As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stresses that the US is not seeking war with Iran, commander of the Revolutionary Guards tells Iranian state TV that “ballistic missile technology has changed the balance of power in the Middle East.”
An Iranian cleric looks at domestically built surface-to-surface missiles at a military show marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Feb. 3, 2019 | Photo: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
Iranian missiles are capable of carrying out precision strikes on aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami said Tuesday in an interview with Iranian state television.
“Ballistic missile technology has improved and changed the balance of power in the Middle East,” Salami added.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited US Central Command, the Tampa-based headquarters which oversees all military operations in the Middle East. Prior to his departure for Florida, the Pentagon released a series of images that showed, among other things, Iranian vessels dropping a mine under one of the oil tankers that was attacked in the Gulf of Oman on June 13.
Tehran continues to deny responsibility for the attacks.
In Tampa, Pompeo reiterated that the US was not seeking war with Iran, but said he was confident the US was taking the necessary steps to confront any challenge from Iran. He said the military is ready to respond to any attack by Iran on US interests or Iranian disruption of international shipping lanes through which much of the world’s oil supplies flow.
Pompeo said US President Donald Trump only wants to reestablish a deterrent to Iranian threats.
“President Trump does not want war, and we will continue to communicate that message, while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region,” he told reporters.
Pompeo said he made the trip to meet with commanders who would be responsible for any operations in the Gulf to ensure that America’s diplomatic and military efforts are coordinated “to make sure that we’re in the position to do the right thing.”
The “right thing,” he said, “is to continue to work to convince the Islamic Republic of Iran that we are serious and to deter them from further aggression in the region.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes upcoming Bahrain workshop as “very important conference,” says Israel has “widespread relations with most Arab countries.” Israeli delegation to include Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yoav Mordechai.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu | Photo: Oren Ben Hakoon
The growing sentiment one week ahead of the US-sponsored economic workshop in Bahrain, set to take place on June 25-26, was that the summit is expected to be a success and leave the Palestinian Authority out in the cold.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday welcomed the workshop on as an important initiative.
“A very important conference, which we welcome, will be held in Bahrain very soon – a US effort to bring about a better future and solve the region’s problems,” Netanyahu said. “Israelis will be present, of course.”
“Whether overtly or covertly, we are maintaining ties with many leaders in the Arab world and [we have] widespread relations with most Arab countries,” the prime minister added.
The Trump administration still has not revealed what the upcoming workshop in Manama will precisely entail, but according to reports, 14 finance ministers from across the globe will attend, five of them from Arab countries. Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as previously reported, will send non-governmental representatives.
The two-day workshop will include keynote speeches, while delegations will hear plans to improve the economic situation and quality of life for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and Gaza.
Additionally, work teams will sit down together for discussions, including the Israeli team with its Arab counterparts.
The Israeli delegation will include Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yoav Mordechai, who has developed influential ties in the Arab world over the years.
Mordechai, who is fluent in Arabic, stepped down last year as head of the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit and now heads Novard, an international consultancy firm.
Israel Radio said a hospital director and several social activists were also expected to participate.
Britain, France and Germany up efforts to keep 2015 nuclear deal alive despite Tehran’s threat to violate restrictions imposed on its stokepiles of enriched uranium. Diplomats say London, Paris and Berlin are weary of Iranian demands, warn that continued Iranian defiance may trigger snap UN sanctions.
The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria | Photo: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger
Britain, France and Germany plan a new push to keep Iran in the 2015 nuclear deal despite Tehran’s threat to violate one of its central limits, but they may be nearing the end of the diplomatic road they embarked on more than 15 years ago.
The E3 countries have strained to keep the accord between major powers and Iran on life support since U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it last year and began re-imposing American sanctions.
Where the Iranians’ initial response appeared to be to wait Trump out in hopes he would lose re-election in 2020, Trump’s surprise May decision to try to push Iran’s oil exports to zero has changed their calculus.
The result has been a series of attacks in the Gulf that the United States blames on Iran or its proxies, despite Tehran’s denials, as well as Iran’s threat on Monday to breach the 2015 deal’s limit on its uranium hexafluoride stocks within 10 days.
“If they do, it’s essentially game over for the EU,” a senior European Union diplomat said.
The attacks on six tankers in the region since the start of May, as well as two drone attacks on Saudi pumping stations, have increased fears of a US-Iranian conflict erupting by design or accident.
Diplomats said the E3, which began talking to Iran about curtailing its nuclear program in 2003, would intensify its diplomacy in the coming days, including with talks among the E3 and EU political directors in Brussels on Thursday.
The US State Department’s point man on Iran, Brian Hook, plans to meet the E3 political directors in Paris on June 27, the date by which Iran says it would breach the deal, two sources said.
The British, French and German foreign ministers could visit Tehran for talks about the deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), though that is just an option for now.
And three diplomats said the Joint Commission set up under the nuclear deal could meet within the two weeks. With the US withdrawal, those talks would bring together officials from Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the European Union.
Diplomats stressed the E3 are weary of Iranian demands that they sustain a pact that Washington violated and said if Tehran followed suit they would have little choice but to acquiesce in the reimposition of UN sanctions.
“We need to bring them back from the brink, but let me be clear: Our margin of tolerance on the nuclear issue is zero,” said a second senior European diplomat, calling for Russia and China to get more involved.
After Tehran’s announcement, Washington said it would deploy about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East on top of a 1,500-troop increase announced following tanker attacks in May.
It remains unclear whether Iran would actually breach the deal because doing so would unite the Europeans and the Trump administration for the first time since Trump pulled out of it.
“Our assessment is that Iran still doesn’t want to leave the accord,” a Western intelligence source said.
An Iranian source says Tehran doubts the European nations can save the agreement.
“Almost everyone in the establishment believes that even if Europeans wanted to, they lack enough power to salvage the deal,” the Iranian source said.
If Iran violated the JCPOA, there are two ways the other parties could slow any move to reimpose U.N. sanctions on top of the US sanctions already restored.
First, senior European officials have said that they will do nothing until the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog charged with monitoring Iranian compliance with the deal, renders its verdict.
The next quarterly IAEA report on Iran is likely to be out on Aug. 29 or 30. However, the IAEA could also call an emergency board meeting if Iran exceeded the 300-kilogram limit.
Some diplomats suggested the E3 may not wait for an IAEA verdict and could act on their own intelligence assessments.
A second way would be to use the Joint Commission mechanism under the deal for states to complain if the accord is being breached and ultimately for sanctions to be reimposed unless the UN Security Council votes to extend relief. That entire process could take as much as 65 days.
Gerard Araud, a nuclear negotiator who recently retired as France’s ambassador in Washington, made a plea for diplomacy.
“What we need in the current Iran/US tension is some diplomatic engineering,” he wrote on Twitter. “Sanctioning and waiting for the other side to surrender is a recipe for failure or disaster.”