WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) — On Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence warned Iran against taking actions against US interests and personnel in the region.
Speaking in Washington to the annual conference of the organization, Christians United for Israel, Pence stated, “Over the last several months,” Iran has been increasing its “malign activity and violence.” It “attacked tankers passing near the Strait of Hormuz,” and then it “downed an unmanned American drone,” he explained, before citing Iran’s recent violations of the 2015 nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA.)
“Last week, Iran exceeded the amount of low-enriched uranium it can have” under the JCPOA, Pence said. Then it “proclaimed it was going to start enriching uranium beyond the levels permitted by the agreement.”
On Sunday evening, Iran announced it would enrich uranium above the 3.67% limit set by the JCPOA. In response, President Donald Trump told reporters, “Iran better be careful, because you enrich for one reason -- and I won't tell you what that reason is, but it's no good. They better be careful.”
On Monday, Tehran announced it had, in fact, done so, and had produced uranium enriched to 4.5 per cent. It also warned that its next step could be to enrich uranium to 20%.
Iran is seeking to pressure Europe to come up with a way to circumvent the economic sanctions Washington imposed on Iran, following the US withdrawal from the JCPOA last May.
The European countries have tried to do so, but have not been successful, because the US applies sanctions on individual companies that violate its sanctions, and most companies do not want to run the risk of incurring US penalties.
As tensions with Iran have increased over the past two months, the US has deployed a significant number of aircraft and naval vessels to the region. The Trump administration came close to bombing Iran on June 20, following its downing of a large US drone, before President Donald Trump decided against it.
Speaking on Monday, Pence warned, “Iran should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve.” The US “and our military are prepared to protect our interests and protect our personnel and our citizens in the region.”
Also on Monday, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was in Washington, where he met Acting Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper. Later that evening, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin hosted both the Qatari emir and US President for dinner at the Treasury Department.
At dinner, addressing Trump, al Thani stated, “We continue our mutual commitment to remain closely invested in both military and security alliance, as we are expanding Al Udeid Air Base to accommodate US troops and their families.”
Al Udeid is the main US air base in the Middle East. Planes based there conduct missions as far east as Afghanistan and as far west as Syria. Many of the US aircraft recently dispatched to the region, including F-22 Raptors, as well as B-52 bombers, are currently at Al Udeid.
Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday as well, and they “discussed ongoing efforts to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and to end Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” according to a White House read-out of their conversation.
On Saturday, Macron had an hour-long phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Macron expressed “his deep concern” about Iran’s contravention of the JCPOA, along with “the consequences that would necessarily follow,” a statement from Macron’s office explained. The two presidents agreed to “explore” the “conditions to enable the resumption of dialogue among all parties,” setting a deadline of July 15 for their effort.
A senior French envoy is visiting Tehran on Tuesday and Wednesday in pursuit of that objective. So far, Iran has insisted that the US must lift sanctions before it will agree to any talks with Washington, although, perhaps, the French have something else in mind.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Iran last month in an effort to mediate between Washington and Tehran. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, however, refused any discussions with the US. Indeed, Iran actually attacked a Japanese tanker while Abe was in Tehran, an act of aggression that US officials stressed was particularly insulting to him and his country given what he was trying to do.
Editing by Nadia Riva