Tehran holds naval drills amid tensions with US
DUBAI, Aug 4, (Agencies): Sporadic protests were taking place in cities in Iran for a fourth day, with demonstrators attacking a Shi’ite seminary west of Tehran, according to Iranian news agencies and social media on Saturday, as Iranians brace for a return of US sanctions.
Hundreds have rallied in cities across the country, including Tehran, Isfahan and Karaj, according to videos posted on social media, to protest against high inflation caused in part by a plunging rial over fears of the reimposition of crippling sanctions on Aug 7.
In May, the United States pulled out of a 2015 deal between world powers and Tehran under which international sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear programme. Washington decided to reimpose sanctions on Iran upon its withdrawal, accusing it of posing a security threat, and has told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from Nov 4 or face US financial measures.
The protests have often begun with slogans against the high cost of living and alleged financial corruption but quickly turned into anti-government rallies. In the town of Eshtehard, 100 kms (63 miles) west of Tehran, riot police intervened late on Friday to disperse about 500 people who chanted slogans against the government, with some throwing rocks and bricks at a Shi’ite Muslim seminary, the semi-offi- cial news agency Fars said on Saturday.
In Tehran, street demonstrators chanted “Death to the dictator,” according to a social media video, which could not be independently verified. In Washington, the US State Department said on its Persian-language Twitter account: “While it is ultimately up to the #people_of_Iran to determine their country’s path, #America supports the voice of the Iranian people, which has been ignored for a long time.” On Aug 7, Washington will reimpose sanctions on Iran’s purchase of US dollars, its trade in gold and precious metals and its dealings with metals, coal and industrialrelated software. Sanctions will also be reapplied to US imports of Iranian carpets and foodstuffs and on certain related financial transactions. Iran’s oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds by the end of the year because of the US sanctions, putting oil markets under huge strain amid supply outages elsewhere in the world.
The United States believes Iran has started carrying out naval exercises in the Gulf, apparently moving up the timing of annual drills amid heightened tensions with Washington, US officials told Reuters on Thursday. One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said possibly more than 100 vessels were involved in the drills, including small boats.
A second official expected the drill could be wrapped up this week. Iran has been furious over US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran. Senior Iranian officials have warned the country would not easily yield to a renewed US campaign to strangle Iran’s vital oil exports. The US military’s Central Command on Wednesday confirmed it has seen an increase in Iranian naval activity, including in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block.
“We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free fl ow of commerce in international waterways,” said Navy Captain Bill Urban, the chief spokesman at Central Command, which oversees US forces in the Middle East. Central Command did not update its guidance on Thursday. A third official said the Iranian naval operations did not appear to be affecting commercial maritime activity.
US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the drills appeared designed to send a message to Washington, which is intensifying its economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran but so far stopping short of using the US military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies. But Iran did not appear interested in drawing attention to them. Iranian authorities have yet to comment on them and several officials contacted by Reuters declined to comment.
Trump’s policies are already putting significant pressure on the Iranian economy, although US intelligence suggests they may ultimately rally Iranians against the United States and strengthen Iran’s hardline rulers, officials say. Iran’s currency plumbed new depths this week ahead of Aug 7, when Washington is due to reimpose a first lot of sanctions following Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran Air said Saturday it was set to take delivery of five new planes from Franco- Italian firm ATR just before renewed US sanctions go into effect. “Based on existing agreements, five new ATR aircraft will land at Mehrabad Airport at 9:00 am (0430 GMT) tomorrow (Sunday),” the national carrier said on its Telegram channel.