U.S.-Iran tensions
September 19, 2019

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday warned that if the United States or Saudi Arabia launches an attack on his country, it will launch an "all-out war."

Over the weekend, Saudi oil facilities were damaged in a drone and cruise missile attack. The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen took credit for the incident, but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia say Iran was behind it, an allegation Tehran denies. Zarif told CNN that Iran "won't blink to defend our territory," but does not "want war. We don't want to engage in a military confrontation. We believe that a military confrontation based on deception is awful."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is visiting the United Arab Emirates, and responded by saying he was doing "active diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war to fight to the last American." Catherine Garcia

September 16, 2019

Count Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) among those who might support military action against Iran if intelligence determines Tehran was indeed behind the weekend attacks on major Saudi oil facilities.

Coons, appearing Monday on Fox & Friends, told host Brian Kilmeade that if intelligence supports claims that Tehran, rather than Yemen's Houthi rebels, were behind the strikes, "this may well be the thing that calls for military action against Iran." The Houthis, who are backed by Tehran in Yemen's civil war, claimed responsibility for the drone attacks, but Coons said it "seems credible" that the rebel group does not employ the advanced weaponry used against the facilities. Of course, the U.S. already believes Iran supplies the Houthis with arms and training, so it is likely Washington will consider Tehran responsible, whether directly or indirectly.

Regardless, this may be the final straw for Coons. The senator acknowledged that the U.S.'s relationship with the Saudis "has been badly strained" by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but added that "Iran is really pushing our resolve." If Tehran attacks American allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel, Coons said, "we need to take seriously taking action against them."

That prompted a compliment from Kilmeade, who seemed inspired by the fact that a military operation against Iran could unite Democrats and Republicans — if the evidence supports the accusations, that is. Watch the exchange below. Tim O'Donnell

September 15, 2019

Iran on Sunday denied U.S. accusations that it was behind Saturday's drone strikes on two major oil sites in Saudi Arabia, which forced Saudi Aramco to suspend its production output by half.

Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran in a civil war against a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the attacks, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Tehran, arguing there was "no evidence the attacks came from Yemen."

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, said Pompeo was "turning to 'max deceit'" after "having failed at 'max pressure," and Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, called Pompeo's allegations "pointless."

Regardless of whether Pompeo's claims are correct, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia already accuse Tehran of providing Houthi forces with military equipment and training. So, if the rebels did in fact launch the attacks, it is unlikely Washington would ignore Iran's potential role in the incident.

The situation is just the latest example of heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, which have risen since the U.S. departed the 2015 nuclear pact and placed sanctions on Iran. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

August 26, 2019

President Trump softened his tone on Iran slightly on Monday during a press conference following the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France. Trump said he would be open to meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, whom he called a "great negotiator." There's a "good chance" a face-to-face meeting happens, he said, but only under the right circumstances.

Trump did maintain that he's ready to use "really, very violent force" against Iran should Tehran conduct any illegal actions, but he also said he believes it can "be a great nation" and nixed the idea of pushing for regime change. He added that he doesn't "want to see" Iranians hurt by sanctions for much longer and that he expects Rouhani will likely want to set up a meeting in the hopes of getting "this situation straightened out."

Tehran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived at the G7 summit on Sunday at the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron. The surprise visit reportedly caught the White House off guard, and the two sides did not convene for any talks. But Trump on Monday said Macron let him know everything that was happening — he just felt that it was not the right time for U.S. officials to sit down with Zarif. Tim O'Donnell

August 25, 2019

The Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, received a surprise visitor on Sunday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in the French resort town for an unannounced visit to the gathering of world leaders. A senior French official said that, upon arrival, Zarif went straight into a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who invited his Iranian counterpart to attend the summit where the leaders of other invited countries are discussing how to handle Iran's nuclear ambitions.

American officials in Biarritz will reportedly not meet with Zarif. One French official said that France operates on its own terms when asked about Washington's knowledge of Zarif's attendance prior to his arrival.

Tensions, of course, are running high between Tehran and Washington, as they have been ever since the Trump administration last year pulled out of the 2015 nuclear pact orchestrated by the Obama administration. French President Emmanuel Macron has since taken the lead in negotiations to preserve the pact for its remaining signatories, including France, Germany, and the U.K., all countries that are in attendance at the G-7 summit.

The White House was reportedly caught a bit off guard by Zarif's sudden appearance. Earlier on Sunday, before Zarif showed up, Trump reportedly said while he was content with Paris reaching out to Tehran, he would continue to approach the situation with Iran independently and as he saw fit. Tim O'Donnell

June 23, 2019

President Trump may have turned back from the brink of a military strike against Iran last week, but the U.S. did not completely avoid confrontation with Tehran. U.S. Cyber Command, with Trump's approval, launched a cyber strike against Iranian missile control systems on Thursday, anonymous U.S. officials said.

The cyber attack occurred after Trump backed down from a conventional military strike against Iran in retaliation for Iran shooting down a U.S. drone. The attacks disabled the computer systems of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which controlled its rocket and missile launchers. Thursday's strikes were the first offensive show of force since Cyber Command was elevated to a full combatant command, The Washington Post reports.

The plans for the cyber attacks were reportedly in the works for weeks — the Pentagon proposed the tactic after Iran's alleged attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this month.

The U.S. is not the only side conducting hostile cyber activities. In recent weeks, following the Trump administration's sanctions on the Iranian petrochemical sector, hackers believed to be working for Iran reportedly targeted U.S. government agencies with spear-phishing emails.

The White House declined to comment and Tehran had no immediate reaction to the news as of Sunday morning. Tim O'Donnell

June 22, 2019

Although President Trump decided not to launch a military strike against Iran, the two sides continue to spar verbally.

Iran said it would respond firmly to any U.S. threat against it, Iran's Tasnim news agency reported on Saturday, one day after Trump said he called off a military strike to retaliate for Iran shooting down a U.S. drone on Thursday. Trump, though, told NBC News if the time for war does come there will be "obliteration like you've never seen before."

Iran responded in kind. "We will not allow any of Iran's borders to be violated," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told Tasnim. "Iran will firmly confront any aggression or threat by America." Abolfazl Shekarchi, the senior spokesman for Iran's armed forces, told Tasnim that "any mistake by Iran's enemies," especially the U.S., would "be like firing a powder keg that will burn America, its interests, and its allies to the ground." Tim O'Donnell

June 14, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran on Thursday for early-morning explosions that disabled two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, saying U.S. intelligence, the level of expertise needed to carry out the "blatant attack," and recent events suggested Iran was the culprit.

U.S. officials echoed those allegations at an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting in New York later Thursday, after which Iran "categorically" rejected the "unfounded claims" from the U.S., condemned the attacks "in the strongest possible terms," and urged "the U.S. and its regional allies must stop warmongering and put an end to mischievous plots as well as false flag operations in the region."

Early Friday, U.S. Central Command released a black-and-white video from a U.S. surveillance aircraft, describing it as showing Iranian sailors on a Revolutionary Guard boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the side of one of the two damaged tankers, the Japanese-owned chemical tanker Kokura Courageous, on Thursday afternoon. Limpet mines attach to ship hulls and disable but don't destroy the vessel.

The Kokuka Courageous's Japanese owners said the crew saw "flying objects" before the explosion, suggesting mines were not the cause. The second ship, the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair, burned for hours. All crew members from both ships were evacuated safely.

The apparent attack on the Japanese ship "appeared timed to undermine diplomatic efforts by Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who was wrapping up a high-stakes visit to Tehran," The Washington Post reports. There is a "widening split between pro-diplomacy officials in Iran and hard-liners opposed to further negotiations, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," a paramilitary group that reports only to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Revolutionary Guard and other Iranian security services "have a decades-long history of conducting attacks and other operations aimed precisely at undermining the diplomatic objectives of a country's elected representatives," the Eurasia Group think tank said in a note Thursday. Peter Weber

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