Aiming to isolate Iran, the United States looks increasingly isolated itself

Nellie Chapman
May 17, 2019

A US government source said American security experts believe Iran gave its "blessing" to tanker attacks, which hit two Saudi crude oil tankers, a UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge and a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker off Fujeirah near the Strait of Hormuz.

And on Wednesday, the State Department announced it was evacuating all non-emergency staff from neighboring Iraq, closing the US embassy in Baghdad and the USA consulate in Erbil.

But while non-essential US personnel depart Iraq, over 5,000 service members remain in the country.

The US State Department has ordered the departure of "non-emergency government employees" from Iraq, in another show of concern about alleged threats from Iran.

The alert, published on the embassy's website, 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.

Helicopters ferried USA staff from the American embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday out of apparent concern about perceived threats from Iran, which US sources believe encouraged Sunday's attacks on four oil tankers in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, other hardliner Iranian journalists were suggesting the same kind of threats, occasionally even more transparently.

"Normal visa services at both posts will be temporarily suspended", it said, recommending those affected depart as soon as possible.

Spokesmen for two of the groups told Reuters that the talk of threats to U.S. forces was "psychological warfare" by Washington.

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Iran's supreme leader issued a veiled threat in the same speech in which he stated that "no one is seeking war", saying it wouldn't be hard for the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels amid rising tensions with the USA, state media reported Wednesday.

"Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq", it said.

The Netherlands and Germany have also reportedly said they are suspending military activity in Iraq due to security concerns.

Iran is exercising "maximum restraint in spite of the fact the U.S. withdrew from [the] JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) last May", Zarif said at the beginning of his meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

In a speech to state officials delivered on Tuesday, Khamenei said escalating tensions with the USA will remain a diplomatic confrontation, rather than the beginning of a major military clash, France24 reported. "They know that it is not to their benefit".

Otherwise, Rouhani pointed out, Iran would resume higher uranium enrichment; he, however, stressed that the country has no intention of withdrawing from the deal. 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%.

Spain announced that it was pulling its frigate from a US-led naval group that is headed for the Gulf, telling reporters that the "US Government has taken a decision outside of the framework of what had been agreed with the Spanish Navy".

On a visit to Tokyo on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif told his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono that his country's response to the United States actions - America's pullout from the nuclear deal a year ago and the imposition of U.S. sanctions - is within Iran's rights.

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