syria as Tehran helps the Assad regime battle rebels and jihadists.

Meanwhile, tensions between Iran and Gulf Arab states have been flaring up, raising the specter of hot conflict that has so far been political or played out through proxies.

Iran and its rival Saudi Arabia, a US ally, are the main actors challenging each other for influence across the region, from Yemen and Syria to the Persian Gulf.

Iran views a missile capability as necessary to defend itself and counterbalance Saudi Arabia, which has been on a weapons-buying binge in the past several years that has given it technological military superiority.

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USS Thunderbolt

 (Qatar stands in support of Iran)

Iran on Persian Gulf Encounter: “The Americans made a provocative and unprofessional move by issuing a warning and shooting flares at vessels…”

July 29, 2017

BEIRUT — The Iranian Revolutionary Guards said on Saturday that U.S. Navy ships came close to their vessels in the Gulf and shot flares.

The USS Nimitz and an accompanying battleship drew close to a rocket-bearing Iranian vessel on Friday and sent out a helicopter near a number of Guards vessels close to the Resalat oil and gas platform, the Guards said in a statement published by their official news site Sepah News.

“The Americans made a provocative and unprofessional move by issuing a warning and shooting flares at vessels…” the statement said. “Islam’s warriors, without paying attention to this unconventional and unusual behavior from the American vessels, continued their mission in the area and the aircraft carrier and accompanying battleship left the area.”

There was no immediate official comment from Washington on the Revolutionary Guards’ statement.

Last Tuesday, 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.

In a statement, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said the patrol craft, named Thunderbolt, fired the warning shots in front of the Iranian vessel after it ignored radio calls, flares and the ship’s whistle.

The vessel belonged to the Revolutionary Guards, the statement said, adding that it stopped its unsafe approach after the warning shots were fired.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Iranian boat was armed but that the weapons were unmanned. The Thunderbolt was accompanied by a number of other vessels, including those from the U.S. Coast Guard.

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 Stephen Powell)

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Iran rules out halt to missile tests — Says U.S. Navy fired warning shots — Accuses the U.S. Navy of unprofessional behavior

July 29, 2017
© Navy Office of Information/AFP / by Ali Noorani | Aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz takes part in an exercise in the Bay of Bengal in July 2017 in this US Navy handout photograph

TEHRAN (AFP) – A defiant Iran vowed on Saturday to press ahead with its missile programme and condemned new US sanctions, as tensions rise after the West hardened its tone against the Islamic republic.

In the latest incident on the ground, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said the US Navy had approached their patrol vessels in the Gulf and fired flares.

“At 4 pm (1130 GMT) on Friday, the supercarrier USS Nimitz and its accompanying warship, while being monitored by the Guards’ frigates, flew a helicopter near the Resalat oil and gas platform and approached the force’s ships,” the paramilitary force said.

“The Americans in a provocative and unprofessional move, sent a warning message to the frigates and fired flares,” it said. The Guards “ignored the unconventional move by the US ships and continued their mission.”

Three days earlier, a US Navy patrol ship fired warning shots at a Guards boat in the Gulf as it closed in on the American vessel, according to US officials.

The Guards denied approaching the US ship in Tuesday’s incident and said it was the American vessel that had been at fault.

There have been a string of close encounters between US ships and Iranian vessels in the Gulf in recent months.

On the political battlefield, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told state broadcaster IRIB that Tehran condemned new US sanctions against its missile programme, which President Donald Trump is set to sign into law, and vowed to press on.

“We will continue with full power our missile programme,” he said. “We consider the action by the US as hostile, reprehensible and unacceptable, and it’s ultimately an effort to weaken the nuclear deal.”

Ghasemi was referring to a 2015 agreement between Iran and US-led world powers that lifted some sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on the country’s nuclear programme.

“The military and missile fields… are our domestic policies and others have no right to intervene or comment on them,” the spokesman said.

The sanctions bill, which also targets Russia and North Korea, was passed by the US Senate on Thursday, two days after being approved by the House of Representatives.

Separately on Friday, Washington imposed new sanctions targeting Iran’s missile programme, one day after Tehran tested a satellite-launch rocket.

Iranian state television broadcast footage of the takeoff from the Imam Khomeini space centre in Semnan province in the east of the country.

The launch vehicle was capable of propelling a satellite weighing 550 pounds (250 kilogrammes) into orbit at an altitude of 300 miles (500 kilometres), it said.

– ‘Destabilising’ action –

Western governments suspect Iran of trying to develop the technology for longer-range missiles with conventional or nuclear payloads, a charge denied by Tehran, which insists its space programme has purely peaceful aims.

In a joint statement, Britain, France, Germany and the US condemned Tehran’s “provocative” and “destabilising” action, saying the test was in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that endorsed the nuclear deal.

“We call on Iran not to conduct any further ballistic missile launches and related activities,” they said.

Resolution 2231 called on Iran not to test ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and an arms embargo has remained in place.

The United States has had no diplomatic ties with the Iran since 1980, and Trump has halted the direct contacts initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Tensions have mounted between Washington and Tehran since Trump took office six months ago vowing to be the best friend of Israel.

At UN headquarters in New York on Friday, US envoy Nikki Haley expressed mistrust of Iran.

“Iran’s widespread support for terrorists tells us we can’t trust them. Iran’s breaking its obligation on missile testing tells us we can’t trust them. Yesterday’s launch proves that yet again,” she said.

Despite his electoral promise to tear apart what he once called “the worst deal ever”, Trump has so far respected the nuclear agreement.

The joint US-European statement said that Iran’s latest test features technology related to “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons”.

Iran insists it has “proven its compliance with the nuclear deal” as repeatedly confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Iran does not recognise any limits to its scientific and technological progress and will not wait for the approval or permission of any country regarding the activities of its scientists and experts,” the foreign ministry spokesman said.

burs-an/hc/kir

by Ali Noorani
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Iran says US Navy fires warning shots near its vessels

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard said Saturday a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier fired a warning shot in an “unprofessional” confrontation with Iranian vessels, the official IRNA news agency reported.

IRNA quoted a statement from the Guard as saying that the USS Nimitz and an accompanying ship came near an Iranian oil offshore platform in the Persian Gulf and a helicopter from the ship hovered near vessels manned by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard.

The report said the confrontation took place Friday afternoon and the U.S. navy ships left the area following the encounter.

The incident comes after a U.S. Navy patrol boat fired warning shots Tuesday near an Iranian vessel that American sailors said came dangerously close to them during a tense encounter.

Iran and the U.S. frequently have run-ins in the Persian Gulf, nearly all involving the Revolutionary Guard, a separate force from Iran’s military that answers only to the country’s supreme leader. In January, near the end of then-President Barack Obama’s term, the USS Mahan fired shots toward Iranian fast-attack boats as they neared the destroyer in the Strait of Hormuz.

Image result for USS Mahan, photo

USS Mahan

Iranian forces view the American presence in the Gulf as a provocation. They have accused the U.S. Navy of unprofessional behavior, especially in the Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil trade passes by sea
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America’s most valued Arab allies use thousands of North Korean laborers — May send home more than $ 1B — “The Gulf is a place that the North Koreans see as a very reliable place to make the money.”

July 28, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — As pressure on North Korea grows over its nuclear weapons program, America’s most valued Arab allies host thousands of its laborers whose wages help Pyongyang evade sanctions and build the missiles now threatening the U.S. and its Asian partners, officials and analysts say.

From state-run restaurants to construction sites, North Korean workers in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates face conditions akin to forced labor while being spied on by planted intelligence officers, eating little food and suffering physical abuse, authorities say. Hundreds more North Korean workers may be coming to the UAE, home to a crucial military base, while laborers remain in the other countries.

North Korean laborers even have worked on an expansion of a military base in the UAE home to U.S. forces fighting the Islamic State group, two officials familiar with Pyongyang’s tactics told The Associated Press. A UAE company also was accused by the U.S. of trying to buy nearly $100 million of North Korean arms, while the nation previously purchased ballistic missiles from the North.

Emirati officials, who are now relying on South Korean expertise to build the first nuclear power plant on the Arabian Peninsula, did not respond to requests for comment.

“To put it fairly simply — an isolated country like North Korea is always seeking hard currency,” said Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of the Washington-based political risk consultancy Gulf State Analytics. “The Gulf is a place that the North Koreans see as a very reliable place to make the money.”

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North Korean construction workers in Qatar. Photograph: Pete Pattisson

Longstanding international concerns over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have intensified under leader Kim Jong Un, whose country conducted two nuclear tests last year and launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile July 4.

Facing U.S. and international sanctions, North Korea has relied on its overseas laborers as a way to get cash. Figures vary on how much North Korea earns annually from its workers. A 2015 U.N. report suggested that the more than 50,000 North Koreans working overseas earned Pyongyang between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion a year. Other estimates put earnings in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The major markets for North Korean workers are China and Russia, but the Gulf also hosts thousands.

“The reason why some Middle East countries like to hire North Korean workers is because first of all, their turnover rate is really low, meaning North Korean workers don’t run away and they are there for at least three years,” said Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “At the same time, they’re cheap.”

They also face threats, abuse and constant surveillance, according to the U.N., Go and other experts. Workers are “forced to work sometimes up to 20 hours per day, without only one or two rest days per month,” the U.N. has said.

Across the Gulf, some 6,000 North Koreans work, two officials familiar with Pyongyang’s tactics told the AP. Kuwait is home to some 2,500, while the UAE accounts for as many as 1,500 North Koreans and 2,000 work in 2022 FIFA World Cup host Qatar, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence reports.

For those working in the Gulf, most earn around $1,000 a month, with about half being kept by the North Korean government and another $300 going toward construction company managers, the officials said. That leaves workers receiving $200 for working straight through an entire month, they said.

Even $200 a month can go a long way in North Korea, where the per-capita income is estimated at just $1,700 a year.

Cafiero said some work for firms run by the North Korean military, working only at night to avoid contact with the outside world, especially South Koreans, out of fear workers may be tempted to defect. Such defections do happen, like in the case of Lim Il, a North Korean who worked in Kuwait City for five months before defecting to South Korea in 1997.

Lim said he was angry to learn Indonesian and Bangladeshi workers earned $450 to $750 per month in Kuwait; he was promised $120 a month that he never received. That was after he bribed North Korean officials with liquor and cigarettes to get a highly sought-after overseas job.

“Under North Koreans’ point of view, I was among a small group of selected people. But under a point of view here, I was a slave,” Lim told the AP last year.

In the UAE, known for the glittering skyscrapers and chic nightlife of Dubai, eight North Korean workers typically live together in only a 21-square-meter (69-square-foot) space and eat little food, the two officials said. Despite strict restrictions, one North Korean was so hungry in recent years he slipped away from his minders to a Dubai grocery where he was arrested for shoplifting, the officials said. Another North Korea worker fell from a construction site in 2016 and died, they said.

North Korea also operates three Korean restaurants in the UAE — two in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi — out of an estimated 130 it runs around the world, the officials said. But the restaurants, like others around the world, sit largely empty. South Koreans had been among their biggest customers, but after a North Korean nuclear test in January 2016 and further missile launches, Seoul told its citizens not to patronize them .

The two officials said another 1,000 North Korean workers will arrive in the UAE in the coming months.

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A North Korean worker pauses during a shift. Chinese managers have reported they prefer North Korean workers because they are ‘cheap and obedient. | Photo: China Daily Mail | Caption via NKNEWS

Typically, those in construction work as subcontractors, with those commissioning the projects sometimes unaware they have North Koreans working on site, the officials said.

They suggest that may have been the case when North Korean workers took part in a recent expansion of the UAE’s Al-Dhafra Air Base, a major Emirati military installation outside Abu Dhabi and home to some of the 5,000 American troops stationed in the country. From that base, drones and fighter jets fly missions over Iraq and Syria targeting the Islamic State group.

Maj. Josh T. Jacques, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees the Middle East, said its policies do “not allow for the admittance or contracting of North Korean nationals and other countries of interest at any U.S. military installation.”

“We are not aware of any North Korean laborers at Al-Dhafra Air Base and we would certainly be concerned if there were,” he told the AP.

Go, the researcher, said North Koreans working as laborers haven’t been known to engage in espionage.

“They try to keep a low profile most of the time,” he said. “They are there for business, to make money. They aren’t there to create mayhem and that for sure is going to interrupt their money-making opportunities.”

South Korean officials said they believe some 60,000 North Korean laborers work around the world, but declined to specifically discuss workers in the Persian Gulf.

While hosting North Korean workers, Emirati officials now rely on Seoul to build the $20 billion Barakah nuclear power plant. The first of its four reactors, being built in the UAE’s western deserts near its border with Saudi Arabia, is scheduled to come online in 2018.

Meanwhile, America and others have been pushing its Gulf partners to limit their exposure to North Korea. A bill passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives includes limits on the use of overseas North Korean labor.

In Oman, the sultanate expelled 300 North Koreans working in the country in December, according to South Korea. Some 80 are believed to remain. In Qatar, the U.N. said one construction company there dismissed 90 North Korean workers in May 2015 over abuse and labor law violations that included an incident that killed one laborer.

North Korea’s sole embassy for the region is in Kuwait City, where authorities in 2016 stopped direct flights by the country’s state-run Air Koryo and ceased issuing new worker visas. That drew praise from then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who thanked Kuwait’s ruler for take steps to stop “an illegal and illegitimate regime in North Korea.”

North Korean Embassy officials in Kuwait City did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Authorities in Kuwait and Qatar did not respond to requests for comment. Oman’s Embassy in Washington simply said “it’s the first time we hear of” the North Korean workers being expelled from the sultanate, without answering any questions.

North Korea has complicated history with the Persian Gulf dating back to its training of communist fighters in Oman’s Dhofar rebellion that began in the 1960s. UAE forces intercepted a cache of banned rocket-propelled grenades and other arms from North Korea heading for Iran in 2009.

By the late 1980s, North Korea had begun selling locally made Scud ballistic missiles from Soviet designs. Iran and Yemen were among its clients, as was the emirate of Dubai in the UAE, according to a 1991 CIA analysis . In 1999, the Emirati military also purchased some 30 Scud missiles from Pyongyang, according to a 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks.

U.S. officials also warned the UAE about efforts by a Dubai-based company to buy almost $100 million in machine guns, rifles and rockets from North Korea, according to a copy of an undated U.S. diplomatic message to the UAE obtained by the AP. In a response to questions from the U.N., Emirati officials said in January 2016 the sale never went through.

Today, Gulf nations keep their ties with North Korea largely quiet while supplying oil and natural gas crucial to the economies of Pyongyang adversaries South Korea and Japan. Given that, as well as their close defense ties to the U.S., Gulf nations likely would side against North Korea if given a firm enough push, Cafiero said.

“The United States has already put pressure on the (Gulf) countries to distance themselves from the North Koreans. I would imagine the Trump administration is going to continue such efforts,” he said. “The Arab Gulf states would have a lot to lose if there was a conflict.”

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Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jongambrellAP. His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz.

See also:

Countries hosting North Korean workers may be breaching UN sanctions (From 2014)

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/dec/31/countries-hosting-north-korean-workers-may-be-breaching-un-sanctions

US Navy ship fires warning shots at Iranian vessel — USS Thunderbolt Encounter With Iranian Revolutionary Guard

July 25, 2017

WASHINGTON (AFP) – 

A US Navy patrol ship fired warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel in the Persian Gulf Tuesday after it approached within 150 yards (137 meters), a US defense official said.

“The IRGCN boat was coming in at a high rate of speed. It did not respond to any signals, they did not respond to any bridge-to-bridge calls, they felt there was no choice except to fire the warning shots,” the defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Related image
USS Thunderbolt

The incident occurred at about 3:00 a.m. local time (0000 GMT) in the northern Persian Gulf, when the Iranian vessel began to approach the USS Thunderbolt.

After the US ship fired the warning shots, the Iranian vessel stopped, the official said, at which point the USS Thunderbolt continued on her way.

The episode marks the latest in a series of close encounters between US ships and Iranian naval vessels.

In January, the USS Mahan destroyer fired warning shots at four Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels that approached at high speed in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are a paramilitary force that answers directly to the Islamic republic’s supreme leader.