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Archive for the ‘The Shi’ism Plague’ Category

Iran 5.9 magnitude earthquake kills at least 5, injures 300

November 08, 2019

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck northwestern Iran early Friday, killing at least five people and injuring over 300 others, officials said. The temblor struck Tark county in Iran’s Eastern Azerbaijan province at 2:17 a.m., Iran’s seismological center said. The area is some 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Iran’s capital, Tehran.

Over 40 aftershocks rattled the rural region nestled in the Alborz Mountains, and residents rushed out of their homes in fear. The quake injured at least 312 people, state television reported, though only 13 needed to be hospitalized. It described many of the injuries happening when people fled in panic.

The head of Iran’s emergency medical services, Pirhossein Koulivand, gave the casualty figures to state television. There were no immediate video or images broadcast from the area. Rescuers have been dispatched to the region, officials said. State TV reported the earthquake destroyed 30 homes at its epicenter.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake’s epicenter was at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage. Iran is on major seismic faults and experiences one earthquake a day on average. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.

A magnitude 7 earthquake that struck western Iran in 2017 killed more than 600 people and injured more than 9,000.

Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat and Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran, Iran, and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Iran, Russia lash out at US plans to protect oil in Syria

October 29, 2019

GENEVA (AP) — Iran and Russia on Tuesday criticized and scoffed at Trump administration plans to protect oil deposits in Syria, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accusing Washington of “illegal” actions.

Lavrov joined Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Geneva to lend support to U.N.-backed talks among Syrian government, opposition and civil society delegations on the country’s constitution starting Wednesday.

The most pointed comments at their joint news conference addressed new Pentagon plans to increase efforts to protect Syria’s oil fields from both the Islamic State radical group and the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian government, even as U.S. forces are withdrawn from other parts of the country.

“Well, it seems that the United States is staying to protect the oil — and at least President Trump is honest to say what the United States intends to do,” said Zarif with a smile. Lavrov accused the United States of looking for a “pretext” to protect the oil deposits. He said any “exploitation of natural resources of a sovereign state without its consent is illegal,” according to a translator of his remarks in Russian.

Cavusoglu, however, remained focused on a top priority for Turkey in Syria: Ensuring that Kurdish fighters whom the United States supported to help drive out ISIS don’t threaten Turkish interests. Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s. Turkey, U.S. and the European Union have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Turkey has led a military incursion into northeastern Syria to create a 30-kilometer (19-mile) “safe zone” between Kurdish fighters and the Turkish border. Cavusoglu reiterated the hopes of Turkey — along with much of the international community — that Syria won’t split apart. He suggested that areas now controlled by Turkish forces and their allies in Syria could one day be “handed over” to the Syrian government, especially if the talks enhance prospects for peace and stability.

“When times come that the Syrian regime, at the end of this political process, is capable enough to protect the country’s territories and eliminate the terrorist organization (PKK) from that, I think all the territories should be handed over to Syria,” he said. “This is the territory of Syria.”

High-stakes gamble: Iranian envoy gets surprise G-7 invite

August 25, 2019

BIARRITZ, France (AP) — A top Iranian official paid an unannounced visit Sunday to the G-7 summit and headed straight toward the heart of the city where leaders of the world’s major democracies have been debating how to handle the country’s nuclear ambitions.

France’s surprise invitation of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was a high-stakes gamble for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is the host of the Group of Seven gathering in Biarritz.

Zarif spent about five hours in Biarritz after his plane touched down at the airport, which has been closed since Friday to all flights unrelated to the official G-7 delegations. A senior French official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, said Macron personally informed U.S. President Donald Trump about the invitation to Zarif.

The official noted that Macron and Trump met for two hours Saturday and discussed Iran at length, as well as at the informal group dinner Saturday night. Another French official said that France “is working in full transparency with the U.S. and in full transparency with European partners.” The Iranian met with Macron as well as diplomats from France, Germany and Britain at the Biarritz city hall, the official said.

Zarif, who is under U.S. sanctions, had been scheduled to go to Asia as part of a tour to seek support for Iran amid the American campaign against it since Trump withdrew the U.S. from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Trump had not “set preconditions” on negotiations with Iran. Zarif arrived as fissures emerged among G-7 leaders over how to deal with Iran. Macron said the leaders agreed during a dinner the night before that the French president could serve as a G-7 messenger to Iran. Trump denied agreeing to anything, and Macron was forced to play down his role and acknowledge Trump’s status as “the president of the world’s number one power.”

The French official also said that based on Saturday night’s dinner, France considers it important to check in with Zarif to continue to bring positions closer together and ease tensions. The official said the French are not “mediators” but think they can contribute to de-escalation.

Macron said he has no formal mandate to speak for the G-7 leaders in delivering a message to Iran, but that he would be able to address the issue in the context of what they agreed to during the dinner.

For several months, Macron has taken a lead role in trying to save the 2015 nuclear accord, which has been unraveling since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. His office said the G-7 leaders agreed he should serve as a go-between with Iran.

“I haven’t discussed that,” Trump said Sunday morning. He described the dinner as “very, very good” and blamed the media for anything that implied otherwise. But it seemed from other accounts that the dinner had been tense, with a clear divide between him and the rest of the G-7.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, greeting Macron for a morning meeting, congratulated the French president and shook his hand. “Well done. Bien joué,” Johnson said, using the French expression for “well played” often uttered in a successful round of cards.

“You did very well last night. My God that was a difficult one. You did brilliant,” he added. Tristen Naylor, deputy director of the G7 Research Group, described the invitation as “a wild-card move.” “The risks to the French president were quite large. He could have evoked a very strong and negative reaction from the American president — everything from outright condemnation to actually the American president just saying enough of this and getting on the plane and flying away,” Naylor said.

But the invitation was also something of a mirror of Trump’s own high-stakes diplomacy. “Something that we’ve learned over the 2 ½ years about the American president is that what works with him, what resonates with him, is surprise, is a big move, something flashy,” he said. “And the French president has taken a page from it, I think, executed a maneuver out of it with great aplomb.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Zarif’s presence was parallel to any G-7 events and that everyone agreed to seek more talks rather than tensions. She added: “It is absolutely right to explore every possibility, and what we discussed yesterday — which wasn’t a formal assignment for anyone. But Iran certainly should know what we discussed.”

After Zarif left, Macron and Trump had several apparently friendly exchanges as they prepped for the group photo of the leaders. “Maybe Macron jumped the gun and misinterpreted. But we haven’t been hearing howls of fury from the American delegation. It wouldn’t be surprising if this is something which was, if not green-lighted, then not red-lighted by Washington,” said Francois Heisbourg, adviser at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies and at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research. “This may not be the best of ideas from Washington’s standpoint. But it doesn’t hurt the Americans.”

The G-7 leaders focused much of Sunday on what they can do to boost growth at a time of heightened uncertainty. Manufacturers around the world are smarting from the trade dispute between the U.S. and China , which has led to new import taxes on hundreds of billions of dollars-worth of goods. Businesses don’t know where tariffs will be imposed next.

The White House had said putting the economy on the agenda was Trump’s idea, but the G-7 has for over four decades always included a focus on the economy. It was founded as a response to the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s and the recession that followed.

The backdrop is particularly worrying this year, with the U.S. economy slowing and Germany and Italy close to recession. Meanwhile, Britain is due to leave the EU in October, and there is no agreement on how it should happen, raising the possibility of a disorderly exit that could wreak havoc for business in Europe.

Johnson said Britain and Europe needed to prepare for that, saying the prospect of a Brexit deal was “touch and go.” The G-7 summit includes the heads of Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Canada and Italy as well as a representative of the 28-country EU.

In the nearby town of Bayonne, protesters demanded Macron do more to protect French workers and the planet. A mix of activists, some wearing yellow vests, carried portraits of the French president as they marched Sunday in solidarity with environmental activists who removed official portraits of Macron from town halls around France earlier this year to protest his climate change policies.

Internationally, Macron is a vocal champion of fighting climate change and has challenged Trump on the issue. At home in France, however, activists accuse him of lagging on promises to wean France from fossil fuels.

Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; Geir Moulson in Berlin; Angela Charlton in Paris; and Zeke Miller and David McHugh in Biarritz contributed to this report.

Iran says downed US drone recovered in its territorial waters

By Sebastian Smith with Marc Jourdier in Tehran

Washington (AFP)

June 20, 2019

Iran said Thursday it had recovered parts of a US spy drone in its territorial waters, after downing the aircraft in a missile strike slammed by President Donald Trump as a “big mistake.”

Under pressure to respond to the high-stakes incident in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, where a series of tanker attacks have sent tensions soaring with Iran, Trump initially struck a combative tone.

“Iran made a very big mistake!” he tweeted in response to news Iran had shot down the Global Hawk surveillance aircraft — which the Pentagon says was above international waters at the time.

“This country will not stand for it, that I can tell you,” he said later at the White House.

But as the overnight incident whipped up fears of open conflict between the United States and its declared foe Iran — sending crude oil prices up more than six percent — Trump moved swiftly to dial back tensions.

“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”

The president’s mixed message left the world unsure what Washington’s next move would be.

“You will find out,” Trump said, when asked about possible retaliation.

In Tehran, however, the message came loud and clear.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced late Thursday that parts of the drone had been recovered in Iranian territorial waters, as Tehran moved to bring the incident before the United Nations.

“We don’t seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters,” Zarif said.

– Drone violating or victim? –

The Pentagon denounced the “unprovoked attack,” claiming the navy drone was 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Iran when destroyed by a surface-to-air missile.

But the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it brought the drone down as it was “violating Iranian air space” over the waters of Hormozgan province.

Zarif provided coordinates to back the claim.

“At 00:14 US drone took off from UAE in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace,” Zarif tweeted. “It was targeted at 04:05 at the coordinates (25?59’43″N 57?02’25″E) near Kouh-e Mobarak.”

“We’ve retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down.”

But the Pentagon published a map showing the flight path of the drone, which indicated it traveled outside of Iranian waters and included a photograph showing it was at the coordinates (25?57’42″N 56?50’22″E) when it was downed.

In a letter to the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Iran protested against a “dangerous and provocative act by the U.S. military forces against the territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The drone downing came as Iran was already accused by Washington of carrying out attacks on oil tankers in the congested Hormuz area.

Tehran denies involvement but has frequently threatened to block the sea lanes used to ship much of the world’s oil exports.

The commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command, Sean Kido, said a mine allegedly used in one of the attacks matched Iranian weaponry and that incriminating fingerprints had also been collected.

– Options ‘running out?’ –

Trump has repeatedly said he does not favor war with Iran unless it is to stop the country getting a nuclear weapon — something Iranian leaders insist they are not pursuing.

But Trump critics say his policy of “maximum pressure” — including crippling economic sanctions, abandonment of an international deal to regulate Iran’s nuclear activities, and deployment of extra troops to the region — make war ever more likely.

A key Republican ally of Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham, said the president’s “options are running out.”

Asked if he believed the countries were nearing conflict, he replied: “I think anybody would believe that we’re one step closer.”

“They shot down an American asset well within international waters trying to assess the situation. What are you supposed to do?”

One of Trump’s biggest opponents, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, warned that “there’s no appetite for wanting to go to war in our country.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu blasted “Iranian aggression” and said “Israel stands by the United States.”

But Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has close relations with Iran’s leadership, said US military retaliation “would be a disaster for the region.”

– Diplomatic, military brinkmanship –

Trump’s arrival in the White House, alongside veteran Mideast hawks like national security adviser John Bolton, has seen sharp deterioration in relations with Tehran.

Trump began last May by abandoning — and effectively wrecking — the 2015 international agreement on bringing Iran in from the diplomatic cold in exchange for verified controls on its nuclear industry.

That has prompted Iran to threaten it will stop observing restrictions agreed to under the deal on enrichment of uranium.

The threat has been seen as an effort to pressure European governments that want to save the nuclear deal to push back against Washington. The US State Department called that “extortion.”

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Iran_says_downed_US_drone_recovered_in_its_territorial_waters_999.html.

Iran unveils homegrown surface-to-air missile defense system

by Allen Cone

Washington (UPI)

Jun 11, 2019

Iran formally delivered a new new surface-to-air missile system, called Khordad 15th, to the Air Defense Force of its army in a ceremony in Tehran.

Built in Iran, the system — named after the third month of the Iranian calendar — is capable of detecting six targets within a range of 93 miles at a maximum height of 17 miles and hit them in a range of 75 miles, Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami said Sunday in a report by the semi-official Mehr News Agency.

Stealth jets can be targeted at 53 miles and hit within 28 miles, Mehr reported. Other targets include reconnaissance aircraft, bombers and tactical warplanes.

“It can also be prepared for operation in less than five minute,” Hatami said.

The system uses the homegrown Sayyad-3 missile, and is equipped with a phased array radar and independent launch pads.

“Iran will increase its military capabilities to protect its national security and interests, and it will not ask permission from anyone on this matter,” Hatami said at the unveiling.

In February, the country successfully tested the Hoveizeh long-range cruise missile at a range of around 800 miles, including the capability of reaching Israel.

Later in the month, a midget Ghadir-class submarine fired an anti-ship cruise missile for the first time.

Before Sunday’s ceremony, Iran’s foreign minister urged European countries to uphold commitments under the 2015 nuclear accord.

Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized European and Western policies as having “only caused damage in the region.” He said “Europeans are not in a position to criticize Iran for issues outside the JCPOA,” referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

“Now some countries like Germany have stopped selling arms to Saudi Arabia for bombarding the people of Yemen, some other countries haven’t done so,” he added. “In general, the West has allowed the autocratic regimes in our region to commit crimes.”

In early May, Europe and China were given a 60-day deadline for Iran to resume enriching uranium to a higher degree than permitted by the accord if they challenge the U.S. position. Last, year, U.S. President Donald Trump ended the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions.

The United States also last month deployed the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf last month, as well as B-52 bombers and an additional 1,500 troops, to counter imminent concerns about Iranian action.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told a Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee last month there was a “very, very credible” intelligence that Iran was preparing to attack U.S. forces or interests in the region.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Iran_unveils_homegrown_surface-to-air_missile_defense_system_999.html.

US to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group: WSJ

Washington (AFP)

April 5, 2019

The United States will designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, an unprecedented move that would ramp up pressure on the elite force, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The newspaper, quoting unnamed officials, said President Donald Trump’s administration would announce the long-mulled decision as soon as Monday and that concerned defense officials were bracing for the impact.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp was formed after the 1979 Islamic revolution with a mission to defend the clerical regime, in contrast to more traditional military units that protect borders.

The Revolutionary Guards have amassed strong power within Iran, including with significant economic interests.

The Guards’ prized unit is the Quds Force, named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem, which supports forces allied with Iran around the region including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The Trump administration has already imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran after withdrawing last year from an international agreement under which Tehran drastically scaled back its nuclear program.

A foreign terrorist designation would make any activities of the group toxic for the United States, with any transactions involving US institutions or individuals subject to punishment.

The Wall Street Journal said that the Pentagon and the CIA had reservations about the move, saying it would increase risks for US troops without doing much more to damage the Iranian economy…

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_to_declare_Irans_Revolutionary_Guards_as_terrorist_group_WSJ_999.html.

Iran’s foreign minister in Pakistan amid tensions with US

May 24, 2019

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister lashed out at President Donald Trump on Friday during a critically timed visit to Pakistan amid a simmering crisis between Tehran and Washington and ahead of next week’s emergency Arab League meeting called by Saudi Arabia over the region’s tensions.

The remarks by Mohammad Javad Zarif were the latest in a war of words between him and Trump. The Iranian diplomat on Friday assailed the American president for his tweet earlier this week warning Iran not to threaten the U.S. again or it would face its “official end.”

“Iran will see the end of Trump, but he will never see the end of Iran,” Zarif was quoted by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency as saying during a visit to Islamabad. Tensions have ratcheted up recently in the Mideast as the White House earlier this month sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran. And on Thursday, the Pentagon outlined proposals to the White House to send military reinforcements to the Middle East to beef up defenses against Iran.

The purpose of Zarif’s visit to Pakistan, where he held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi and also Prime Minister Imran Khan, was not made public. But there has been speculation that Iran is looking to Islamabad and its close relationship with Riyadh to help de-escalate the situation. Ahead of Zarif’s arrival, Pakistan’s foreign ministry called on “all sides to show restraint, as any miscalculated move, can transmute into a large-scale conflict.”

Zarif has been criticized this week by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who named him and President Hassan Rouhani as failing to implement the leader’s orders over Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Khamenei had claimed the deal had “numerous ambiguities and structural weaknesses” that could damage Iran.

Separately, the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Zarif in Islamabad as warning of anarchy if world powers don’t unite to stop what he called U.S. aggression — Iran’s official parlance for Washington’s pressure on Tehran.

The crisis takes root in the steady unraveling of the nuclear deal, intended to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The accord promised economic incentives in exchange for restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activities.

The Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year, and subsequently re-imposed and escalated U.S. sanctions on Tehran — sending Iran’s economy into freefall. Khamenei’s criticism of Zarif signaled a hard-line tilt in how the Islamic Republic will react going forward amid President Donald Trump’s maximalist pressure campaign.

Iran declared earlier this month that the remaining signatories to the deal — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — have two months to develop a plan to shield Iran from American sanctions. On Monday, Iran announced it had quadrupled its production capacity of low-enriched uranium, making it likely that Tehran will soon exceed the stockpile limitations set by the nuclear accord, which would escalate the situation further.

Several incidents have added to the crisis. On Thursday, Saudi Arabia said Yemen’s Iran-aligned rebels again targeted an airport near its southern border with a bomb-carrying drone. The Saudi military said it intercepted the drone, while the rebel Houthis said it struck a Patriot missile battery at the airport. The Houthis have claimed three times in recent days to have targeted the airport, which also hosts a military base. It comes after the Houthis last week targeted a Saudi oil pipeline in a coordinated drone attack.

Pakistan was quick to condemn the attacks and promised Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally, its full support. The kingdom this week announced a $3.2 billion deferred oil and gas payment package for energy-strapped Islamabad.

With neighboring Iran, Pakistan walks a fine line and their relationship is sometimes prickly. Islamabad has little leverage with Washington, although relations between the two have improved since Pakistan expressed readiness to help move talks between the Afghan Taliban and Washington forward.

IRNA also reported that Zarif came to Pakistan with a proposal to link Iran’s port of Chabahar on the Arabian Sea with Pakistan’s Gwadar port, mostly being developed by China as part of the multi-billion-dollar One Road project that will connect the Arabian Sea with China.

The proposal is unexpected because Pakistan’s rival India has been Iran’s partner in developing Chabahar while Iran’s key regional rival, Saudi Arabia, has been in talks to develop an oil refinery facility at Pakistan’s Gwadar, though no agreements have been signed.

Meanwhile, Oman’s Foreign Ministry said it was working to “ease the tensions” between Iran and the U.S. The ministry in a series of tweets on Friday morning attributed the comments to Yusuf bin Alawi, the sultanate’s minister of state for foreign affairs, and cited an interview in Asharq Al-Wasat, the London-based newspaper owned by a Saudi media group long associated with the Al Saud royal family.

In the interview, bin Alawi warns war “could harm the entire world if it breaks out.” He doesn’t confirm any current Omani mediation but says both the U.S. and Iran realize the gravity of the situation.

Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said spoke last week by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Oman, a nation on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, has long been an interlocutor of the West with Iran. The U.S. held secret talks in Oman with the Iranians that gave birth to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Vahdat reported from Tehran, Iran. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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