The Latest: US to send more troops to Middle East
(6/17/2019) — The Latest on developments in the Persian Gulf region amid rising tensions between Iran and the U.S. (all times local):
U.S. officials say the Pentagon is sending about 1,000 additional American troops to the Middle East, as commanders try to bolster security for forces and allies in the region from what authorities say is a growing threat from Iran.
Officials say the deployment includes security forces and troops for additional surveillance and intelligence gathering in the region.
The troops are part of a broader military package of options that were initially laid out to U.S. leaders late last month, totaling as much as 10,000 forces, Patriot missile batteries, aircraft and ships.
The latest decision comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials reach out to leaders in Asia and Europe to convince them that Iran was behind alleged attacks on shipping along a Middle East oil route.
The U.N. Security Council is condemning the attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on the Abha airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia on June 12 “in the strongest terms.”
A statement issued Monday by the U.N.’s most powerful body called for those behind “these reprehensible actions” to be held accountable.
The council statement, issued after a meeting on Yemen, urged the Houthis and the government “to make progress towards a comprehensive political settlement” of the more than four-year conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country.
Saudi Arabia, which has led a military coalition in support of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, has long accused its archrival Iran of backing the rebels.
New satellite photos have been released showing the two oil tankers apparently attacked in the Gulf of Oman last week.
The photos from Maxar Technologies are from Monday and show both the Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous.
The Front Altair caught fire in the explosion last Thursday. Maxar says the satellite photos of the Front Altair show “extensive damage to the starboard side of the tanker caused by the explosion and fire on the ship.”
The U.S. has blamed Iran for the attacks, saying Tehran used limpet mines in the assault like it did when it allegedly targeted four other oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Iran has denied being involved. However, it did use mines in the 1980s against oil tankers.
French President Emmanuel Macron says he “regrets” Iran’s announcement that it could break the uranium stockpile limit set by the nuclear deal with Iran and world powers in the next 10 days.
Speaking at a news conference in Paris, Macron said Iran so far still respects its obligations under the 2015 accord.
France “strongly encourages Iran to maintain a patient and responsible attitude”, he added.
Macron declined to comment about who was behind the alleged attacks on oil shipping in the Gulf of Oman as France is still in the process of collecting information.
He reaffirmed he’s in favor of maintaining the nuclear deal but wants new talks to encompass Iran’s ballistic missile activities and the main crises in the Middle East.
The Trump Administration pulled the United States out of the accord last year and re-imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador is implicitly accusing the United States of destabilizing the tense Middle East by escalating “aggressive, accusatory rhetoric and artificially fueling anti-Iranian sentiment.”
Vassily Nebenzia condemned attacks against tankers at a U.N. Security Council meeting Monday on Yemen, calling for an international investigation to identify the organizers and hold them accountable.
The Trump Administration has accused Iran of the latest attacks.
Without naming the U.S., Nebenzia said, “We underscore that artificially stoking tensions and hasty accusations are hardly conducive to an impartial, international investigation.”
“On the contrary they politicize it and erode trust in such a process,” he said.
The Russian ambassador called on all parties to engage in dialogue and reiterated calls for confidence-building measures and a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
The European Union says it will wait for scientific reports on Iran’s compliance with a nuclear deal negotiated with world powers before announcing its response.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Monday she would not speculate what would happen if Tehran veers away from the terms of the global deal meant to keep Iran from developing nuclear arms.
Mogherini said that “so far, Iran has been compliant with its nuclear commitment as we had expected it to be,” and insisted she would await the next report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the issue.
Iran earlier said it will break the uranium stockpile limit set by the nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the international community should reinstate sanctions if Iran follows through on its threats to step up uranium enrichment.
Speaking at a government ceremony Monday, Netanyahu called for the immediate imposition of “snapback sanctions” if Iran breaks the stockpile limits set in the 2015 nuclear deal.
He added: “In any case, Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.”
An Iranian official said earlier that Iran will break the limit in the next 10 days. He also warned that Iran could enrich uranium at higher 20% levels — just a step away from weapons-grade quality.
Netanyahu says Israel is part of a united front against Iran, with the U.S. and several Arab countries.
In recent weeks tensions between United States and Iran have soared.
A U.S. senator says Iran’s decision to break its uranium stockpile limit under the 2015 nuclear deal puts his country in a bind.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and vocal opponent of President Donald Trump, said on Monday that Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 accord curbing Iran’s nuclear powers was “foolish.”
Iran announced on Monday it would break the uranium stockpile limit set by the nuclear deal by Iran and world powers in the next 10 days.
Leahy says that it’s “harder for us to say much now when we were foolish enough to pull out of the agreement.” He spoke to The Associated Press at the Paris Air Show.
The nuclear deal steadily has unraveled since the Trump administration pulled America out of the accord last year and re-imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran.
Editorials in English-language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates are urging calm and diplomacy after a further spike in tensions following last week’s attack on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf.
Abu Dhabi’s The National says a diplomatic resolution with Iran is still possible, and while it quoted neighboring Saudi Arabia’s crown prince as saying that Iran was behind the first attacks on oil tankers in the region last month, the editorial said investigations were still ongoing and “their source is yet to be confirmed.”
It says the UAE has been calling for de-escalation and believes “diplomacy must always come first.”
Dubai’s Gulf News similarly stressed that “all the major players, including Iran, do not want war.”
It says that “because of skyrocketing tensions, it is incumbent that all parties exercise caution and restraint going forward.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is warning that there’s a limited time to save the country’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Rouhani made the comment on Monday while meeting the new French ambassador to Tehran, Philippe Thiebaud.
Rouhani’s website quoted him as saying that the destruction of the deal was not in anyone’s interests.
Rouhani says: “The current situation is very critical and France and the other parties to the (deal) still have a very limited opportunity to play their historic role for saving the deal.”
He added: “There is no doubt that the collapse of the (accord) will not be beneficial for Iran, France, the region and the world.”
European Union foreign ministers are still looking for more information on who might be behind the attacks on two oil tankers traveling near the Strait of Hormuz and called for utmost restraint.
At Monday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers, Germany and others insisted they need a clearer picture before wading into a diplomatic conflict which could have serious implications in the Middle East.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that U.S. and British intelligence needs to be compared with other information from allies. “We have to be very careful,” he said.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it was not a time to jump to action without proper information. “The maximum restraint and wisdom should be applied,” she said ahead of the monthly foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.
Germany’s foreign minister says his country hasn’t made up its mind yet about who was behind the alleged attacks on oil shipping in the Gulf of Oman.
Heiko Maas told reporters on Monday that Germany is still in the process of collecting information and the evidence provided so far “comes from one side in particular.”
The United States has released what it claims is evidence that Iran was behind two alleged attacks on oil tankers last week near the Strait of Hormuz.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of top European Union diplomats in Luxembourg at which a common stance will be debated, Maas said that “with a decision of this kind the utmost care is required and we’ll take our time for this.”
Iran has denied being involved in the attacks.
A spokesman for Iran’s nuclear program says the country has a need for uranium enriched up to 20%, only a step away from weapon-grade levels.
Behrouz Kamalvandi made the comment in a news conference carried on live television Monday.
Kamalvandi said Iran’s needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor.
When uranium is mined, it typically has about 140 atoms of this unwanted isotope for every atom of U-235. Refining it to a purity of 3.67%, the level now allowed by the nuclear deal, means removing 114 unwanted atoms of U-238 for every atom of U-235.
Boosting its purity to 20% means removing 22 more unwanted isotopes per atom of U-235, while going from there to 90% purity means removing just four more per atom of U-235, he noted. Ninety percent is considered weapons-grade material.
That means going from 20% to 90% is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts.
A spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency says Tehran will increase uranium enrichment levels “based on the country’s needs.”
Behrouz Kamalvandi made the comment in a news conference carried live on state television on Monday.
He says that increase could be to any level, from 3.67% which is the current limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Kamalvandi spoke to local journalists at Iran’s Arak heavy water facility.
His comments come amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S., a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America for the nuclear deal.
Kamalvandi acknowledged that the country already quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium.
12: 45 p.m.
A spokesman for Iran’s atomic agency says the country will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days.
Behrouz Kamalvandi made the comment in a news conference carried live on Iranian state television on Monday.
He spoke to local journalists at Iran’s Arak heavy water facility.
His comments come in the wake of suspected attacks on oil tankers last week in the region that Washington has blamed on Iran and amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S., a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America for the nuclear deal.
Kamalvandi acknowledged that the country already quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium.