A group of unidentified Iranians boarded the Asphalt Princess tanker in the Sea of Oman on Tuesday, Argus Media reported Wednesday, after it heard recording of a conversation between the ship and the UAE coastguard.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) had earlier on its website reported a “potential hijack” and advised ships to exercise extreme caution due to the incident, around 60 nautical miles east of Fujairah, one of the emirates.
The United States and the United Kingdom on Tuesday said they were closely following the incident as it seemed a potential hijack situation was developing.
In the recording, a crew member tells the coastguard that 5-6 Iranians are on board and that the ship was drifting. The crew member did not understand what the intruders wanted and suggested the coasguard talks directly to them.
UKMTO, the Royal Navy information service for shipping, reported Wednesday that the incident was “complete,” suggesting boarders had left the tanker Asphalt Princess.
The Times Tuesday cited “British sources” saying they were “working on the assumption that Iranian military or proxies boarded the vessel.” The British foreign ministry said it was “urgently investigating” an incident on a vessel off the UAE coast.
Last Thursday, another commercial vessel was attacked in the Arabia Sea with suicide drones. The US, UK and Israel blamed Iran for the attack and are planning a response.
Iran has denied any role or responsibility in both incidents.
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.
Yemen's Houthis Near Marib City, Eyeing Gas And Oil Fields
DUBAI, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Houthi military forces are intensifying their push towards the central Yemeni city of Marib, which is held by the Saudi-backed government, and are stepping up fighting in the south, Houthi group and Yemeni military sources said on Thursday.
After recent advances and fierce fighting, Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said the group's fighters were on the western outskirts of Marib city and pushing up on other fronts having inflicted many casualties in recent months.
A Yemeni government military source said Houthi forces are around 18 km west of Marib city, but the main fighting has been in the southern region of Shabwa, which has several oil fields and the country's sole liquified natural gas terminal.
Marib lies about 120 km (75 miles) east of the capital Sanaa, which the Iran-aligned Houthis seized along with most of north Yemen in 2014 when they ousted the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
They have since early this year advanced on three fronts towards the Marib region, which is the government's last northern stronghold and has Yemen's biggest gas fields. There have been many casualties on both sides.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in the war in 2015 to try to restore Hadi's government to power but the conflict has dragged on, killing tens of thousands and causing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The escalation in fighting comes as U.N. and U.S. envoys have been in the region to try to revive stalled peace talks.
Western Countries Again Urge Iran To Return To Nuclear Talks
The French foreign ministry on Thursday warned that time is running out for a potential nuclear deal with Iran, as Tehran “worsens its nuclear violation”. At same time the Austrian foreign minister said that Iran “must commit to the talks.
A French foreign ministry spokesman said that “If Iran is in good faith when it says it wants to return to and preserve the JCPOA, then it must immediately return to the negotiating table it left over three months ago and it must cease its contrary activities. to the Agreement.”
Iran suspended the Vienna nuclear talks in June saying its newly elected president needed time to organize his government, but more than a month has passed since the formation of his cabinet.
The spokesman added, “France is in close consultation with its E3 partners, its other JCPOA partners and the United States on this very worrying situation.”
Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said in New York on Wednesday that the Vienna talks will resume and his Iranian counterpart has confirmed that during their meeting. However, he said, “We are approaching a 'point of no return”. He also made it clear to the Iranian foreign minister that there is now a “good deal of mistrust”.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State met with permanent members of the UN Security Council and he “reiterated the United States’ intent to pursue a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and to address our full range of concerns with Iran,” the State Department announced.
UK Minister Urges Iran To Return To Nuclear Talks, Free Dual Nationals
British foreign minister Liz Truss held her first meeting with Iran's foreign minister and urged Iran to return rapidly to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiations in Vienna with a view to all sides coming back into compliance and reducing tensions over Iran's nuclear program, a UK government spokesman said on Wednesday.
UK's Truss and Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian held their meeting to discuss bilateral, nuclear and regional issues, the spokesman added.
Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers that began in April were suspended in June after Iran’s presidential elections. Tehran says its new government needs time to prepare for the next round of talks, but Europe and the United States have repeatedly urged Iran to resume negotiations.
The spokesman added that the foreign minister also called for the release and return home of British dual national detainees.
Iran has detained British dual national Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliff since 2016 on charges of trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic regime. She was arrested when she visited her family.
Tehran also holds British-Iranian businessman Anoosheh Ashoori, who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison on alleged spying for Israel. All dual nationals and foreigners detained by Iran are facing charges either for spying or anti-regime activities and tried in closed-door courts.
Iraqi President Says His Country Should Not Be A Proxy Battleground
Iraq should not be used as a proxy battleground by others, President Barham Salih told the media in New York, where he is due to address the UN General Assembly.
"We want to have stable, peaceful relations with our neighbors, with Iran, sovereign state to a sovereign state. That will also mean for the Turks, that will mean for the Saudis, for the others. Using Iraq as a proxy zone is not going to work for anybody,” Salih said on Wednesday.
Iran has organized thousands of Iraqi Shiite militiamen and has established influence over many politicians in Iraq. Its proxies have been attacking American forces in the past three years. In January 2020, the US killed Iran’s top Middle East operative, General Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad.
While condemning proxy conflict on its soil, Salih also underlined the importance of its relationship with Iran, saying, "we cannot but recognize the importance of this relationship, and we should not be shy about or hesitant about acknowledging the importance of Iraq's relationship with Iran."
Salih also acknowledged the US government's vital long-term commitment to a strong and stable Iraq.
"America remains important. America is a global power, as I say, the pre-eminent power, undeniably so. But it is about our own destiny and we have to take charge of it," Salih said.