JERUSALEM, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Israel is rallying global action against Iran over an attack on an Israeli-managed tanker off Oman last week but is capable of responding on its own if necessary, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday.
The United States, Britain and Israel blamed Iran for the suspected drone strike on Thursday in which two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed. Tehran denies any involvement.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken predicted a "collective response" to the incident, which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as an "outrageous attack on commercial shipping".
Standing alongside military generals during a tour of Israel's northern border with Syria and Lebanon, Bennett said Israel had shared intelligence with the United States, Britain and others tying Iran to the attack.
"We are working to rally the world, but at the same time we also know to act alone," Bennett said.
"Iran already knows the price we exact when someone threatens our security. The Iranians need to understand that it is impossible to sit placidly in Tehran and ignite the entire Middle East from there. That's over."
Iran said on Monday it would respond promptly to any threat against its security.
Iran and Israel have exchanged accusations of carrying out attacks on each other's vessels in recent months.
Tensions have increased between Iran and Israel since 2018, when then U.S. President Donald Trump ditched Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.
US Republican Senators Slam Release Of Huawei's Meng
WASHINGTON, Sept 25 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said on Saturday the release of Huawei's finance chief raised serious questions about President Joe Biden's ability to confront the threat posed by the technology giant and the Chinese Communist Party.
Rubio, in a text message to Reuters, called on the Biden Administration to brief Congress urgently on the issue.
Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou returned to China on Saturday after reaching an agreement with U.S. prosecutors on Friday to end the bank fraud case against her.
"The release of Ms. Meng raises serious questions about President Biden's ability and willingness to confront the threat posed by Huawei and the Chinese Communist Party," said Rubio. "We have already seen how the administration's single-minded focus on climate is causing them to downplay genocide. This is just another example of the Biden Administration's dangerously soft approach towards Beijing."
Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on a U.S. warrant, and indicted on bank and wire fraud charges for allegedly misleading HSBC in 2013 about the telecommunications equipment giant's business dealings in Iran. She spent more than 1,000 days under house arrest in Canada.
The deal was also criticized by Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, who told Reuters it was more capitulation to China.
"I'm very concerned that this appears, that it could be more appeasement from the Biden Administration, more capitulation," said Hagerty, a former ambassador to Japan. "Huawei is an aggressive predatory company. It's backed by the Chinese Communist Party. We have given up leverage today."
Iran's Ambassador Says Relations With Azerbaijan Are Strong
Iran’s relations with the republic of Azerbaijan are so strong that no foreign power can drive a wedge between them, Tehran’s ambassador to Baku, Abbas Mousavi, said on Saturday.
In recent days there have been reports of military tensions on the border between the two neighbors, after Azerbaijan announced that it had seized a 527-kilogram heroin shipment from Iran to Lithuania.
Mousavi was quoted by the official IRNA news website as saying that Relations are very good and friendly, and both we and the Azerbaijanis know that these friendly relations have many ill-wishers.”
Azerbaijan has been inspecting vehicles entering Armenia from Iran, with some destines to the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian region. The Iranian ambassador said that Tehran respects the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the shipment in question was the work of private shipping companies.
Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan held a military drill near the Iranian border that increased tension. An Iranian foreign ministry official Friday travelled to Baku and had a tripartite meeting with Azeri and Turkish officials. Mousavi said that in this meeting it became clear that a “third party was involved.”
In the past Iran has expressed concern over close ties between Israel and the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Teachers In Iran Protest Low Wages On First Day Of School
Teachers continued their protests on Saturday in several cities across Iran demanding higher salaries and legislation establishing a ranking system. Teachers began the new round of their protests on September 18.
The educational year kicked off on Saturday, as President Ebrahim Raisi promised to improve salaries for teachers and adopt the ranking system demanded by teachers’ groups. They threatened to go on strike if their demands are not met soon.
Teachers in Kurdistan also demanded the right to teach Kurdish at schools, based on article 15 of the Iranian constitution.
Teachers earn meager salaries of around $200 a month, and many are unable to afford a basic living amid a 50-percent inflation rate in the country. Recently, some teachers have committed suicide highlighting the hardship they feel.
Parliament’s education committee has passed new legislation codifying a ranking system for teachers that can help raise their salaries, but parliament has not yet passed the law, which would create new financial obligations for the government.
Iran has a large budget deficit due to lack of oil export revenues and a deep economic crisis that began in 2018 when the United States pulled of the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed tough sanctions.
Raisi Claims Most Vaccinated While Only 15 Million Received Two Doses
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has claimed that in a few days around 60 million people with be vaccinated for Covid-19, while as of Friday only 15 million had received both doses.
Raisi who was speaking at the opening of schools on Saturday said 70 percent of the 85- million population will be vaccinated in a matter of days.
Data published on the health ministry’s website shows that 34 million have received just the first dose and 15 million both doses for a total of close to 50 million. It is clear that Raisi is counting people who received one dose as vaccinated.
Iran’s Covid vaccination lagged for months, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the import of American and British vaccines in January. Iran acquired a limited quantity form China and Russia, while many of its neighbors were ahead using both Western and Chinese vaccines.
In early July a new wave of infections hit Iran and the death rate spiked. As Raisi assumed office in early August, officials began back-pedaling on Khamenei’s ban, claiming he had never banned any vaccines. Soon, large quantities began arriving from China, apparently ordered by the previous government, but the Raisi administration is taking the credit.
Iran Issue Dominates Blinken Meeting With GCC Members
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a meeting with representatives of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Arab states on Thursday in New York, which mainly focused on Iran, The National reported on Friday.
The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirate’s Minister of State Yousef Al Otaiba attended.
Sources told The National that GCC members did not oppose US plans to limit Iran’s nuclear program by restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the 2015 nuclear deal. But some argued that it depends on what concessions Iran would receive.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan reportedly asked Blinken if the United States has any plans in case negotiations with Iran fail, but he did not receive a clear answer.
Several Arab states and Israel are concerned that a revival of the JCPOA would mean lifting of US sanctions without sufficient guarantees that Iran will stop its aggressive regional policies and curtail its missile program.
President Joe Biden announced his intention to restore the JCPOA during last year’s presidential campaign and soon after taking office, talks began in Vienna with the participation of current members of the JCPOA and the US on the sidelines. So far no agreement has been reached and Iran has not set a date to return to the talks that it suspended in June.
Iran's Guards Threaten To 'Remove Zionist Regime Cancer', Expel US
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has issued a statement once again threatening Israel on the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and calling for the expulsion of US forces from the Middle East.
In a long statement issued Friday, the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) has praised Iran’s resistance against Saddam Hussein’s forces for eight years 91980-1988) and has claimed that the war saved the Islamic Republic, which was it said was able to defeat an international conspiracy.
What Iran achieved during the war, the statement says, has helped build a “resistance front” that can grow in power and “with the will of Muslim people can expel America from the region and remove the cancer of the Zionist regime from Islam’s geography.”
The Islamic Republic calls its allies and proxies in the region “the resistance front”. These include Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Palestinian groups in Gaza, Iraqi Shiite militias, Yemen’s Houthis and other affiliated groups.
The IRGC says that the achievement during the war strengthened Islamic forces against Western powers, and mentions Afghanistan as an example, although for years the Islamic Republic viewed the Taliban as a threat.
Hezbollah Says Second Iranian Fuel Ship Has Reached Syria
The Iran-backed Hezbollah has announced that a second Iranian tanker bringing fuel for Lebanon reached Syria’s Banias port on Thursday, the Al Manar TV network said Friday.
Hezbollah chied Hassan Nasrallah said in mid-August that he made a deal with Iran to send fuel to energy-starved Lebanon, which has been facing a serious economic crisis since 2019.
A first tanker arrived in Syria last week and around 50 tanker trucks began carrying the fuel to Lebanon on September 16. It is not clear how many trucks have so far traveled between Syria and Lebanon, but initial reports had said that more than 1,300 truckloads need to be transported.
Iran and Hezbollah have showcased the fuel delivery as a “victory against the United States” which has imposed sanctioned against both, but some of the fuel will be sold, generating cash for the Shiite militant organization.
The Lebanese government has said it has nothing to do with the scheme and it did not receive a request to approve the import. So far the United States or Israel have not taken any steps to prevent the fuel delivery.
French FM Holds 'Thorough And Trustful' Talks With Iraq's President
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian held "thorough and trustful" talks with Iraq's President Barham Salih late on Thursday, wrote Le Drian on his Twitter page.
"Following on from the Baghdad conference of August 28 and the ministerial meeting in New York on September 21, I reaffirmed the support of France for Iraq and for regional dialogue," added Le Drian on Friday, without giving further details.
Iraq has become the playground of rivalries between Iran on one side and the United States, Israel and Gulf Arab states on the other, with attacks against U.S. forces and assassinations of Iranian and Iraqi paramilitary leaders.
Salih on Wednesday told reporters in New York that his country should not be a battleground for proxy forces in the region, directly naming Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Iranian and Gulf Arab officials had met in Baghdad on August 28 on the sidelines of a regional summit that Iraq hoped would encourage its neighbours to talk to each other instead of settling scores on its territory.
Those meetings came months after regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia resumed direct talks in Iraq which have achieved no breakthrough but have helped offset escalating tension in the Middle East.
Reporting by Reuters
US Says Window Open For Iran Nuclear Talks But Won't Be Forever
WASHINGTON, Sept 23 (Reuters) - The window is still open to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal but Tehran has yet to indicate whether it is willing to resume talks in Vienna or whether it would do so on the basis of where they left off in June, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.
The official told reporters on condition of anonymity that Washington's patience would not last forever but declined to set a deadline, saying this depended on technical progress in Iran's nuclear program and a wider judgment by the United States and its partners on whether Iran was willing to revive the deal.
"We're still interested. We still want to come back to the table," the senior U.S. State Department official said in a telephone briefing. "The window of opportunity is open. It won't be open forever if Iran takes a different course."
Under the 2015 deal, Iran curbed its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Former President Donald Trump quit the deal three years ago and re-imposed harsh sanctions on Iran's oil and financial sectors that have crippled its economy, prompting Iran to take steps to violate its nuclear limits.
The U.S. official declined to say what the United States might do if Iran refuses to return to negotiations, or if a resumption of the original deal proves impossible. Such U.S. contingency planning is often referred to as "Plan B."
"The 'Plan B' that we're concerned about is the one that Iran may be contemplating, where they want to continue to build their nuclear program and not be seriously engaged in talks to return to the JCPOA," he said, in a reference to the deal's formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.