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Meddle East: Trump blasts Iran, says hard to deal with top 'terror' state

'Zero truth': Trump says Iran's claim it captured CIA spies is 'totally false'

UK plans European-led Gulf force after tanker seizure


May & Trump
Washington (AFP) - US President Donald Trump said Monday that chances of negotiating with Iran were dwindling, as he cited increasing tensions in the Gulf and blasted the Islamic republic as the world's top "state of terror."

The president cited a series of recent conflicts involving Tehran, including the downing of US and Iranian drones and, most recently, Tehran's announcement that it arrested 17 people in connection to a CIA spy ring, a claim Trump rejected as "lies."

"Frankly it's getting harder for me to want to make a deal with Iran, because they behave very badly," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, as visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan sat at his side.

"I'll tell you it could go either way, very easily," Trump added. "And I'm OK either way it goes."

Washington and Tehran have been at loggerheads since May 2018, when Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from a landmark 2015 deal that put curbs on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

On Monday, Trump ramped up the rhetoric, attacking Iran's government as "a religious regime that is badly failing," and saying the country has "tremendous problems economically."

He also used menacing language, saying the United States was "ready for the absolute worst."

"We are very geared up. They are really the number one state of terror in the world," Trump said.

The aggressive remarks came as Washington announced it was placing a leading Chinese oil importer on its sanctions blacklist for trading in Iranian crude.

"As part of that maximum pressure campaign, I am announcing that the United States is imposing sanctions on the Chinese entity Zhuhai Zhenrong and its chief executive Youmin Li," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech.

"They violated US law by accepting crude oil," he added.

The sanctions seek to constrict Zhuhai Zhenrong's access to global financial markets by banning any US individual or business -- including financial institutions with US entities, like most global banks -- from doing business with the company.


US President Donald Trump has denied reports that over a dozen CIA operatives were captured in Iran, calling it 'just more lies and propaganda' on Tehran's part.


The allegation is a desperate measure by a “badly failing” government with a “dead” economy, Trump tweeted on Monday.

It mirrors earlier comments made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also dismissed Tehran’s claims. "The Iranian regime has a long history of lying," Pompeo said in an interview on Fox News, when asked about the alleged spy bust.

The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth. Just more lies and propaganda (like their shot down drone) put out by a Religious Regime that is Badly Failing and has no idea what to do. Their Economy is dead, and will get much worse. Iran is a total mess!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2019

State-affiliated media reported on Monday that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence had arrested 17 members of a suspected spy ring. The agents, who posed as private contractors working in various industries inside Iran, were reportedly recruited by CIA officers while applying for US visas. Others were approached on the sidelines of scientific events in European, African, and Asian countries.

The suspected spies were said to have been equipped with high-tech communication gear which they used to relay intelligence to their American handlers.

Tensions between the US and Iran are on the rise. Washington announced on Saturday that it had shot down an Iranian drone that approached a US warship, a claim fervently denied by Tehran.

Britain which has been cut up in the crossfire of tensions between US and Iran on Monday (Jul 22) said it was planning a European-led protection force for shipping in the Gulf after Iranian authorities seized a British-flagged tanker in a dramatic escalation of tensions in the region.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt made the announcement following an emergency ministerial meeting to respond to Friday's incident.

"We will seek to establish this mission as quickly as possible," Hunt said, condemning Iran's actions as "state piracy" while at the same time emphasising that Britain did not want confrontation.

The mission "will not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement," Hunt told parliament.

The foreign minister also said a second warship that Britain has sent to the region would arrive by Jul 29.

In a dramatic escalation of tensions, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the Stena Impero on Friday in the Gulf's strategic Strait of Hormuz.

The move came two weeks after British authorities seized an Iranian tanker off its overseas territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of breaching EU sanctions against Syria against a backdrop of brinkmanship between Washington and Tehran.

Iran impounded the tanker after claiming it failed to respond to distress calls and turned off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat.

"Seizing the British tanker was a legal measure by Iran," a spokesman for the Iranian government, Ali Rabiei, told a news conference in Tehran on Monday.

However, Britain has said there was no evidence of a collision and said the vessel was in Omani waters, with its transponder switched on.

Hunt spoke to his French and German counterparts on Sunday.

The EU has already expressed its "deep concern" at the move, and on Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: "We don't want any further escalation."

There have been a number of attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz since May, when the United States boosted its military presence in response to what it called indications of a "credible threat" from Iran.

SHIPPING FEARS

Oil prices jumped on Monday on fresh concerns about supplies and a possible conflict in the crude-rich Middle East.

The British government had warned its ships to avoid the shipping channel, a chokepoint for about a third of the world's sea-borne oil.

Hunt on Monday said all British-flagged ships travelling through the strait should contact the government first "to enable us to offer the best protection we can".

But he said the volume of shipping made it impossible to protect every vessel individually.

Questions are being asked in London about why the government was not more proactive in protecting ships after the Gibraltar incident, which provoked fury and a threat of retaliation in Tehran.

The stand-off comes at a sensitive time for Britain, with Prime Minister Theresa May stepping down on Wednesday over her failure to deliver Brexit.

Former foreign minister Boris Johnson is the overwhelming favourite to replace her and there have been calls for stronger action against Iran, such as financial sanctions.

But finance minister Philip Hammond said on Sunday: "We've already got a wide raft of sanctions against Iran, particularly financial sanctions, so it's not clear that there are immediate things we can do".

RELEASE GIBRALTAR SHIP

Iranian authorities have said the crew - 18 Indians, including the captain, three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino - are all in good health.

Tehran said at the weekend that the fate of the Stena Impero depends on an investigation into its alleged breach of international maritime rules.

The incident on Friday began hours after a court in the tiny British territory of Gibraltar extended by 30 days the detention of the Iranian-chartered tanker, Grace 1, which was seized on Jul 4.

"To all the countries that are calling on Iran to release the tanker, we ask them to tell Britain the same thing," the Iranian spokesman said on Monday.

Hunt has said Britain would be content with the release of Grace 1 if there were sufficient guarantees that the oil was not bound for Syria.

The incidents come amid escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington, which have left European nations caught in the middle.

Despite President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the landmark 2015 deal that put curbs on Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, Britain, France and Germany were also signatories and have been trying to keep the deal alive.

But the US administration reimposed tough sanctions on Iran, which retaliated by increasing its enrichment of uranium beyond limits set in the nuclear accord.

Last month, Trump called off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed a US drone.


Sources: AFP, RT, CNA

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