The United States ordered its aircraft carrier Nimitz and its strike group to return to the Persian Gulf region to provide “defensive capabilities” during the pullout of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military said Friday.
Although the move was reportedly made public shortly before the assassination of a top nuclear operator in Iran, allegedly by Israel, many will see the return of Nimitz as a deterrent action at a time of high tensions.
"This action ensures we have sufficient capability available to respond to any threat and to deter any adversary from acting against our troops during the force reduction," the Pentagon said in a statement. President Donald Trump ordered a significant reduction of US forces in Afghanistan and Iran earlier this month.
Top Iranian officials have accused the United States and Israel for the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh near Tehran on Friday and have vowed punishment for the perpetrators and “those who ordered” the assassination. Iran has large ballistic and other missile capabilities can threaten Israel and US arab allies in the region.
The Nimitz left port in April and was in the Persian Gulf before joining an exercise with the Indian, Japanese and Australian navies. The Pentagon statement thanked the servicemen for their "dedication".
Zarif Attacks France, Germany, UK For Criticizing Iran's Nuclear Escalation
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has lambasted his French counterpart Jean-Yves La Drian and three major European countries for criticizing Iran’s escalation of its nuclear program.
“Dear colleague: You kick-started your cabinet career with arms sales to Saudi war criminals. Avoid absurd nonsense about Iran. Reality check: YOU are destabilizing OUR region. Stop protecting criminals who chainsaw their critics and use YOUR arms to slaughter children in Yemen”, Zarif told La Drian in a tweet on Sunday.
The French foreign minister in an interview on Saturday said, "This has to stop because Iran and - I say this clearly - is in the process of acquiring nuclear (weapons) capacity", referring to Iran's escalatory steps.
The French foreign minister in an interview on Saturday said, “Iran is in the process of building up its nuclear weapons capacity,” and added, "This has to stop because Iran and - I say this clearly - is in the process of acquiring nuclear (weapons) capacity."
Zarif also in a similar tweet attacked Germany, the United Kingdom and France who on Saturday had issued a joint statement urging Iran not to proceed with producing uranium metal, which can be use in the core of nuclear bombs.
“3 leaders—who rely on signature of OFAC functionaries to carry out their obligations under JCPOA—have done ZILCH to maintain JCPOA”, Zarif tweeted, referring to the Office of Foreign Asset Controls that often issues sanctions against Iran.
Iran has accelerated its uranium enrichment and threatened other actions after the US presidential elections, as Joe Biden has indicated he would return to the 2015 nuclear deal that Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
British-Iranian Woman Detained In Iran Hoping To Be Freed Within Weeks
The husband of a British-Iranian dual national who is under house arrest in her parents’ house in Tehran has said that she is hoping to be freed in seven weeks when her five-year jail term comes to an end.
Richard Ratcliffe, Nazain Zaghri-Ratcliffe's husband, said that he has written to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office asking for further details about the end of her jail term and arrangements for receiving the correct documentation.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News on Saturday that he would leave “no stone unturned” to have Zagahri-Ratcliffe released on time. Britain is "pushing as hard as we can to get the immediate release, not in seven weeks, but as soon as possible, of Nazanin and all of our other dual nationals", Raab said on Sunday.
The jail sentence of the 42-year-old mother and former project coordinator at Thomson Reuters Foundation will officially end on March 7. She has been under house arrest since March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic and has been living at her parents' house in Tehran. She must wear a electronic tag and remain within 300 meters of the house. She spent nearly four years in prison in Iran after being arrested while visiting her family in 2016 and sentenced on political charges without a fair trial.
On September 8 Iranian state media said new charges had been brought against Zaghari-ratcliffe. She attended a court hearing on November 5 during which she was again accused of engaging in "propaganda against the regime" but she has not been sentenced for the new charges.
Asked about reports Zaghari-Ratcliffe is set to be freed, Raab said: “I think that’s based on the existing sentence."
FBI Says Iran Cyber Actors Still Threatening US Election Officials
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation on Saturday issued another alert about continued threats to US election officials by Iranian actors "to create fear, divisions, and mistrust in the United States and undermine public confidence in the US electoral process.".
"The FBI is issuing this announcement to help the public recognize Iranian activity intended to create fear, divisions, and mistrust in the United States and undermine public confidence in the US electoral process," the alert said.
Iranian cyber actors are continuing their "Enemies of the People" (EOTP) online operations by using direct email and text messaging to threaten the lives of these officials and intimidate them and are exposing officials' personal information and photographs on websites, the statement said.
The cyber actors are also using social media sites "to promote and disseminate messaging about the EOTP operation," the FBI claimed.
On December 23, US security agencies said they had highly credible information indicating that Iranian cyber actors were responsible for creating a website featuring death threats aimed at US election officials.
"The post-election creation of the 'Enemies of the People' website demonstrates an ongoing Iranian intent to create divisions and mistrust in the United States and undermine public confidence in the US electoral process," the FBI had said in an earlier alert on December 23.
Iranian officials have vehemently denied claims over election interference in the US. The Iranian foreign ministry on October 22 summoned the Swiss ambassador, who heads the US Interest Section in the Iranian capital, and told him that it made no difference to Iran who won the election in the United States.
Iran Asks IAEA Not To Publish 'Unnecessary' Details About Its Nuclear Program
The Islamic Republic has urged the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog not to publish “unnecessary” details on its nuclear program, a day after France, Germany and the United Kingdom warned Iran not to produce uranium metal, which has “no credible civilian use”.
Iran’s state TV quoted [Jan. 17] a statement Sunday from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) that asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to avoid publishing details on Iran’s nuclear program that may cause confusion.
“It is expected the international atomic energy agency avoid providing unnecessary details and prevent paving ground for misunderstanding” in the international community, the statement said, without elaboration.
Iran announced on January 13 that it intends to produce uranium metal as fuel for a research reactor, prompting concern. Uranium metal is also used in the core of nuclear bombs.
The three European signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran on Saturday called Iran’s move, “the latest planned violation” of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
“Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal,” they said in a joint statement. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.”
Tehran reacted to the European statement Sunday saying Iran informed the IAEA nearly two decades ago of its plans for the “peaceful and conventional” production of uranium metal. It also said it provided updated information to the agency two years ago about its plans to produce silicide advanced fuel.
The statement said uranium metal is an “intermediate product” in the manufacture of uranium silicide, a fuel used in nuclear reactors that is safer and has more power capability than uranium oxide-based fuel, which Iran currently produces.
With reporting by AP
Iranian Long-Range Missile Lands 20 Miles From Commercial Vessel
Fox News reported that at least one Iranian missile landed 20 miles from a commercial ship and 100 miles away from the American aircraft career USS Nimitz currently located in the Indian Ocean.
American officials have not offered any further information but a source said that although 20 miles distance from a commercial ship is concerning, the United States Navy does not consider it a threat.
According to Fox News, at least once long-range Iranian ballistic missile hit about 20 miles from the commercial ship and two other missiles exploded after hitting the ocean about 100 miles from the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group.
One American official told Fox News: We were expecting the missile launch, but there was concern about just how close Iran was willing to push its limits.”
January 3 marked the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Pentagon had put American forces in the Middle East on alert about the possibility of retaliation from the Islamic Republic.
Earlier this week, in a show of force, an American guided-missile submarine armed with more than 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles cam eclose to Iranian naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz.
Nimitz has remained in the northern Arabian Sea on the orders of President Donald Trump.
“Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other US government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said on January 3.
Iran’s Objection Note To Swiss Embassy For Limitations On Its Diplomats In US
Saeed Khatibzadeh, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran announced that the ministry has sent an official “warning” note to the Swiss embassy regarding the restrictions that the US government has enforced on Iranian diplomats and their families in the US.
Khatibzadeh said the US government has created a lot of restrictions for Iranian diplomats and their families dealing with international organizations.
He did not offer more explanation but threatened that if the United States does not cease its restricting actions the Islamic Republic will bring a lawsuit to the international court.
The Trump administration last year extended the travel bans to Iranian diplomats.
According to the ban, Iranian diplomats in the US can only commute between the United Nations, the Iranian Mission’s office to the UN, the residence of the Iranian representative, and the JFK airport.
Similar restrictions were put on North Korean, Cuban, and Syrian missions to the UN.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year mentioned the fact that Iranian officials in the US are free to interview with American media and spread propaganda against the US, but the Islamic Republic would never have him on state-TV. He challenged the Iranian state-TV to invite him on for a live interview. A challenge the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) left unanswered.
Iran's Currency Rebounds With Hopes Of Biden Reducing Sanctions
The rial jumped 2 percent against the US dollar and other major currencies in trading Saturday on the Iranian foreign currency exchange market. The National Foreign Exchange Bureau (Sarrafi Melli) announced a new dollar rate at 234,000 rials, 4,500 down since Thursday.
In the past week the dollar has fallen 6 percent against the rial, with a similar fall in the value of gold against the rial, in anticipation of a reduction in US sanctions.
President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The Trump administration withdrew from the agreement and imposed heavy sanctions, driving the Iranian currency eightfold lower.
Some traders believe the rial’s upward trend will stop once US President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, Tejarat News, a financial newspaper, wrote on Friday. But Tejarat News suggested the rial would rise further if Iran could free some of its assets frozen in other countries’ such as South Korea and Iraq and introduce dollars into the market.
Some experts believe the 20-percent drop in the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) in the past month could reflect the rise in rial because export-oriented companies listed on the exchange benefit from a low rial. “The dollar may drop to around 200,000 rials, which will cause a further downward trend in the stock market,” Salman Nasirzadeh, investment expert, was quoted by the government news agency IRNA as saying on January 12.
Former Political Prisoner In Iran Rejects US Sanctions-Busting Charges
A former student activist in Iran previously jailed on political charges has issued a statement lambasting the United States for charging him for illegal shipments of banned goods to the Islamic Republic.
Abdollah Momeni, 44, spent five years in Tehran’s Evin prison until 2013 as a leading member of the student movement, which was a driving force behind Iran’s reform movement.
In his statement published by Ensaf News on Friday [January 15], Momeni denied the charges announced January 12 by US authorities and said that while assisting a company in Iran he played a role in obtaining industrial products “through Amazon and Ebay” with no military use.
There are many US sanctions in place against Iran, some imposed in the 1980 and later, and many new sanctions since 2018. These sanctions, among other things, forbid the export of goods to Iran that could be used for military and intelligence purposes.
Momeni was charged alongside Arash Yousefi Jam and Amin Yousefi Jam – both of Ontario, Canada – who allegedly assisted him in acquiring nine electrical discharge boards, one CPU board, two servo motors, and two railroad crankshafts from the US to Iran in violation of economic sanctions. Momeni lives in Iran.
“The defendants deceived US companies, illegally obtained sensitive US items, and transshipped those items through the UAE [United Arab Emirates] to Iran in violation of US law,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. The charges also include money laundering.
Momeni said that the US has no right to apply its domestic laws to foreign nationals and bring charges without giving them a chance to defend themselves. He did not refer to his right to have an attorney in the US.
Iran Continues Military Exercises Showcasing Missiles
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced Saturday [January 16] that on the second day of missile and drone drills, ballistic missiles were fired at imaginary targets in the northern Indian Ocean at 1,800 km or around 1,200 miles. The IRGC on Friday began the drills in Iran’s central desert, firing missiles and dispatching “bomber drones,” claiming they were able to break through “the enemy’s” air defenses.
State television broadcast a film showing the launch of the missiles, although claims made by Iran’s military cannot be verified since no independent journalists had access to information. The recent US military build-up includes a nuclear-powered submarine armed with 154 Tomahawk Cruise missiles with a 2,700-km range, and the recalled aircraft carrier Nimitz in the nearby Arabian Sea.
Hossein Salami, IRGC commander-in-chief, announced: “One of our important aims is to be able to target the enemy’s vessels, whether aircraft carriers and other warships, with our long-range ballistic missiles.”
The current drills dubbed “The Great Prophet” followed naval exercises on Wednesday and Thursday when the Army’s navy announced the firing of types of missiles and a submarine-launched torpedo. As tensions with the US have increased in recent years, Iran has held many drills in the Persian Gulf region where the US has a string of military bases.
The US Navy has its Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, a presence established in 1949. The US Air Force command center is in Qatar’s Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar after leaving Saudi Arabia in 2003. US President Donald Trump has drastically reduced the US troop presence in Afghanistan and Iraq to a combined 5,000.
Iran's Ministry Of Health Prevents Contraception For Tribal Areas
Following the vision of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for population increase, Iran’s Ministry of Health issued an order that forbids the supply of any type of contraceptive in the nomadic tribal areas of Iran.
The ministry’s decision to prevent contraception is part of the government policy demanded by by Khamenei to increase the population of the country from 83 million to 150 million.
Andisheh Pouya magazine in Iran writes: “The officials in nomadic tribal areas say many women visit health centers to receive contraceptives, but the health centers have been forbidden from providing them due to the order of Health Ministry.”
Women in these tribes are married away at a very young age, and they are forced to bear children without their consent, which is the cause for the significantly high rate of suicide and self-immolation of women in these areas.
Iran’s Ministry of Health has also removed vasectomy and tubectomy procedures from Iran’s health network except in cases of health risks.
The chairman of Population Health and Family at the Ministry of Health says Iran is facing “a population trap” and “for the first time in history, Iran’s population growth has dropped under one percent and the decrease has accelerated in recent years.
Khamenei in 2011 for the first time emphasized the importance of population growth in Iran, and said: “With our capacities, I believe our country can hold 150 million people. Any population control and management must cease until we reach 150 million.”
Iran’s population growth rate in the 1980s reached almost 4 percent, but it was later controlled and brought significantly down with massive population control programs.