Iran says it has arrested CIA spies; UK to unveil response to ship crisis

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran said on Monday it had captured 17 spies working for the CIA and sentenced some of them to death, an announcement President Donald Trump dismissed as “totally false” amid an escalating international crisis over tankers in the Gulf.

The Iranian announcement came hours before Britain was due to unveil its response to Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker, a move that has escalated a three-month confrontation that nearly drew the United States and Iran into a shooting war.

“The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth. Just more lies and propaganda (like their shot-down drone) put out by a Religious Regime that is Badly Failing and has no idea what to do. Their Economy is dead, and will get much worse. Iran is a total mess!” tweeted Trump.

Iranian state television published images it said showed CIA officers who had been in touch with the suspected spies. The Ministry of Intelligence said the 17 spies had been arrested in the 12 months to March 2019. Some had been sentenced to death, according to another report.

Such announcements are not unusual in Iran and are often made for domestic consumption. But the timing suggested a hardening of the Iranian position as the Gulf crisis escalates.

In London, Prime Minister Theresa May led a meeting of her government’s COBR emergency committee to respond to Friday’s capture of the Stena Impero tanker by Iranian commandoes who abseiled onto its deck from helicopters in the Strait of Hormuz.

British ministers were expected to unveil their plans in a speech to parliament later on Monday. Regional experts say London has few good options to exert leverage over Iran at a time when Washington has already imposed the maximum possible economic sanctions, banning Iran’s global oil exports.

But the incident may prompt Britain and other countries to be more forthcoming as Washington has asked its reluctant allies to provide more ships to help secure the Gulf.

Asked on Fox News about any possible U.S. role over the seized tanker, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said pointedly: “The responsibility ... falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships.”

Confrontation between the United States and Iran has spiraled since last year when President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement signed by his predecessor Barack Obama which guaranteed Iran access to world trade in return for curbs to its nuclear program.

In May this year Washington closed loopholes in sanctions, effectively barring all countries from buying Iranian oil.

Since then, Iran has stepped up its nuclear activity beyond limits in the deal and Washington has accused Tehran of attacking ships in the Gulf. In June, after Iran shot down a U.S. drone, Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes, only to abort them minutes before impact, the closest the United States has come to bombing Iran in their 40 year history of animosity.

Last week the United States said it had shot down an Iranian drone, which Tehran denied.

Washington’s major European allies Britain, France and Germany opposed Trump’s decision to quit the nuclear deal and have tried to remain neutral. But Britain was drawn more directly into the confrontation on July 4 when its Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar, accused of violating European sanctions on Syria.

Iran repeatedly threatened to retaliate for that incident and has made little secret that its capture of the Stena Impero two weeks later was intended as a retaliatory move. It says the ship is being held over safety concerns and the 23-member crew, including 18 Indians and no British citizens, are safe.

As Britain weighed its next step, a recording emerged on Sunday of Britain’s only warship in the Gulf radioing in vain to try to persuade Iranian forces not to board Stena Impero. That showed the difficulty a mid-sized naval power would have in protecting ships in the strait between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, the most important waterway of the global oil trade.

The United States, which has an aircraft carrier and several other warships in the area as part of its Fifth Fleet based in Iran, has been trying to enlist other countries to join an international task force to protect shipping.

The United States has been struggling to win its allies’ support for an initiative to heighten surveillance of Middle East oil shipping lanes because of fears it will increase tension with Iran, six sources familiar with the matter said.

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Iranian para athletes win medals at Polish Open Grand Prix

Amir Khosravani won a gold medal at the Long Jump M T11-13 with 7.09 meters.

Cuban Luis Felipe Gutierrez Rivero claimed a silver medal with 6.85 meters and the bronze medal went to Ronan Pallier from France with a 6.26 meters jump.

Ozra Mahdavikia took a gold medal at the Javelin W K F12-13.40.46.64 with a throw of 35.04 meters.

Katarzyna Piekart and Faustyna Kotlowska from Poland claimed silver and bronze medals with 33.92 and 26.57 meters, respectively.

Ali Shamshiri also claimed a gold medal at the Discus M F11-13. He finished in first place with a throw of 43.22 meters.

Poland’s Marek Wietecki (41.96m) and Yury Buchkou from Belarus (38.17m) won silver and bronze medal respectively.

Shamshiri had also won a bronze medal at the Shot Put M F11-13.

Nasser Hassanpour claimed a gold medal at the 200 m M T12-13 – 1 with a time of 24.59 seconds.

Poland’s Przemysław Mlynski won silver with 28.43 seconds.

Sajad Nikparast seized a bronze medal at the Javelin M F12-13 with a 56.83 throw.

Marek Wietecki from Poland won the gold medal with 58.02 meters and the silver medal went to Cuban thrower Uliser Aguilera Cruz who threw 56.84 meters.

Bydgoszcz in Poland made its debut on the World Para Athletics Grand Prix circuit from Friday to Sunday as around 320 Para athletes from nearly 40 countries lined up for the penultimate Grand Prix of the season.

The three-day meeting took place at the city’s Zdzisław Krzyszkowiak stadium – last month the venue was also announced as the host for the 2020 Para Athletics European Championships.

  • Published in Sports

Iran thanks Saudi Arabia for release of its oil tanker Happiness 1

Iran said on Sunday it appreciated Saudi Arabia's efforts in the the return of an Iranian ship that had docked at Jeddah port because of technical problems in May, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.

"Iran appreciates efforts by the authorities of Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and Oman to secure the safe return of Iran's Happiness 1 oil tanker," Abbas Mousavi said.

Iranian media reported in early July that Saudi Arabia - Iran's regional rival - was not allowing the ship to leave Jeddah because of a dispute over the payment of repair costs.

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‘Cuba, Iran culturally resistant to economic pressure’

During a meeting with the Iranian ambassador to Havana Rashid Bayat-Mokhtari, Rodriguez pointed to the good relations between Iran and Cuba.

He also referred to the visit the Iranian parliamentary friendship group made to Havana, saying resistance is the common point between the Iranian and Cuban cultures, which can be used to expand ties, IRNA reported.

On U.S. pressures against Tehran and Havana and the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, Rodriguez said, “The U.S. economic terrorism goals against Iran and Cuba are illegal. That’s a conspiracy to dominate independent countries, for example Iran and Cuba.”

The Iranian ambassador, for his part, pointed to the 60 years of Cuba’s and 40 years of Iran’s resistance to the evil plots hatched by the U.S., saying despite the deceitful calls of the U.S. for negotiations, Washington’s actions regarding the nuclear deal proves that “the U.S. is not trustworthy.”

He also said European countries did not do anything special to safeguard Iran’s benefits under the deal in the one-year opportunity Tehran gave them, causing Tehran to gradually decrease its commitments to the deal.

However, Bayat-Mokhtari continued, if Iran’s interests are met, Tehran will go right back to its full JCPOA commitments.

  • Published in Cuba

UK vows 'robust' action if Iran doesn't release British-flagged oil tanker

Britain reiterated warnings Saturday that it would take "robust" action if Iran did not release a UK-flagged oil tanker it seized in the Strait of Hormuz, the latest confrontation in a tense standoff unfolding in the important shipping route.

The vessel captured by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Friday is now at the center of a widening crisis between Iran and Western powers, as Tehran fights to free itself from the crippling effects of US economic sanctions and reset nuclear talks.

But there could be serious consequences for the Islamic Republic's aggression toward the UK -- one of three European powers that have sought to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal even after the United States dropped out.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the incident showed "worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior," adding that the UK's response would be "considered, but robust."

The UK convened an emergency meeting of national security officials late Friday evening to respond. It has warned ships connected to the country's shipping industry to "stay out of the area" in the interim.

Iranian media reported Saturday that the ship, the Stena Impero, was captured following an accident with a fishing boat and was being held for "violating international regulations." A second British-owned ship, the Liberian-flagged MV Mesdar, was briefly held by Iran but then released.

Iran's actions in the Strait came just hours after authorities in Gibraltar agreed to extend the detention of an Iranian oil tanker in its custody for 30 days. That ship, the Grace 1, was seized by British authorities on July 4, accused of attempting to transport oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to Britain's warnings on Saturday with one of his own.
"Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold int'l maritime rules," Zarif said on Twitter. "UK must cease being an accessory to #EconomicTerrorism of the US."

Observers had expected Iran to respond to the Grace 1's seizure, and the UK raised the security level for British ships in the Persian Gulf just last week.

"They're (Iran) doing this either in response to the seizing of Grace 1 by Royal Marines and its holding in Gibraltar ... or they may be doing it to widen the tension in the Gulf now because they want to bring this conflict and this state of affairs, which is damaging to Iran, to a head," said British lawmaker Bob Seely, a member of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee.

An increase in tensions in the Strait of Hormuz could have dire economic and security consequences.

Around 24% of global oil production passes through the narrow passage, and it's the only way to ship oil out of the Persian Gulf. The US Energy Information Administration calls the Strait of Hormuz one of the "world's most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit."

Richard Meade, the managing editor of the influential shipping industry publication Lloyds List, said the Stena Impero's seizure is "probably the highest level security threat that we have seen in the region since the late 80s."

Iran's "dangerous strategy"

The tanker looks set to become a pawn in the mounting stalemate between Iran and the US, as well as its allies.

"This is classic Iranian escalatory behavior designed to show it can also push back," Sanam Vakil, senior research fellow at Chatham House in London, told CNN.

But the gamble could come at a steep cost for Iran at a time when it is looking for an opening to renew nuclear talks.

"The dangerous strategy for Iran is that this could push the UK closer to the United States and result in greater coordination between the two allies," Vakil said.

The UK has worked to safeguard the landmark agreement while appeasing Washington, a balancing act that has become increasingly difficult as Iran raises the stakes in the Gulf.

France and Germany, the other two European signatories of the nuclear deal, have condemned Iran's seizure of the Stena Impero, calling on the Islamic Republic to release the vessel.

In a statement, a spokesperson for France's Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs said it has been following developments with concern: "Such action is detrimental to the necessary de-escalation of tensions in the Gulf region. We strongly condemn it and express our full solidarity with the United Kingdom."

The German Foreign Office echoed the remarks, saying that Iran's action "exacerbates an already strained situation."

"Another regional escalation would be very dangerous. It would also undermine all ongoing efforts to find a way out of the current crisis," a Foreign Office spokesperson said in a statement Saturday.

No Britons on board

Though the Stena Impero is registered in the UK, there were no Britons on board when it was seized.

The 23-man crew was made up of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Philippines nationals, according to a statement from the ship's owner -- Sweden-based Stena Bulk -- and operator, Scotland-based Northern Marine Management.

The statement from the two companies said their ship was first approached at "by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter" in the Strait of Hormuz in international waters at about 4 p.m. local time (12 p.m. ET).

More than six hours later, the ship was "no longer under the control of its crew" and "uncontactable."

The Stena Impero has since been taken to Iran's Bandar Abbas Port, Iran's Fars news agency reported. The crew will be held on board until an investigation into the accident ends, according to Fars.

Its seizure marks the latest in series of accelerating maritime incidents in the Gulf region between Iranian, UK and US military forces.

Speaking to reporters Friday, US President Donald Trump said the US does not have many tankers in the region but that the country does have a robust military presence there.

On Thursday, the US Navy destroyed an Iranian drone using electronic jamming equipment in the Strait of Hormuz, a US defense official told CNN. The crew of the USS Boxer took defensive action against the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle after it came close to the US naval ship, the official said.

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Mystery in the Persian Gulf: Vanishing oil tanker near Iran fuels speculation

Sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, an Emirates-based oil tanker has vanished (from the radar). With the strait a flashpoint for US-Iran tensions, is Tehran to blame?

The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker ‘Riah’ usually transits oil from Dubai and Sharjah to Fujairah, a trip of just under 200 nautical miles that takes a tanker like this just over a day and a half at sea. it reported its position off the coast of Dubai on July 7.

However, while passing through the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday night, the vessel’s tracking signal abruptly turned off just before midnight, after it deviated from its course and pointed towards the Iranian coast. According to marine tracking data, the signal has not been turned on again since, and the ship has essentially vanished.

Also on rt.com UK and Iran talk oil tankers: Zarif insists on immediate release, Hunt gives conditions

So what happened? With US-Iranian tensions bubbling, and Iran blamed for several attacks on oil tankers near the strait in recent months, attention turned to the Islamic Republic. Israeli media picked up the story on Tuesday, and framed it as another development in the ongoing saga, highlighting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s vow on Tuesday to respond to Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar earlier this month.

A spokesman for the shipping company that owns the ‘Riah’ – Sharjah-based Mouj-al-Bahar General Trading – told TradeWinds that the ship had been “hijacked” by Iranian authorities. CNN reported that the US intelligence community “increasingly believes” the tanker was forced into Iranian waters by the naval wing of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but has not revealed its sources.

@barbarastarrcnn

CNN has learned: US intel increasingly believes UAE tanker MT RIAH forced into Iranian waters over the weekend by naval forces. UAE isn't talking. Some Gulf sources say ship simply broke down/towed by Iran. US says tho no contact with crew. Last location Qesham Island.

However, Tehran has not acknowledged the disappearance of the ‘Riah,’ even to deny the alleged ‘hijacking.’ Nor has the US Fifth Fleet, which patrols the region and has seen its presence bolstered by B-52 bombers and thousands of troops in recent months.

Foreign provocation is another explanation that will likely be thrown around. In light of recent news, the idea that Iran would interdict a tanker is one that will be taken seriously, but the United States has had ample opportunity to take military action against Iran recently. 

President Donald Trump said that he was “cocked and loaded” to strike Iran last month after Tehran downed an American spy drone it said was flying in its airspace, but ultimately called off the attack. In short, if either side wished for war, another provocation would likely be unnecessary.

Also on rt.com Netanyahu compares EU approach to Iran with ‘appeasement’ of Nazi Germany before WWII...

With provocation unlikely and Iranian responsibility as yet unknown, there are other reasons why a ship might simply vanish. Israeli website TankerTrackers.com compiles reports of ships it believes are switching off their trackers to dock in Iranian ports and load up on oil, in violation of American sanctions. The site reported a Chinese vessel – the ‘Sino Energy 1’ – disappearing late last month near Iran, before reappearing fully loaded and heading the opposite direction six days later. It is currently passing Singapore en route back to China.

However, an Emirates-based ship is extremely unlikely to be trading oil with Iran, given the Emirates’ political differences with Tehran and close alliance with Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest oil producer and largest exporter.

Further complicating matters, an Emirati security official told local media that “the tanker in question is neither UAE owned nor operated, does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call. We are monitoring the situation.”

With conflicting reports circulating and nothing concrete yet, the whereabouts of the ‘Riah’ is as opaque as the crude oil it carries.

 

  • Published in World

Iranian president says U.S. has failed on every path taken against the Islamic Revolution

Tehran, July 14 (RHC)-- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says the United States has failed on every path it has taken against Iran.  President Rouhani told a large crowd of people in the northeastern city of Shirvan, in North Khorasan Province, that whatever Washington had tried against Iran -- including “the harshest of sanctions” -- had wound up in failure.

“It’s been 14 months that the world’s largest economic and military power has been imposing the harshest of sanctions against the Iranian nation, sanctions that would have taken any other nation down,” the Iranian president said. “But the heroic, vigilant, and resistant nation of Islamic Iran has firmly withstood those sanctions over this period.”

“Whatever path the Americans took — be it social, political, and legal — led to failure,” President Rouhani said.  He pointed to recent meetings of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where the U.S. failed to advance its agenda against Iran.

Iran says the UN nuclear watchdog’s special meeting held at Washington’s request backfired and turned into another failure for Americans.

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled his country out of a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Iran and imposed what he called the “toughest ever” sanctions against Tehran, notably targeting its energy sector.

Those sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy, but all of the other parties to the Iran deal, which have stayed in the agreement, have been holding meetings with Tehran to discuss how they can make the pact properly work for the Iranian side as well.

Tehran has said it would potentially scrap the deal if its partners failed to do enough for Iran to achieve the economic benefits that it is promised under the agreement.

Edited by Ed Newman
  • Published in World

Russia, China, Iran & Venezuela developing crypto to challenge US financial control – study

A new report by the American Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) says the US’ geopolitical adversaries are deploying blockchain technology to help avoid sanctions and counter US financial power.

According to the FDD, with the increase of adoption of cryptocurrencies around the world, efforts are underway to build new systems for transferring value that work outside of conventional banking infrastructure.

Governments in Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela are experimenting with the technology that underpins the crypto market, said the report. They are prioritizing blockchain technology as a “key component of their efforts to counter US financial power.”

Also on rt.com Russia bringing back the gold standard may kill US dollar & solve main problem of cryptocurrencies...

“Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have initiated blockchain technology experiments that their leaders paint as tools to offset US financial coercive power and increase sanctions resistance. China is also wary of US financial power and the ever-present threat of sanctions against Chinese officials,” the study finds.

The efforts of the four nations go beyond mere sanctions evasion, according to the report, which said that they “seek to reduce the potency of unilateral and multilateral sanctions by developing alternative payment systems for global commerce.”

Also on rt.com Iran plans launch of national cryptocurrency to ditch dollar in oil trade...

The authors of the report noted that the US position of influence is not necessarily permanent.

“Technology has created a potential pathway to alternative financial value transfer systems outside of US control. The target timeline may be two to three decades, but these actors are developing the building blocks now. They envision a world in which cryptocurrency technology helps them eclipse US financial power, much the way that the dollar once eclipsed the British pound.”

  • Published in World
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