DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, May 15, (AP): Iran’s supreme leader issued a veiled threat in the same speech in which he stated that “no one is seeking war,” saying it wouldn’t be difficult for the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels amid rising tensions with the US, state media reported Wednesday.
The US Embassy in Baghdad, meanwhile, ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff on Wednesday to leave Iraq immediately amid escalating tensions with Iran.
Washington did not publicly provide any evidence to back up claims of an increased threat from Tehran. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments late Tuesday came after Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched a coordinated drone attack on a critical oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia. A satellite image obtained by The Associated Press shows one of the two pumping stations attacked by the drones apparently intact.
The drone assault is just the latest incident in the Mideast to shake global energy markets, as authorities allege oil tankers anchored off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were targeted by sabotage. Benchmark Brent crude prices remained around $71 a barrel in early trading Wednesday.
The United States also is deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers into the region in response to the stillunspecified Iran threat, further ramping up tensions a year after President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Speaking Tuesday night in Tehran at an Iftar, the traditional dinner Muslims have when breaking their daylong fast during the Holy Month of Ramadan, Khamenei’s reported comments first focused on him downplaying the chances of a wider conflict in the Mideast with America. He reportedly told senior officials that his country won’t negotiate with the United States, calling such talks “poison.” But he also said, “Neither we, nor them is seeking war. They know that it is not to their benefit.”
In Wednesday’s edition, the state-run IRAN newspaper carried his comments on the nuclear program, his first since Iran announced it would begin backing away from the accord itself. Tehran is threatening to resume higher enrichment in 60 days if no new nuclear deal is in place, beyond the 3.67% permitted by the current deal between Tehran and world powers.