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US-Iran: John Bolton warns Iran of ‘hell to pay’ if crossed

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…As EU, China and Russia in move to sidestep US sanctions on Iran***

US National Security Adviser John Bolton has warned Iran’s rulers that there will be “hell to pay” if they harm the US, its citizens or allies.

His comments came hours after President Donald Trump accused Iran of sowing “chaos, death and destruction” across the Middle East.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded by criticising the Trump administration for its hostility.

The US recently imposed sanctions after leaving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The accord, negotiated by former President Barack Obama, saw Iran limit its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

The remaining signatories are standing by the deal. The UK, China, France, Germany and Russia say they will set up a new payment system to maintain business with Iran and bypass US sanctions.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the plan as “one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable”.

What did the US say about Iran?

Mr Bolton said the “murderous regime” of “mullahs in Tehran” would face significant consequences if they continued to “lie, cheat and deceive”.

The former US envoy to the UN was speaking at an anti-Iran conference in New York on Tuesday.

“If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens,” he said, “there will indeed be hell to pay.”

“Let my message today be clear: We are watching, and we will come after you.”

Mr Bolton, who has argued for military action against Iran in the past, said the US would be aggressive in enforcing economic sanctions.

Meanwhile, President Trump defended his decision to abandon the nuclear deal while speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York.

“Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction,” he said.

“They do not respect their neighbours or borders or the sovereign rights of nations. Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.”

He believes renewed economic pressure will force Iran to agree to a new deal.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump is due to lead a UN Security Council meeting on Iran and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

How did Iran respond?

Mr Rouhani said dialogue should begin by ending threats and what he called “unjust sanctions”, adding that no nation could be brought to the negotiating table by force.

“The United States’ understanding of international relations is authoritarian. In its estimation might makes right. Its understanding of power, not of legal and legitimate authority, is reflected in bullying and imposition,” he said in New York.

Iran has accused Mr Trump of waging “psychological warfare” against it and denies any involvement in terrorism. It insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.

In August, the US reinstated sanctions targeting the Iranian government’s purchase of US dollars, Iran’s trade in gold and other precious metals, and its automotive sector.

The value of Iran’s currency, the rial, has been damaged by the new US policy.

In November, a second batch of potentially more damaging sanctions will be re-imposed on Iran’s oil and shipping sectors as well as its central bank.

In the meantime, the European Union, Iran, China and Russia have set out a plan to sidestep unilateral US sanctions designed to cripple the Iranian economy and force the Iranians to renegotiate the nuclear deal signed in 2015.

European diplomats hope the proposed measure – known as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) – will help persuade an increasingly reluctant Iran to stay inside the deal in the hope of rescuing its economy.

Speaking on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York, Federica Mogerhini, the EU external affairs chief, said the SPV was designed to facilitate payments related to Iran’s exports – including oil – and imports, so long as the firms involved were carrying out legitimate business under EU law.

The aim is to make the SPV available not just to EU firms but to others, she added.

In his address to the United Nations general assembly, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, stressed Tehran’s continued commitment to the deal and accused the US of pressurising other countries into violating the nuclear agreement.

“Confronting multilateralism is not a sign of strength,” he said. “Rather, it is a symptom of the weakness of intellect. It betrays an inability in understanding a complex and interconnected world.”

But the US president Donald Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, addressing an anti-Iran pressure group, said he was “disturbed and indeed deeply disappointed” by the EU plan.

“This is one of the of the most counterproductive measures imaginable for regional and global peace and security,” Pompeo said.

Versions of the SPV floated by thinktanks suggest it could underpin a sophisticated barter system that can avoid US Treasury sanctions. For example, Iran could ship crude oil to a French firm, accumulating credit that could then be used to pay an Italian manufacturer for goods shipped the other way, without any funds traversing through Iranian hands or the banking system.

A multinational European state-backed financial intermediary would be set up to handle deals with companies interested in Iran transactions and with Iranian counter-parties. Any transactions would not be transparent to the US, and involve euros and sterling rather than dollars.

The proposal is additional to a blocking statute passed by the EU in August that theoretically makes EU companies immune from sanctions imposed by the US in pursuit of its Iran policy. In theory, the statute empowers EU firms to seek compensation from US Treasury for trying to impose extra-territorial sanctions in breach of the statute. So far this statute has not been tested in court.

Richard Nephew, a former Barack Obama official and author of The Art of Sanctions, expressed scepticism on Twitter, saying that for the SPV to be taken up, European firms – many with either US employees, or US subsidiaries – must still be prepared to take the risk of being sanctioned by the US.

He also suggested US sanctions could be applied to the traded good as much as to the cash to fund the trade. He predicted few firms would take that risk, outside some SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] heavily dependent on Iran for their income.

Jarrett Blanc, another former Obama staffer for the Iran deal, broadly agreed with Nephew, but was more sympathetic, writing that “the symbolism here is probably Europe’s most important contribution, and it may be sufficient depending on what China, India, Turkey do on oil”. He added: “The payment mechanism move opens the door to a longer-term degradation of US sanctions power.”

Either way, Europe needs a solution soon after months of railing against US economic imperialism. The vast majority of European firms are planning to pull out.

Trump announced two sets of US secondary sanctions in May, and other sanctions imposed in August cover shipping and insurance. The other more important sanctions – aimed at ending Iranian oil exports, still the heart of the faltering Iranian economy – do not bite until 5 November.

In advance of the oil sanctions, Iran’s crude sales to China fell 21% between May and August, according to Eurasia Group. But it is unclear how long China will stick to that trend.

The assumption is that many countries like India and Russia will continue to trade with Iran and challenge the US to try to impose sanctions, pointing out that in reality it is the US, by tearing up the agreement and not them, that is in breach of UN resolutions.

BBC with additional report from Guardian UK

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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’

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The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin

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Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel

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A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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