◢ President Donald Trump ordered more troops to the Middle East as the Pentagon blamed Tehran for recent attacks in the region, yet the small scale of the U.S. move signaled a desire to avoid a further escalation of tensions between the two nations. The U.S. will bolster forces in the region by about 1,500 troops, though Trump and the Pentagon said that the deployment is for defensive purposes.
◢ Oman said Friday it was trying to reduce spiraling tensions between the Unites States and Iran, as the Pentagon confirmed it was considering deploying more troops to the region. The small but strategically located sultanate, which faces Iran across the highly sensitive Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, has maintained good relations with Tehran throughout successive regional crises.
◢ Iraq's top diplomat Friday called on Iran to respect the landmark deal covering its nuclear program, which has been weakened by the US decision to withdraw from it and Tehran's backing away from certain commitments. "We think the JCPOA is a good agreement," said Iraq's Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim.
◢ India has ended all imports of oil from Iran, its ambassador in Washington said Wednesday, becoming the latest country to grudgingly comply with threatened US sanctions. India had already sharply decreased its imports from Iran and bought one million tons of crude in April, the last month before Washington stepped up its pressure campaign against Tehran and ended all exemptions to oil sanctions.
◢ Ankara stopped importing oil from Iran at the beginning of May out of "respect" for American sanctions despite disagreeing with them, a Turkish official said Wednesday. "As a strategic ally" of the United States, "we respect" the sanctions, said the official, who asked to remain anonymous, during Turkish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Yavuz Selim Kiran's visit to Washington.
◢ Scarred by two decades of conflict, Iraq finds itself caught in the middle of a US-Iranian tug-of-war, fearing it could pay the price of any confrontation between its two main allies. Analysts say third parties may seek to exploit the latest spike in tensions between Tehran and Washington to spark a showdown that serves their own interests.
◢ Democrats were still clamoring for answers about U.S. intentions in Iran, even after a closed-door briefing from Trump administration officials about heightened tensions in the region. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other intelligence officials spoke with House Republicans and Democrats at the Capitol Tuesday.
◢ President Donald Trump's administration charged Tuesday it was "quite possible" Iran was responsible for sabotage of Gulf oil interests but said its robust response had stopped potential attacks on Americans. US officials appeared to be toning down weeks of fiery warnings to Iran before delivering a classified briefing to the full Congress, where rival Democrats have accused the administration of hyping intelligence.
◢ Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government needs more powers to push back against the “economic war” the U.S. is waging, while vowing his nation will stand fast against the Trump administration’s campaign rather than submit to its demands. Today Iran “is in a state of economic war,” he said, referring to U.S. sanctions directed against the country’s vital oil industry and other targets.
◢ Iran has accelerated the rate at which it’s enriching low-grade uranium four-fold, weeks after threatening to gradually scale back its commitments under a 2015 deal meant to prevent it from developing a nuclear bomb. The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, an official at Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, as saying that Iran had increased its output of 3.67% enriched uranium as of Monday.
◢ Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday urged China and Russia to take "concrete actions" to safeguard the 2015 nuclear deal as he warned of a "dangerous" situation amid escalating tensions with the US. China was one of the eight global buyers—India, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy and Greece—that was allowed to import Iranian crude oil before the US ended waivers in early May.
◢ Iran accused the United States Thursday of an "unacceptable" escalation of tensions and said Tehran was showing "maximum restraint" despite Washington's withdrawal from a nuclear deal with world powers. Tensions were already high after President Donald Trump walked away a year ago from the accord, which eased international sanctions in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program.
◢ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned the Trump administration against taking military action in Iran without authorization from Congress, as the U.S. weighs how to respond to rising tensions in the Middle East. "The responsibility in the Constitution is for Congress to declare war," Pelosi said Thursday. "So I hope that the president’s advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way."
◢ The U.S. ordered its non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq amid increasing Middle East tensions that American officials are blaming on Iran, as fears rise that the region may be heading toward another conflict. Most employees at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil, in the majority Kurdish region, will leave due to an “increased threat stream,” according to an embassy statement Wednesday.
◢ The sense of a dangerous drift towards conflict is being compounded by volleys of belligerent rhetoric lobbed from both the United States and Iran. An adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Hesameddin Ashena, taunted Trump on Twitter with the prospect of war, adding an apparent reference to National Security Adviser John Bolton, regarded as a leading Iran hawk.
◢ Members of Congress are seeking answers from the Trump administration on U.S. plans to respond to escalating tensions with Iran, demanding more information about fast-moving developments in the Middle East. U.S. officials will meet Thursday with congressional leaders from both parties in both chambers, including heads of both intelligence committees, to discuss the Middle East, according to a person familiar with the plans.
◢ President Donald Trump rejected a report that his administration is planning for war with Iran, but then warned he’d send “a hell of a lot more” than 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event of hostilities. “I think it’s fake news, OK?” Trump told reporters outside the White House on Tuesday after he was asked about a New York Times report that plans envision sending 120,000 U.S.. troops to fight the Islamic Republic.
◢ The economic hardship triggered by a year of U.S. sanctions has extended to the Islamic Republic’s newspapers, which are struggling to combat fast-rising prices—and shortages—of both paper and printing ink. At a time when Iran’s on front pages around the world, two government-owned dailies have cut coverage while journalists fret about possible layoffs.
◢ President Donald Trump warned Iran against a military provocation and said the country “will suffer greatly” if hostilities break out with the U.S. “We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything it’ll be a very bad mistake, if they do anything,” Trump told reporters on Monday during a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the White House.
◢ As European Union governments scramble to save the Iran nuclear accord from U.S. efforts to scuttle it, the mood in diplomatic circles has blackened. Then suddenly, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo lands in Brussels with little warning. After a cool initial reception to the unscheduled drop-in, Pompeo began meetings with European counterparts to address Iran’s “threatening actions and statements.”
◢ US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Brussels on Monday to discuss "pressing matters" including the Iran nuclear deal, as the European signatories to the accord meet for talks on how to prevent its collapse. The EU reiterated its determination to save the 2015 agreement to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief, as tensions between the US and Iran rack up.
◢ Iran on Monday called attacks on ships in the Gulf "alarming", after the UAE and Saudi Arabia said several vessels including oil tankers were damaged in acts of sabotage off the Emirati coast. "The incidents in the Sea of Oman are alarming and regrettable," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in an English-language statement on the ministry's website.
◢ Iranian officials rebuffed President Donald Trump’s suggestion that they call him to try to defuse frictions as the U.S. ratcheted up its actions against Tehran. Several top Iranian aides and lawmakers predicted Sunday that the current tensions wouldn’t lead to war, calling the U.S. deployment of an aircraft carrier, warship, bomber jets and missile defenses to the Middle East a propaganda stunt.
◢ Iran’s parliament struck a blow for women’s rights by overwhelmingly voting to confer citizenship on children born to an Iranian mother and foreign father. Such a law would represent a significant development for women’s rights in Iran, with possible implications for the wider region, where many countries don’t give women the right to pass on citizenship to their children if the father is a foreign national.
◢ Iran's move to stop respecting some of the agreed limits on its nuclear activities showed it is "not in a position of weakness", a deputy speaker of the Islamic republic's parliament said Sunday. “The timely decision of the Islamic republic regarding its commitments in the (nuclear deal) showed that Iran is not in a position of weakness," said Ali Mottahari, according to the official IRNA news agency.
◢ Snap inspections at Iranian nuclear facilities jumped last year, underscoring the wide-reaching ability of international monitors to access potential sites that could feed clandestine research. The finding was included in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest Safeguards Implementation Report, which is circulating among nuclear-security officials as the specter of another Middle Eastern conflict rises.
◢ US President Donald Trump said Thursday that he is open to talks with the Iranian leadership, amid mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran. "What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me," Trump told reporters at the White House.
◢ No one spelled out Europe’s predicament over the escalating stand-off between the U.S. and Iran quite as bluntly as Russia. It’s up to “the Europeans, who committed to find a solution to the problem created by the Americans, to fulfill their promise,’’ said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, during a joint news conference in Moscow with his Iranian opposite, Mohammad Zarif.
◢ Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday called on European signatories to abide by the Iran nuclear deal, following a meeting in Moscow. Zarif's visit came as Tehran said it had stopped respecting limits on its nuclear activities agreed under the deal until other signatories find a way to bypass renewed US sanctions.
◢ Britain on Wednesday called Iran's decision to no longer respect the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers an "unwelcome step" that could lead to new Western sanctions. Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman later told reporters: "We are extremely concerned about this announcement."
◢ Iran said Wednesday it will stop respecting limits on its nuclear activities agreed under a landmark 2015 deal unless other powers help Tehran bypass renewed US sanctions, amid rising tensions with Washington. The move was part of a package of measures announced by Iran in response to the sweeping unilateral sanctions reimposed by Washington in the 12 months since it quit the agreement, which have had a severe effect on the Iranian economy.