DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The latest on developments in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere in Mideast amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran (all times local):
Iran’s foreign minister says his country is committed to an international nuclear deal and criticized escalating U.S. sanctions “unacceptable” as he met with Japanese officials in Tokyo amid rising tensions in the Middle East.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif told his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono that his country’s response to the U.S. actions is within the deal and Iran’s rights.
Iran recently threatened to resume higher enrichment in 60 days if no new nuclear deal is in place, beyond the level permitted by the current deal between Tehran and world powers. The U.S. pulled out of the deal last year.
Kono expressed concern over the rising tension in the Middle East, and urged Zarif to use restraint and keep implementing the nuclear agreement.
The governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Norway are formally notifying the United Nations that four commercial ships were targeted and at least three of them damaged in the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.
In a joint statement, the governments say the incident “posed a threat to the safety and security” of international shipping and maritime navigation. It says no one was injured, but the hulls of at least three of the four ships were damaged.
Details about the reported acts of sabotage off the UAE’s port of Fujairah remain unclear.
The joint statement by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Norway does not say who they suspect was responsible. It says the three countries are working with international partners to investigate.
A top UAE diplomat says the coalition will “retaliate hard” over attacks on civilian targets after the Yemen rebels’ drone attack on a Saudi pipeline.
Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, made the comment Wednesday while speaking to journalists in Dubai.
Gargash said: “We will also retaliate and retaliate hard when we see the Houthis hit civilian targets within Saudi Arabia.”
However, Gargash also said that the UAE believed a United Nations-brokered agreement on the port city of Hodeida represented the best option for finding a political solution to the yearslong war.
Gargash said: “It’s a window, it may not be wide enough, but it is a window we have to work with.”
A top Emirati diplomat says the UAE is “very committed to de-escalation” after the alleged sabotage of oil tankers.
Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, made the comment Wednesday while speaking to journalists in Dubai.
Though declining to name a suspect in the alleged sabotage, Gargash says “Iranian behavior” is at the center of regional problems.
“We have been bullied by Iran, we have seen aggressive Iranian action in the region,” he said.
Oman says regional and international efforts should be aimed at avoiding jeopardizing the security of the region after four oil tankers were subjected to alleged acts of sabotage earlier this week.
Oman’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday the Sultanate, located on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, expresses its “deep regret and rejection of these irresponsible incidents.”
Neighboring United Arab Emirates has so far issued only a vague statement alleging four ships “were subjected to sabotage operations” on Sunday off the coast of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman.
In its statement carried in state-run local media, Oman says it stresses the importance of regional and international efforts to ensure the safety of maritime navigation and “the avoidance of any causes that may jeopardize the security and stability of the region.”
Oman, largely seen as a neutral player in the region, is a U.S. ally that has in the past facilitated negotiations between the United States and Iran.
The Czech Defense Ministry says the country’s military is continuing with its training operations in Iraq.
The ministry also says it has taken “adequate measures” due to a worsened security situation. No details were immediately given.
The Czech presence in Iraq includes a chemical unit, military police and air force instructors. There are currently 60 Czech service members in Iraq.
The ministry’s announcement on Wednesday came after the German and Dutch governments suspended training of Iraqi soldiers due to tensions in the region between the U.S. and Iran.
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday ordered all non-essential government staff to leave Iraq right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.
U.S. embassies in Lebanon, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates are warning American citizens of heightened tensions in the region amid escalation with Iran.
In advisories issued Wednesday, the embassies advised Americans to maintain a “high level of vigilance” and keep a low profile. The embassy in the central Asian nation of Turkmenistan, on Iran’s northeast borders, issued similar warnings.
The advisories followed an earlier alert out of Iraq ordering non-essential staff to leave the country.
Tensions have been quickly rising between Iran and the United States, which has said last week it detected new and urgent threats from Tehran and its proxy forces in the region targeting Americans. Two Saudi pumping stations and two of its oil tankers off the coast of the Emirates came under attack this week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says that he has been urging Iran’s leadership to stick to the nuclear deal, despite the U.S. withdrawal from it.
Putin, who was meeting Austria’s president in Russia’s Sochi, told reporters on Wednesday that the 2015 nuclear accords “are coming apart” but that he has been advising Iranian leaders to adhere to them no matter what the United States does.
The Russian leader said that after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran deal with world powers, “Europe can’t do anything to save it” and that if Iran begins to backtrack on its commitments, “everyone will end up blaming it all on Iran.”
Putin said Russia was glad to help mediate the deal and would be willing to help in the future but he added that Russia “is not a rescue squad” and cannot fix “everything that doesn’t depend on us entirely.”
Germany’s foreign minister says European allies made clear to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this week that they don’t consider unilateral “maximum pressure” against Iran an effective strategy.
Heiko Maas addressed German lawmakers on Wednesday, two days after he and his British and French colleagues met Pompeo in Brussels. He reiterated the European argument that dialogue with Iran helps to keep up pressure on concerns about issues that go beyond its nuclear program.
He said: “We don’t think, and we made this very clear to Pompeo on Monday, that a unilateral strategy of maximum pressure really takes us further.”
Maas added that “maximum pressure always carries the risk of an unintended escalation, and what has happened in recent days — acts of sabotage against ships or pipelines — are indications that these dangers are concrete and real.”
The Netherlands has suspended its military training mission in Iraq because of a security threat.
State broadcaster NOS said Wednesday the 50-person mission is halted “until further orders.” It quoted a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying he couldn’t elaborate on the threats. It said the Dutch forces are primarily training Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State group in the region.
The Dutch Defense Ministry did not immediately comment.
The announcement came soon after the German government suspended training of Iraqi soldiers due to tensions in the region between the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. State Department on Wednesday ordered all non-essential government staff to leave Iraq right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.
The German government has expressed concern about the tensions in the Mideast between the U.S. and Iran, warning of a military escalation and saying it supports all measures for a peaceful solution.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said on Wednesday that, “obviously, we are watching the increasing tensions in the region with big concern and welcome any measure that is aimed at a peaceful solution.”
Demmer added that the government condemns all acts that escalate the situation in the region further.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said despite the tension, the German government has not reduced its staff at the embassies in Iraq and Iran.
Earlier Wednesday, Germany’s military said it suspended training of Iraqi soldiers due to the tensions, though there was no indication of any specific threat to its own troops in Iraq.
The German government says the country’s military has suspended training of Iraqi soldiers due to tensions in the region between the U.S. and Iran but has no indication of any specific threat to its own troops.
The announcement came shortly after the U.S. State Department on Wednesday ordered all non-essential government staff to leave Iraq right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.
German Defense Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff says that Germany is “orienting itself toward our partner countries, which have taken this step.”
But he stressed that “there is no concrete threat” and the decision is down to the security situation in general being viewed as more tense.
Germany currently has about 160 German soldiers in Iraq as part of the fight against the Islamic State group, about 60 of them at a base north of Baghdad where Iraqi forces are being trained.
Flosdorff said that training could in principle resume within days.
The Kremlin’s spokesman says U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn’t offer President Vladimir Putin any reassurances or ease Moscow’s concerns over the ongoing crisis between the United States and Iran.
Pompeo met with Putin on Tuesday in Russia’s resort of Sochi where he sought to alleviate some of the concerns about the spiraling tensions but made clear the U.S. would respond to any attacks on American targets.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Moscow is concerned over mounting tensions and defended Iran’s actions as a legitimate response to the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran has given European countries a 60-day deadline to negotiate a new nuclear deal Tehran or it would start enriching uranium to higher levels than outlined in the current agreement.
—This item has been corrected to show that Pompeo and Putin met on Tuesday, not Monday;
12: 15 p.m.
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq says the State Department has ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.
The alert, published on the embassy’s website on Wednesday, comes after Washington last week said it had detected new and urgent threats from Iran and its proxy forces in the region targeting Americans and American interests.
On Sunday, the embassy advised Americans to avoid travel to Iraq, citing “heightened tensions.”
Iran’s supreme leader claims that enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels would not be a difficult task for the country — the latest threats from Tehran as tensions roil the region amid the unraveling of the nuclear deal.
State-owned IRAN daily quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as telling a group of officials during a meeting on Tuesday night that “achieving 20 percent enrichment is the most difficult part. The next steps are easier than this step.”
Iran recently threatened to resume higher enrichment in 60 days if no new nuclear deal is in place, beyond the 3.67% permitted by the current deal between Tehran and world powers. The Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year.
Iranian officials have said that they could reach 20% enrichment within four days. Though Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, scientists say the time needed to reach the 90% threshold for weapons-grade uranium is halved once uranium is enriched to around 20%.
A satellite image obtained by The Associated Press shows one of the two pumping stations attacked by drones in Saudi Arabia apparently intact.
The image from San Francisco-based Planet Labs Inc. that the AP examined on Wednesday shows Saudi Aramco’s Pumping Station No. 8 outside of the town of al-Duadmi. It’s 330 kilometers, or 205 miles, west of the capital, Riyadh.
The photo, taken Tuesday after the attack claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, shows two black marks near where Saudi Arabia’s East-West Pipeline passes by the facility. Those marks weren’t there in images taken Monday.
The facility otherwise appears intact.
The attack came as regional tensions flared, just days after what the kingdom called an attack on two of its oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
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