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Iran wants dialogue over possible conflict.

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Source: Reuters

Iran’s top diplomat dismissed the possibility of war erupting in the region at a time of escalating confrontation with the United States, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the “illusion it can confront Iran”.

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Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased in recent days, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict. Earlier this week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its embassy in neighboring Iraq following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf.

“There will be no war because neither do we want a war, nor has anyone the idea or illusion it can confront Iran in the region,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran’s IRNA state news agency before ending a visit to Beijing.

President Donald Trump has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, and his administration says it has built up the U.S. military presence in the region. It accuses Iran of threats to U.S. troops and interests. Tehran has described U.S. moves as “psychological warfare” and a “political game”.

“The fact is that Trump has officially said and reiterated again that he does not want a war, but people around him are pushing for war on the pretext that they want to make America stronger against Iran,” Zarif said.

He told Reuters last month that Trump could be lured into a conflict by the likes of U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk.

In Tehran, Major General Hossein Salami, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said on Saturday that Iran had nothing to fear from the United States, which he said was in decline, the semi-official news agency ISNA reported.

“The U.S. political system is full of cracks. Though impressive-looking, it has osteoporosis. In fact, America’s story is like the World Trade Center towers that collapse with a sudden blow,” Salami, known for his fiery rhetoric, was quoted as saying. He was referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Trump has said publicly he wants to pursue a diplomatic route with Iran after ratcheting pressure on Tehran.

President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday Iran would not be bullied into negotiating, IRNA reported.

“The (U.S.) claim that it is forcing us to the negotiating table is worthless… We are for logic, negotiation and dialogue …but we will never surrender to anyone who intends to bully us,” Rouhani was quoted as saying.

A year ago Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 pact that limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions. Iran has continued to abide by the terms of the pact, although Rouhani said this month it would scale back some curbs on nuclear activity.

REGIONAL TENSIONS

In a sign of the heightened tension across the region, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighboring Iraq after days of sabre rattling between Washington and Tehran.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, Bahrain warned its citizens against traveling to Iraq or Iran due to “unstable conditions”.

In Washington, officials urged U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution.

A Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters said Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were “highly likely” to have facilitated the attacks last Sunday on four tankers including two Saudi ships off Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

Iranian officials have denied involvement in the tanker attacks, saying Tehran’s enemies carried them out to lay the groundwork for war against Iran.

U.S. officials are concerned that Tehran may have passed naval combat expertise onto proxy forces in the region.

Following the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, a senior Iranian maritime official said Iran had adopted new tactics and new destinations in shipping its oil exports.

Iranian crude oil exports have fallen in May to 500,000 barrels per day or lower, according to tanker data and industry sources, after the United States tightened the screws on Iran’s main source of income.


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24 Hours Across Africa

Iran faces sanction over uranium breach plan

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Source: Reuters

Iran said on Monday it would breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days — a move likely to worsen tensions with Washington — but it added European nations could still save a nuclear deal that sets those limits.

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In an indication of concern at Iran’s announcement, Germany urged Tehran to meet all its obligations under the 2015 accord. Britain said if Iran breached limits agreed under the deal then London would look at “all options”.

Close U.S. ally Israel, Iran’s arch foe, urged world powers to step up sanctions against Tehran swiftly should it exceed the enriched uranium limit.

U.S.-Iran tensions are growing following accusations by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration that Tehran last Thursday attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route. Iran denies having any role.

Iran’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, on Monday denied Tehran was behind the attacks and said if the Islamic Republic decided to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane it would do so publicly.

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged U.S. forces to leave the region, state TV said.

In an announcement drawing signs of Western unease, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit.”

“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate,” he told state TV, adding that “the move will be reversed once other parties fulfill their commitments.”

Tehran said in May it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with world powers in 2015, in protest at the United States’ decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year.

The deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

The accord requires Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years.

A series of more intrusive U.N. inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.

Urging European signatories to hasten efforts to salvage the accord, President Hassan Rouhani said its collapse would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

“It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.


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24 Hours Across Africa

China backs Hong kong leader

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Source: Reuters

China doubled down on its support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday after days of protests in the Chinese-ruled city over a planned extradition bill, and a source close to Lam said Beijing was unlikely to let her go even if she tried to resign.

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Lam’s attempts to pass a bill that would allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to China to stand trial triggered the biggest and most violent protests in the former British colony in decades.

As the political crisis entered its second week, demonstrators and opposition politicians braved intermittent rain to gather near the government’s offices and call for the bill to be killed and for her to step down.

The upheaval comes at a delicate time for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is grappling with a deepening U.S. trade war, an ebbing economy and regional strategic tension.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return to Beijing in 1997, allowing freedoms not granted to the mainland, including an independent judiciary, but short of a fully democratic vote.

Many residents are increasingly unnerved by Beijing’s tightening grip and what they see as the erosion of those freedoms, fearing that changes to the rule of law could imperil its status as a global financial center.

“The Chinese government, the central government, has always fully affirmed the work of chief executive Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong government,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news conference.

The comments echoed remarks over the weekend from the government’s Hong Kong and Macau policy office.

“The central government will continue to firmly support the chief executive and the SAR government’s governing in accordance with the law,” he said, referring to the “special administrative region” of China.


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