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U.S to cooperate with Iraqi leaders on security concerns over Iranian activity.

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Source: Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Tuesday and met Iraq’s prime minister and other top officials to discuss the safety of Americans in Iraq and explain U.S. security concerns amid rising Iranian activity.

The visit came two days after U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said the United States was deploying the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and a bomber task force to the region because of a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces”.

Washington has ramped up sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program in recent months and designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group.

“We talked to them about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it’s able to adequately protect Americans in their country,” Pompeo told reporters after meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Abdul Mahdi said the United States was an important strategic partner for Iraq, but stressed that Baghdad was continuing to seek a balanced relationship with all of its “friends and neighbors, including neighboring Iran”.

“Iraq is building its relationships with all on the basis of putting Iraq’s interests first,” said a statement from his office released on Wednesday.

Pompeo said the purpose of the meeting was to also let Iraqi officials know more about “the increased threat stream that we had seen” so they could effectively protect U.S. forces.

Pompeo said he expressed U.S. support for Iraqi sovereignty, noting: “We don’t want anyone interfering in their country, certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq.”

‘ATTACKS IMMINENT’

Asked before the meetings if there was a threat to the Baghdad government from Iran that raised U.S. concerns about Iraqi sovereignty, Pompeo said, “No, no, generally this has been our position since the national security strategy came out in the beginning of the Trump administration.”

Asked about the decision to move the aircraft carrier and bomber task force to the region, Pompeo said Washington wanted to defend its interests from the Iranian threat and ensure it had the forces necessary to accomplish that goal.

“The message that we’ve sent to the Iranians, I hope, puts us in a position where we can deter and the Iranians will think twice about attacking American interests,” Pompeo said, noting that the U.S. intelligence was “very specific” about “attacks that were imminent.”

He said the United States has urged Iraq to move quickly to bring Iranian-influenced independent militias under central government control, noting that they make Iraq “a less stable nation.”

Before leaving Iraq, he also spoke to Iraqi officials about their energy and infrastructure needs, especially in the electricity, oil and natural gas sectors. He said they discussed ways to quickly move forward with projects that could help improve Iraqi lives.

Abdul Mahdi’s statement praised his government’s efforts in attracting investment, including an upcoming deal with ExxonMobil. On Tuesday, the premier said Iraq was close to signing a $53 billion, 30-year energy agreement with the company.


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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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