Russia & Iran to boost military cooperation as both get hit by US sanctions

Russia & Iran to boost military cooperation as both get hit by US sanctions
Moscow and Tehran have agreed to strengthen military and technological cooperation as the Russian Deputy PM visited Iran following the latest round of US sanctions.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has met Iranian government officials during his visit to the country on Saturday. Rogozin leads the Russian delegation invited to the inauguration ceremony of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who was reelected in May.

Rogozin held talks with Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan. The officials reportedly discussed new supplies of Russian arms to Iran. They agreed upon the implementation of deals boosting military and technological cooperation, according to Fars news agency.

READ MORE: Sanctions retaliation: Russia tells US to cut embassy staff, stop using storage facilities

The move comes just three days after the US decision to impose a new round of sanctions against Russia and Iran, along with North Korea. The ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ was overwhelmingly approved by American lawmakers at the end of July and signed by Trump on Wednesday. The US leader himself said that the “legislation is significantly flawed” and warned that it puts “US-Russia relations at all-time & dangerous low.”

The move triggered a strong response from all subjects of the newly introduced economic restrictions, as well as concerns from the US’ European allies.

Moscow considers the bill “a full-fledged economic war on Russia,”according to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He also called the legislation a “humiliating defeat” for Trump, which leaves no room for improving bilateral ties.

Russia promised retaliatory measures even before the bill was officially signed by Trump. Following congressional approval, Russia decided to reduce the number of US diplomatic staff in Russia to 455, and suspend the use of embassy storage facilities, warning that more restrictions may come.

Iran slammed the measures as a violation of the 2015 nuclear deal, promising to “show an appropriate and proportional reaction” to America’s “hostile” act. Tehran also blamed Washington for attempting to curb foreign investment in the Iranian economy.

READ MORE: ‘Anachronistic’: N. Korea slams ‘international hooligan US brandishing sanctions club’

Several European government officials said the US law would harm their national interests, as the restrictive measures would target European companies taking part in Russian-EU energy projects, including the Nordstream II pipeline.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel criticized the restrictive measures as “diametrically opposed to the interests of Germany and the EU.” Earlier, German Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries called on the European Commission “to look into countermeasures” against the “illegal” sanctions.

READ MORE: Trade war? EU ready for economic counter-sanctions if US anti-Russia bill signed – top officials

The Austrian chancellor also slammed the move, calling it “absolutely unacceptable.” France voiced its opposition to the sanctions, saying they target companies beyond US jurisdiction and violate international law.

The EU vowed to defend its economic interests and issue an “adequate” response if the sanctions on Russia hurt the interests of European companies working with Russia, according to European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.

Courtesy, RT

US seeks to ‘milk’ terrorism sponsor Saudi Arabia – Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to RT

As the US influence in the Middle East wanes, it increasingly associates itself with dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, whose “dark face” and “role in supporting terrorism is known to everyone in the region,” a high ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guard official told RT.

The United States and President Trump in particular consider only one “dimension” of convergence with Saudi Arabia, ignoring the “ideological and intellectual” challenges and costs such ties entail, media adviser to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Commander-in-Chief Hamid Reza Moghadam Far told RT in an exclusive interview.

“That was one of Trump’s senseless moves. He was just seeking to milk this cow and thinking about only business,” Moghadam Far said.

“The first challenge is that Trump goes to such a country as his first trip after being elected… That is the behavior shown towards a dictatorial regime in which democracy is meaningless and no elections take place and the people have no presence on the scene. The next challenge is that they claim that they are combatting terrorism. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia has provided the most support for terrorism.”

The recent naming of Mohammed bin Salman as Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince might be another “outcome of Trump’s visit” amidst internal disputes among Saudi princes and with other Arab countries.

“This replacement is one of the internal political impacts of the [Trump’s] visit on Saudi Arabia. I mean the replacement of the crown prince. But Saudi Arabia is facing certain conditions today that I think the development would create further problems for the country,” Moghadam Far said, pointing out that this decision would hardly be beneficial for the Saudi people.

While the appointment might push Saudi Arabia into further radicalization, it would unlikely lead to an armed conflict with Iran, Moghadam Far believes, as the Saudi army is “not fit for military action.”

“There is no possibly of conflict. Today many Arab countries are complaining about Saudi Arabia’s inexperienced and radical moves. They consider Saudi Arabia as callow,” Moghadam Far told RT.

“A number of inexperienced people who are ruling Saudi Arabia lack the resolve and determination to initiate a war on Iran. They lack the courage and power. I do not think they will come up with such conclusion, even if all global powers support them.”

Saudi Arabia’s policies in the Middle East only bring instability to the region and its alliance with the US only diminishes the already dwindling American power and influence, Moghadam Far believes.

“[The US policies] definitely have a negative effect. What matters more, however, is that the US is not as influential a player as it used to be and it can no longer manipulate regional equations. Today, it does not enjoy such a sway at all and its influence in the region has waned,” Moghadam Far said.

READ MORE: US stirring up ‘Iranophobia’ to boost arms sales to Arab nations – Tehran

“It now has to associate with countries like Saudi Arabia whose negative role in supporting terrorism, whose dictatorship, and whose dark face is known to everyone in the region.”

Tehran’s recent Iranian missile attack on Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists in Syria should have weakened the resolve of the Saudis and other powers to go to war with Iran. A key “message” of the attack was to clearly demonstrate Iranian military capabilities to those who doubted them, Moghadam Far said.

“In the past, when these missiles were test-fired in Iran, the US and certain western countries used to usually announce that Iran was lying that its launches had been successful and tried to create this impression that Iranians do not have such a capability and their missiles cannot strike their targets with precision,” he said.

The strike also demonstrated Iran’s resolve to fight terrorism, rubbishing usual US accusations that Tehran supports terrorist elements.

“As in the past, whenever Americans want to mount pressure on Iran, impose new sanctions and proceed with an issue in the region and beyond, [the US] accuse Iran of backing terrorism,” Moghadam Far said.

“But I think that today’s conditions are such that the world’s public opinion does not accept this. The world has come to realize that the US, despite leading a coalition against [IS] and terrorism in Syria and Iraq, Syria in particular, does not fight terrorism in practice and is in fact is supporting it… They cannot both take an opposite stance against terrorism and accuse Iran.”

Are US and Russia inching toward confrontation in Syria?

The downing of a Syrian military plane by a US fighter jet is the latest – and perhaps most serious – sign of a stepped-up US military role in the war. That could put the United States on a collision course with Russia.

F/A-18E Super Hornet

When a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Russian-made Syrian SU-22 warplane after it reportedly attacked US-supported fighters near the embattled city of Raqqa, it did not take long for Moscow to respond to what it viewed as an “aggression” against Syrian government forces, which the Kremlin backs.

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Russian officials not only suspended the so-called deconfliction channel with the United States that was set up to avoid potential military incidents between the two countries, but also said the military would shoot down any foreign aircraft west of the Euphrates River, which they consider the Kremlin’s area of operations.

Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the key question about the latest incident was why Syria’s government would even deploy a fighter jet over Raqqa, which it has not done for years.

“My assessment is that the Assad regime is testing and probing the US ‘red lines’ there and in the badia – i.e., the southeast desert areas – and the US is simply asserting that red line, no more,” Sayigh wrote in an email.

‘Risks of escalation’

The incident put a spotlight on the intensifying proxy war in Syria between forces backed by Russia and those supported by the United States, a conflict that has the potential to increasingly pit the two countries directly against each other in the battle over the future of Syria.

Prior to shooting down the warplane, US forces had struck pro-government soldiers three times in recent weeks to counter what officials said were attacks on US-backed troops in the country.

The US has recently ramped up military support for allied groups in Syria in an effort drive the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) out of the city of Raqqa, considered to be the group’s last stronghold in the country.

Russian soldiers in liquefied AleppoRussia’s military support has been key to the survival of the Assad regime

“The risks of escalation and of direct confrontation and more direct conflict between the United States and Russia have increased, and some might even say there are fait accompli since the number of incidents has increased,” saidJonathan Stevenson, a former National Security Council director for political-military affairs, Middle East and North Africa, in the Obama White House.

“It’s a very dangerous situation,” said Iwan Morgan, professor of US studies at University College London. “The chances of confrontation have risen significantly.”

Though there is an increased risk for direct confrontation, both Stevenson and Morgan said neither the United States nor Russia had any interest in letting the situation further escalate.

US officials likely want to avoid seeing things spiral to a point that ultimately could require a bigger ground troop deployment in Syria than intended, said Stevenson, who is currently a senior fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Watch video01:32

US-backed militias push into IS-held Raqqa

No interest in confrontation

Russia should also be wary of any further escalation, Stevenson said, as that could push its military into a situation in which its forces are overstretched in such a way that they would not be able match the capabilities of the United States – “essentially having a bluff called.”

Morgan pointed out that, although neither the United States nor Russia has an interest in confrontation, “of course you could say that about many conflicts in history which then reach a certain point and then boil over.”

He added that he was also worried about a possible confrontation between the United States and Iran, which has been the Syrian government’s other key backer.

Vladimir Putin and Hassan RouhaniIran and Russia are the major outside backers of the Assad government

Further hostilities

In May, in an incident that received comparatively little attention, US fighter jets struck Shiite forces that had ventured too close to US troops along Syria’s border with Iraq.

The scholars agreed that, though a broader US strategy – one that goes beyond the current counterterrorism operation against IS – is difficult to discern, regime change, at least for the moment, is not on Washington’s agenda.

But, Stevenson said, further hostilities between Russia and the United States – whether intentional or accidental – should not come as a surprise, especially if the use of the deconfliction channel becomes more sporadic and the US incrementally increases its operations in support of opposition forces.

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Iran,’terrorist bases’,Tehran attacks,Revolutionary guards,ISIS,missile attack,

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have launched a mid-range ballistic missile attack on terrorist positions in the Syrian province of Deir-ez Zor in retaliation for terrorist attacks in Tehran, Tasnim news agency reports.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards have reportedly launched ground-to-ground mid-range ballistic missiles from the western Iranian provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan into the eastern Syrian province of Deir-ez Zor.

“The spilling of any innocent blood will not go unanswered,” Press TV cited a statement by the Revolutionary Guards as saying.

targets terrorists positions in ‘s Deir ez-Zor with mid-range ballistic missiles in retaliation 4

The Revolutionary Guards targeted the bases and headquarters of terrorists that Iran believes to be responsible for the Tehran attacks. The missiles have reportedly killed large numbers of terrorists and inflicted significant material damage, Tasnim said.

The Revolutionary Guards used Zulfiqar solid fuel ballistic missiles, which have an effective range of 700 kilometers, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.

🔴📸با توجه به تصاویر منتشرشده احتمالا موشک شلیک شده ازنوع با برد 7000 کیلومتر و سوخت جامد بوده است

A number of videos purporting to show the moment of the missile launch have emerged online.

The first video was taken in a western Iranian city by a man who seems to have spotted the missile launch.

“I bet that’s a missile,” a man in the video is heard saying.

وكالة أنباء فارس تنشر الصور الأولى لصاروخ أطلقته القوات الإيرانية متوسط المدى انطلق من الأراضي الإيرانية واستهدف دير الزور في سوريا

The terrorists targeted the Iranian capital on June 7 in a twin attack, with four armed assailants attacking the country’s parliament while a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Imam Khomeini Mausoleum. Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 18 people and injured 50 more.

READ MORE: 12 killed, dozens injured in shootings & bombings at Iranian parliament & Khomeini shrine

While the Iranian missile strike is a significant military action, its main goal was political, according to Peter Ford, a former UK Ambassador to Syria and Bahrain, who believes the strike will send a clear message to Iran’s enemies in the region.

“Militarily, it’s significant. The strike appears to have taken out quite a number of ISIS fighters and leadership. But the political ramifications are the most important. Saudi Arabia will have received the signal loud and clear,” Ford told RT.

“Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, encouraged by Donald Trump, has thrown down the gauntlet to Tehran and been virtually threatening military moves against Tehran. Well, here’s Tehran’s response: Don’t mess with us, we have a long reach.”

US bill on Russia sanctions prompts German, Austrian outcry

A US Senate bill to toughen sanctions on Russia and Iran has been slammed by German and Austrian Social Democrats. Sigmar Gabriel and Christian Kern say it will warp Europe’s natural gas network in favor of US suppliers.

Deutschland Siegmar Gabriel trifft Christian Kern ARCHIV (picture alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska)

The bill passed by US senators 98-2 and forwarded to the US House Representatives prompted a joint outburst Thursday from Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, and Kern, Austria’s chancellor.

The nub is Nord Stream 2, apipeline project to pump Russian natural gas via the Baltic Sea to landfall in Germany – involving Russia’s Gazprom and European energy firms, including Wintershall of Germany and ÖMV of Austria.

“Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America!” wrote Gabriel and Kern, both center-left Social Democrats.

To threaten European firms also active in the US with sanctions, if they took part in Nord Stream 2, thrust “a completely new, and very negative dimension into European-American relations,” the pair wrote.

“In noticeable frankness, the draft US legislation describes what it’s really about: the sale of American liquefied petroleum gas and the squeezing out of of Russian natural gas from the European market,” said Kern and Gabriel, who was previously economy minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition cabinet comprising her conservatives and Social Democrats.

Two years ago, European Baltic nations aired misgivings because the pipeline would lie on the seabed, bypassing their territories.

Additions to deter Trump, Russia

The US bill, opposed only by Republican Rand Paul and independent Bernie Sanders, was originally introduced in the US Senate to slap new sanctions on Iran but ended up with its bipartisan amendment on Russia.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said the add-on was intended to stop “Russia’s meddling in our election” and give Congress the final say should President Donald Trump in the future want to ease sanctions, originally imposed by former president Barack Obama.

“Any idea of the president’s that he can lift sanctions on his own for whatever reason are dashed by this legislation,” Schumer said.

Charles Schumer Washington USA Atom Iran (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Walsh)Schumer wants Trump overruled, should he want to lift sanctions.

“Today, the United States Senate is asserting its responsibilities regarding foreign policy,” added Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, a Republican.

The White House subsequently stated that existing sanctions against Russia were effective enough.

Legislative passage unfinished

The bill would penalize key sectors of Russia’s economy, including mining, metals, shipping and railways. Individuals identified as hackers who carried out cyberattacks on behalf of the Russian government would also be targeted.

To become law, the bill must still be passed by the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump.

The legislative addition came with Trump’s White House embroiled in a allegations that his campaign team colluded with a Russia effort to sway the United State’s 2016 presidential election – a charge leveled by US intelligence chiefs but denied by Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The Senate legislation would impose sanctions on persons involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard for alleged terrorism.

ipj/msh (dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP)

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Twin attacks strike Iran’s parliament, Khomeini’s tomb

Two attacks have hit major targets in the Iranian capital killing at least 12 people. Armed men stormed the parliament while attackers detonated explosives at the tomb of Iran’s former leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

Watch video02:01

Twin attacks in Iran leave several dead

At least 12 people were killed and dozens more injured during two coordinated attacks targeting major landmarks in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said authorities prevented a third assault from taking place.

“This morning two terrorist groups attacked the parliament and Imam Khomeini’s shrine … Members of a third group were arrested before being able to carry out an attack,” the ministry said in a statement circulated by state media.

The self-styled “Islamic State” militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, according to terrorism watchdog SITE Intel Group. However, Middle East observers have expressed skepticism over the claim, saying the group may be seeking to capitalize on the attack.

If confirmed, it would mark the Sunni militant group’s first known attack in Iran, a Shiite-majority country that has been a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Shiite militia in Iraq battling IS.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Iran’s actions against militants in Syria and Iraq proved they had become an enemy.

“Iran is an active and effective pillar in the fight against terrorists and they want to damage it,” he said.

Watch video03:12

“Islamic State” claims twin attacks in Iran – DW’s Theresa Tropper

‘Significant targets’

Holly Dagres, Iranian-American political analyst and curator of the weekly newsletter The Iranist, told DW that the attacks “appeared to be very well planned.”

“The attackers chose two very significant targets that symbolize the Islamic Republic, the parliament and the Imam Khomeini mausoleum. They were targeting the very core of the Iranian government,” Dagres said.

Dagres told DW that while the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, some observers suspect the involvement of different actors, including an Islamist leftist militant group known as People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), which has called for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.

Karte Angriffe in Teheran Iran ENG

Attack on parliament

One attack Wednesday targeted the parliament, where several armed assailants stormed the building. At least one of them detonated a suicide vest strapped with explosives within the building, according to local media reports. The other assailants wielded assault rifles.

“A person entered Iranian parliament today and started shooting at the guards. He shot one of the guards in the leg and ran away,” the Fars and Mehr news agencies reported in their Telegram messenger feeds.

People gather outside Iran Parliament in central Tehran after the shooting incident

Press TV, Iran’s international broadcaster, also showed footage of people fleeing parliament and gathering outside the building.

Following an hours-long siege of the parliament, security forces shot dead the remaining assailants.

Iconic leader’s tomb targeted

Press TV and other state-run news outlets reported that a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden vest near Khomeini’s mausoleum, located in southern Tehran, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the parliament building.

Khomeini is a crucial figure in modern Iranian history. He effectively launched the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that witnessed the founding of an Islamic republic marked by the overthrow of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran.

During the attacks, authorities placed Tehran on lockdown, warning against using public transport and preventing journalists from reaching the site of Khomeini’s tomb.

Regional tensions

The high-profile attacks are likely to raise tensions between rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are battling for influence across the region in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and the Gulf Arab states. It also comes as Gulf Arab states spar with Qatar in part over its relations with Iran, and after US President Donald Trump met with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia earlier this month urging a united front against extremism and Iran.

Read: Saudi Arabia vs. Qatar vs. Iran

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards blamed Saudi Arabia and the United States for the attack in a statement run by Iranian media.

“This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the US president and the [Saudi] backward leaders who support terrorists. The fact that Islamic State has claimed responsibility proves that they were involved in the brutal attack,” it said in a statement.

Opinion: Young princes in the Persian Gulf are playing with fire

World reacts

The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini expressed her “condolences to the victims” of the attack, saying her team is following the events “closely.”

“Condolences with the victims of the attack in . We’re following the events closely” @FedericaMog

Germany’s foreign ministry condemned the attacks, saying “once again, unscrupulous criminals have killed many innocent people.”

“I condemn in the strongest terms the attacks in the Iranian parliament building and the tomb of the revolutionary leader Khomeini,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a statement.

France’s foreign ministry also issued a statement expressing condolences to the families of the victims, noting that its embassy in Iran was monitoring the situation.

Russian President Vladimir Ptuin said Russia “resolutely condemns” the violence, saying such incidents underscore the need for more international cooperation on uprooting terrorism.

In a surprising statement, the UAE, which has accused Iran of creating instability in the region, condemned the attacks, saying: “Our position on terrorism is very clear … Any terrorist attack in any country, in any capital, directed at innocent people is something that the UAE abhors and the UAE condemns.”

cw/ls/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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Shiite militants push IS out of key Iraqi town of Baaj

The pro-Baghdad Popular Mobilization Forces have driven the “Islamic State” out of the Iraqi town of Baaj, cutting one of the group’s supply lines between Mosul and Syria. The Shiite fighters are endorsed by Iran.

Irak Angriffe auf IS-Militante am Rande von Al-Baaj (Reuters/Stringer)

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Iraqi forces capture key bridge in push to liberate Mosul

Iraqi air force backed the militia’s push into the border town, the Popular Mobilization group announced on Sunday.

The victory over the self-styled “Islamic State” (IS) fighters was a “big and qualitative achievement” in the larger operation to retake the city of Mosul from the IS jihadis, said deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

The border town is located west of Mosul, and its loss cuts a key IS supply lines connecting the city with Syria. Baghdad’s troops launched the offensive to liberate Mosul eight months ago and uprooted the jihadi militia from several parts of the city. However, IS forces are still holding the western section of their last remaining urban stronghold in Iraq.

Iranian advisors active in Syria and Iraq

Despite the US backing, the anti-IS coalition was forced to slow down its efforts while facing car bombs and sniper fire in the densely populated areas of Mosul.

Karte Irak ENG

The retaking of Baaj comes several weeks after the Popular Mobilization Forces started their push to reclaim the area near the Syrian border. IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding in the region.

While the Shiite-dominated militia nominally answers to Baghdad, it is supported by the Shiite power Iran. Tehran provided training and military advisors to the Iraqi group, and also helped organize thousands of Shiite fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in Syria.

dj/sms (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)