GUARD SAYS READY TO PREVENT REGIONAL OIL EXPORTS
DUBAI, UAE, July 4, (Agencies): The US military is reiterating a promise to keep Arabian Gulf waterways open to oil tankers as Iran renewed threats to close off the region. Capt Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that American sailors and its regional allies “stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday suggested Iran could halt regional exports if it is stopped from exporting oil after America pulled out of the nuclear deal with world powers.
Meanwhile, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani reportedly sent a letter to Rouhani applauding his stance. Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force, said his forces were “ready for any policy.” Praising Rouhani’s remarks, Soleimani said he was ready to implement such a policy if needed. “I kiss your (Rouhani’s) hand for expressing such wise and timely comments, and I am at your service to implement any policy that serves the Islamic Republic,” Soleimani, commander of Quds force, in charge of foreign operations for the Revolutionary Guards, said in a letter published by state news agency IRNA
Rouhani did not elaborate on his threat but Iranian officials have in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, in retaliation for any hostile US action against Iran. The United States pulled out of a multinational deal in May to lift sanctions against Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear programme. Washington has since told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from Nov 4 or face US financial measures, with no exemptions.
A senior Iranian oil official said on Wednesday that Trump’s pressure on international firms not to buy Iranian oil will drive prices higher and end up hurting his own economy. Iran’s OPEC governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, said oil should not be used as a weapon or to make political gains, according to the Iran oil ministry news agency SHANA. “Trump’s demand that Iranian oil should not be bought, and (his) pressures on European firms at a time when Nigeria and Libya are in crisis, when Venezuela’s oil exports have fallen due to US sanctions, when Saudi’s domestic consumption has increased in summer, is nothing but a self harm,” he was quoted as saying. “It will increases the prices of oil in the global markets,” he said.
“At the end it is the American consumer who will pay the price for Mr. Trump’s policy,” he added. The European Union, once Iran’s biggest oil importer, have vowed to keep the 2015 deal alive without the United States by trying to keep Iran’s oil and investment fl owing, but have acknowledged that US sanctions would make it difficult to give Tehran guarantees.
FMs to meet
Iran Foreign ministers from China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia will meet with Iranian officials on Friday in Vienna to discuss how to keep a 2015 nuclear accord alive after US President Donald Trump abandoned the pact in May.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini confirmed the meeting in a statement on Wednesday after Iranian state news agency IRNA announced the meeting a day earlier. China’s foreign minister and state councillor, Wang Yi, said he would go to Vienna, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would take part. Iran requested the meeting, IRNA and European diplomats said, to discuss European efforts to salvage the international nuclear pact in the face of Trump’s May 8 decision to revive Iran-related sanctions, after the expiry of 90- and 180- day wind-down periods.
The sanctions start to come into effect in August but some European companies investing in Iran and with big operations in the United States have announced they will pull out of business deals with Tehran.
The European Commission is proposing that EU governments make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank to avoid US penalties, but detailed plans have yet to emerge. The European Union, once Iran’s biggest oil importer, is determined to save the nuclear accord by keeping money flowing to Tehran as long as Iran complies with the 2015 deal to prevent it from developing an atomic weapon. Rouhani on Wednesday was on the second leg of his European tour seeking assurances over the 2015 nuclear deal, a trip clouded by the arrest of a Tehran diplomat over an alleged bomb plot against opposition exiles in Paris.
Hoping to boost economic cooperation to help offset the return of US sanctions following Washington’s pullout from the historic deal, Rouhani arrived late Tuesday in Vienna — the city where it was signed. “Insofar as it is possible for Iran, we shall remain party to the accord, we shall not quit the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on condition that we can also benefit from it,” Rouhani said. “If the other signatories, apart from the United States, can guarantee Iran’s interests then Iran will stay in the JCPOA”, he insisted. “We need a balance between our duties and the hypothesis of restrictions … We hope for decisive actions regarding trade and the economy,” added Rouhani in comments sending a message to the other deal signatories, whose foreign ministers are due to meet in Vienna on Friday for the first time since Trump’s decision to dump the deal.
Austria just took up the European Union’s six-month rotating presidency, while Vienna is the home of the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, which monitors Iran’s compliance with the accord. Rouhani’s European trip will be of “prime importance” as it could “provide a more precise picture of cooperation between Iran and Europe,” the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said at the weekend. The Iranian government has itself warned that it will not continue to abide by the nuclear agreement if doing so goes against its economic interests. Rouhani, a moderate conservative re-elected in 2017, began meeting President Alexander Van der Bellen on Wednesday, and met Chancellor Sebastian Kurz later in the day.
The nuclear deal has been the cornerstone of Rouhani’s policy of greater openness with the West, and the US departure has seen him severely criticised by ultra-conservatives at home. Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has demanded Europe provide a number of economic guarantees in order for Tehran to continue its commitment. Increasing the pressure on Iran’s European partners, he ordered preparations be made to quickly restart nuclear activities in case talks collapse. Rouhani’s visit follows reports of the Iranian diplomat’s arrest along with five others over a purported foiled attack on a rally of thousands of Iranian opposition supporters in Paris.
Belgium arrests Iran said on Tuesday it could show it had nothing to do with an alleged plot to bomb an Iranian opposition meeting in France, as Austria said it was stripping an Iranian of his diplomatic status after he was arrested in Germany as part of the case.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said two suspects in Belgium were in fact members of the People’s Mujahideen, part of an umbrella bloc of opposition groups in exile that seek an end to Shi’ite Muslim clerical rule in Iran. “The detainees in Belgium are known members of this terrorist organization and Iranian authorities … are prepared to provide the necessary documentation to clarify the dimensions of this scenario,” said Qasemi, quoted by the state news agency IRNA Two suspects in Belgium were intercepted by Belgian police on Saturday with 500 grams of the homemade explosive TATP and a detonation device found in their car, Belgian authorities said. Qasemi accused the People’s Mujahideen, the main component of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) whose Paris meeting was allegedly targeted, of “carrying out a scenario to affect the European visit (of President Rouhani) and harm Iran’s position in the European public opinion.”
French officials have declined to comment on the case saying the nature of the incident is unclear and extremely sensitive. After the withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, its European signatories Britain, France and Germany have vowed to save the agreement despite US pushing them to pullout. Any sign Iranian authorities were behind the plot in France would make it politically complicated for leaders, especially President Emmanuel Macron, to continue to back the deal