Netherlands joins Germany in halting Iraq mission due to security threat

The Netherlands has followed Germany in suspending its mission in Iraq amid heightening tensions between the US and Iraq’s neighbor, Iran.

The Netherlands decided to halt the mission which provided assistance to the Iraqi authorities because of a security threat, the Dutch ANP news agency said.

The Dutch Defense Ministry confirmed the suspension of the mission to the media. The ministry’s spokesperson told ANP that withdrawal of Dutch forces from the area is “currently not discussed.”

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Around 50 Dutch soldiers train Kurdish forces in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil, others are stationed in Baghdad. According to some reports, the decision to suspend the training mission was taken by the commander of the international coalition which currently operates in Iraq.

The report gave no details about the alleged danger. The Dutch military take part in a training mission, alongside other foreign nations, including Germany.

The German Defense Ministry has earlier announced that it halted its mission aimed at training the Iraqi soldiers, citing increasing tensions on the ground. The developments came after Washington ordered all the non-essential personnel of the American embassy in Bagdad and a consulate in Erbil to leave Iraq as soon as possible.

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The US evacuation alarmed some EU politicians, who expressed concern that Washington might go to war against Tehran and called on Europe to prevent such an outcome.

The US is poised for war with Iran,” a leader of the Left Party’s faction in the German parliament, Sahra Wagenknecht, warned. She called on those, “who want to save the international peace and the Iranian nuclear deal,” to “make it clear that they are against these war plans, arbitrary US sanctions and the use of the US military bases in Europe [in a potential war with Iran].”

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As US pressures India to cut Iran oil import, Indians ask what Iranian FM can offer in rushed talks

While the plane of the Iranian Foreign Minister was landing at the New Delhi airport for unexpected talks with his Indian counterpart, Indians have been wondering about the timing and purpose of this last-moment scheduled meeting.

Javad Zarif has come at a peculiar time, in the middle of India’s general elections. If he was to wait two more weeks, he could arrange talks with a new government, but the urgency of the meeting speaks volumes.

Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif making a trip to India tomorrow. Will be interesting to note what is announced post the visit. But why now? Elections are underway in India. Two weeks later, he would have been able to have proper negotiations with the new government

But as Washington puts pressure on Iranian oil importers, some Indians agree that some issues cannot wait.

India was once Iran's top oil client after China. Then the US and sanctions stepped in. Last year India, along with seven other nations, received a waiver from Washington which allowed them to import some oil. But earlier this month, the US renewed sanctions and New Delhi had to stop any purchases of Iranian crude. But while big politics are being decided in high places, Indians themselves seem positive about Iran, with many saying India should stick to its vows to Iran.

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Obviously cheaper prices on Iranian oil, free shipping and 60 days of credit for Indian oil importers don’t harm these Iran-sympathising moods. There are alternatives to Iranian oil: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, Mexico, and the US, but their crude is more expensive and geographically makes less sense than Iran.
India and Iran also have joint projects like the Chabahar Port, which should promote India’s influence in the region. And cutting ties with Tehran could harm this ambition. These ties are apparently close enough for Tehran to try to blackmail or bribe India into cooperation.

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Indian media report that Sharif could offer New Delhi a lure in a form of easier access to the Farzad-B gas bloc, whose gas reserve is estimated at 21.6 trillion cubic ft. 

Whatever Zarif has proposed to India today, one thing is clear for most Indians online: India is going to find itself between a rock and a hard place. The solution they propose? Put Indian interests first.


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Iran Not Backing Down: IRGC Navy Vows To Block US Ships From Important Waterway

The Trump administration announced on Monday that they would be cancelling waivers to eight countries buying oil from Iran as they tighten the economic blockade against the Persian Gulf nation. 

The spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Abbas Mousavi, issued a statement on Monday that warned of "adverse consequences" if the U.S. ended their sanctions waiver on the Persian Gulf nation's oil imports.

RELATED:US Ends Sanction Waivers for Countries Importing Iranian oil

"Given the illegal nature of the U.S. sanctions, Iran has not and will not consider any value for the waivers granted," Mousavi said. "However, in view of the negative effects in politics of these sanctions ... Iranian Foreign Ministry has been continuously in touch with relevant domestic institutions while holding comprehensive consultations with many foreign partners, including Europeans."

The Trump administration announced on Monday that they would be cancelling waivers to eight countries buying oil from Iran as they tighten the economic blockade against the Persian Gulf nation. 

Mousavi said Iran will take appropriate actions to counter the U.S. move, adding that his government will make it public. 

Not everyone in the Iranian government and military were as cordial as Mousavi, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Navy, Alireza Tangsiri, vowed to take harsher actions against the U.S.

Tangsiri vowed to close the important Strait of Hormuz, which would be a major blow to the U.S. Navy who is currently docked at their largest Middle Eastern naval base in Bahrain.  

“If we are prevented from using it, we will close it,” Tangsiri said, as cited by the state-run Fars News Agency. “In the event of any threats, we will not have the slightest hesitation to protect and defend Iran’s waterway.”

Iran's oil exports have dropped to about 1 million barrels per day (bpd) from more than 2.5 million bpd prior to the re-imposition of sanctions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a briefing Monday, said "we're going to zero across the board," saying the United States had no plans for a grace period for compliance beyond May 1.

The White House intends to deprive Iran of its lifeline of $50 billion in annual oil revenues, Pompeo said, as it pressures Tehran to curtail its nuclear program, ballistic missile tests and support for conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

A senior administration official said President Donald Trump was confident Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will fulfill their pledges to compensate for the shortfall in the oil market. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Frank Fannon said Riyadh was taking "active steps" to ensure global oil markets were well supplied.

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, in a statement on Monday, did not commit to raising production, saying it was "monitoring the oil market developments" after the U.S. statement, and that it would coordinate with other oil producers to ensure a balanced market. OPEC is next scheduled to meet in June.

While Saudi Arabia is expected to boost output again, analysts fear the U.S. move - along with sanctions on Venezuela - will leave the world with inadequate spare capacity.

The international Brent crude oil benchmark rose to more than $74 a barrel on Monday, the highest since November, due to the uncertainty surrounding increased supply from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations, while U.S. prices hit a peak of $65.92 a barrel, the highest since October 2018.

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Iranian parliament declares US Central Command a ‘terrorist organization’

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has been designated as a “terrorist organization” by the Iranian parliament, in a mirror response to Washington’s blacklisting of Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard.

All organizations, institutions and forces under CENTCOM command were acknowledged to be “terrorists” by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian MPs, who approved the contents of the bill, which also condemns the US move to blacklist the IRGC, an official military branch of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Armed Forces.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s government and Armed Forces are required to adopt preventive actions and preemptive defensive measures whenever necessary, to deter any hostile US forces’ use of any possibilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests,” the bill states, according to Fars news. Anyone offering military, intelligence, financial, or any other support to CENTCOM and its affiliate forces will be considered supporters of terrorism.

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The 13-article legislation also mandates the general staff to begin gathering intelligence about CENTCOM activities so that the material can be used in Iranian courts to prosecute specific individuals. The bill, however, does not mention the exact mechanisms through which Americans are expected to be brought to justice under Iranian laws.

Last week the US, for the first time ever, designated an official foreign military institution –the IRGC– as a terrorist organization, as tensions between the states were pushed to the limit following President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear deal (JCPOA) and the reintroduction of sanctions that followed.

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The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been the elite force of the Islamic Republic under the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for the last 40 years, after overthrowing the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. While Washington claims that various branches of the IRGC actively participate in Tehran’s “global terrorist campaign,” Iran accuses the US of fearmongering and of waging a smear campaign against it.

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US Policy on Iran is not Economic War, but Terrorism, Iranian FM Says

Iran's Foreign Minister, Mohammed Yavad Zarif, accused Tuesday the US policy against Tehran of economic terrorism.

By imposing more sanctions against our nation, he said in a message on social media, it is even impeding relief efforts for people affected by the floods throughout the country.

With that decision, said the Iranian Minister, the United States violates U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 and a ruling of the International Court of Justice.

U.S. sanctions prohibit the Iranian relief organization Red Crescent from purchasing goods and products to help communities devastated by unprecedented flooding.

Blocked equipment, Zarif said, includes rescue helicopters.

'It's not an economic war, he said, but economic terrorism.

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Iranian FM Zarif resigned as he was not informed about Assad visit to Tehran - report

The reason for the resignation of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was that he was not informed about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s trip to Tehran last week, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reports.

The Iranian news agency cited Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi as the source in its report, which seemingly confirms a narrative about Zarif’s resignation last week that was offered by sources to some regional media outlets right after it happened. The Iranian foreign minister announced his resignation on his Instagram page last week, but it was rejected by President Hassan Rouhani the following day.

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“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have information at any level [about the trip] and this lack of information was maintained until the end of the trip,” Qassemi said, according to ISNA.

The spokesman added that the unorthodox and very public resignation was meant to “return the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the diplomatic system of the country to its main place.”

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Zarif has held his current position since 2013 and is considered to be one of the architects of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, which was perceived as a major diplomatic breakthrough at the time. The deal has since been torpedoed by the Trump administration, which has made hostility towards Iran one of the pillars of its foreign policy.

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Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Shock Resignation

Taking to his Instagram page, Zarif apologised for 'all the shortcomings' during his tenure.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has submitted his resignation, announcing the decision in a brief Instagram post, although Iran Press has made the claim that Zarif's resignation has yet to be accepted by President Hassan Rouhani.

RELATED: UN Agency Says Iran Is Compliant With Nuclear Deal Terms

"Many thanks for the generosity of the dear and brave people of Iran and its authorities over the past 67 months," he wrote on his Instagram page jzarif_ir, according to a Reuters translation.

He gave no specific reasons for his decision, but cited an "inability to continue serving."

"I sincerely apologise for the inability to continue serving and for all the shortcomings during my service. Be happy and worthy," his post read.

Meanwhile, Iran Press reported that, "the Head of Presidential Office Mahmoud Vaezi in a message rejected news reports that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's resignation had been accepted by President Rouhani."

Zarif played an important role in striking a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, but he came under attack by Iranian hardliners after the United States pulled out of the agreement last May and reimposed economic sanctions on some of the country's key industries, reported the Middle East Eye.

Sina Toossi, research associate at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), noted the "striking and strange" nature of the announcement on Instagram.

He said the use of a popular and uncensored social media platform in Iran may have been a deliberate attempt for the news to reach the public directly.

"It could be a kind of calculated play where Zarif is submitting his resignation in a public way on Instagram... If Rouhani does not accept his resignation, if indeed he does not resign, he could come back empowered," Toossi told MEE.

"He offered his resignation; there was a huge outcry. He could come back stronger in his position."

But if the foreign minister does reign, Toossi said, it would be a major shift in the domestic balance of power away from the "moderate, pragmatic, reformist faction that Zarif embodies, especially on foreign policy".

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, echoed Toossi's comments on the Instagram announcement.

"A lot of Iranians are on Instagram, and of course his announcement was made in Farsi. If he wanted to reach Iranian public opinion, this was a very effective way to do it," Slavin told MEE.

In a speech given in Munich, Germany last week, Zarif defended Iran against hostile rhetoric from members of the Trump administration and condemned Washington for pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

"In spite of all the ignorant hate-speech by American officials, let me remind you that we Iranians are proud to be the inheritors of a great civilisation," Zarif said in the speech, a transcript of which was shared by Iran's foreign ministry.

"The entirety of humanity is today riding in the same boat and we either sail together; or sink together," he said.

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Russia, Iran & Turkey talk long-term Syrian peace in Sochi as US and allies beat war drums in Warsaw

Leaders from Russia, Turkey and Iran have descended on the Black Sea city of Sochi to discuss ways of ending Syria’s near-eight-year civil war. Meanwhile, hostile talk is emerging from a meeting of the US and its allies in Warsaw.

Ahead of the talks, the Kremlin said the purpose of the convention would be to discuss potential “joint steps” that can be taken to bring about a “long-term settlement” in the war-torn country.

In addition to the joint forum, President Vladimir Putin is also holding separate talks with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani.

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Speaking at the start of his meeting with Putin, President Erdogan said there was still uncertainty over Washington’s plan to remove troops stationed with Kurdish forces in northern Syria. However, he added that Turkey was willing to move ahead with coordinating a possible ‘safe zone’ with Russia.

9th tête-à-tête in the last year. They meet ahead of 4th summit on later on Thursday. Focus on crisis

Both Iran and Russia have been key allies in helping the Syrian government to defeat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). NATO-member Turkey also has a keen interest in Syria. In 2016, Turkish-backed Syrian militias seized two border crossings and now control a strip of Syrian land as deep as 30km. The grab was considered a bid to contain the Kurdish militias of the YPG, a group seen as terrorists by Erdogan, preventing them from expanding further along the Turkish-Syrian border.

The Sochi summit comes as countries allied to the US are in the Polish capital for two days of meetings. Organized under a similar theme of bringing “peace and stability to the Middle East,” the talks have been seen as a way for US President Donald Trump to drum up support among European and Arab allies for further action on Iran.

Meanwhile, the Israeli leader has been even more blunt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel and Arab countries are in talks “in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran,” although the translation from Hebrew was later downgraded to “struggle.”

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