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Iran Will Expand Nuclear Program and Won’t Talk to U.S., Ayatollah Says


Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said in a televised address that Iran will expand its nuclear program and will not negotiate with the United States, doubling down on his defiance of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy.

In a Friday speech for the Eid al-Adha holiday, Ayatollah Khamenei said that entering talks with Washington over Iran’s nuclear program, as President Trump has urged Tehran to do, would only improve Mr. Trump’s chances of being re-elected in November. That, the ayatollah said, was Mr. Trump’s reason for suggesting such talks in the first place.

“He is going to benefit from negotiations,” Ayatollah Khamenei said. “This old man who is in charge in America apparently used negotiations with North Korea as propaganda,” he added — a reference to Mr. Trump’s high-profile nuclear diplomacy on another front, which to date has been mostly fruitless.

Ayatollah Khamenei also said that Iran would maintain its close alliances with militia groups in the region that it uses as proxies, defying another demand from the Trump administration.

The Iranian leader was not the first to connect the possibility of talks with the United States to the presidential election. Last month, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that Iran could make a better deal if it did so before November. “Don’t wait until after U.S. Election to make the Big deal,” he wrote. “I’m going to win. You’ll make a better deal now!”

The United States has continued to tighten sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, which have had a crippling effect on the Middle Eastern country’s economy. On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the State Department would expand the sanctions to cover 22 materials believed to be used in Iran’s nuclear, military and ballistic missile programs.

Ayatollah Khamenei said that Iran would not try to negotiate its way out of the sanctions and that it would be better off relying on its own industrial development. He said the Americans were targeting his country’s economy in the hope that Iranians would rise up against their government, which the ayatollah dismissed as “pipe dreams.”

Mr. Khamenei said that developing the nuclear program was an absolute necessity for Iran’s future. He dismissed the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers, which Mr. Trump abandoned in 2018, as “very damaging,” saying that Iran had suffered economic setbacks because of it.

Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is meant exclusively for peaceful purposes, but the United States and other countries believe it is pursuing the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.

The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who was in charge of the negotiations for Iran, said as recently as last month in Parliament that the negotiating team had Ayatollah Khamenei’s full support and blessing to reach a deal.

The ayatollah, who recently directed his closest economic advisers to cement a 25-year military and economic partnership with China, said in his speech that European countries involved in the nuclear deal were unreliable, and that their attempts to salvage the pact — such as creating a secure financial channel so that Iran could maintain a limited amount of trade — were “useless games.”

Some Iranian officials and analysts have said that Iran’s strategy was to wait out the remainder of Mr. Trump’s term in hopes of a Democratic victory that could revive the deal, which was reached under President Barack Obama.

“Khamenei has always believed that accommodating to one U.S. demand would bring about another demand and another,” said Sina Azodi, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “For him, every solution would bring about another problem.”

But analysts, entrepreneurs and businessmen inside Iran have warned that the economy risks collapse if the current situation continues.

Since the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018, Iran’s currency has dropped sharply and inflation has surged. The government said it faced a budget deficit of nearly 30 percent this fiscal year. Oil sales have plummeted from 2.5 million barrels a day to about 300,000, nearly eliminating Iran from the global crude oil market.





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Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump over killing of Qasem Soleimani


People gather to protest the US air strike in Iraq that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who headed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds force in Sanaa, Yemen on January 6, 2020.

Mohammed Hamoud | Andalou Agency | Getty Images

Iran’s government has issued an arrest warrant for U.S. President Donald Trump over the killing of its top commander Qasem Soleimani in January, the country’s semi-official Fars news agency reported Monday.

Tehran is also reportedly asking Interpol for help, according to Fars. Ali Alghasi-Mehr, the attorney general of Tehran, named Trump and 35 others Iran has accused of involvement in Soleimani’s death as facing “murder and terrorism charges,” and was quoted as saying he had asked Interpol to issue “red notices” for them — the highest level notice Interpol can issue on an individual to pursue their arrest. 

Trump, however, is in no danger of arrest and it’s highly unlikely Interpol would honor Iran’s request, as the international agency’s guidelines forbid it from “undertaking any intervention or activities of a political” nature.

The Trump administration has so far not responded to Iran’s announcement. Interpol did not immediately reply to a request for comment from CNBC. 

Soleimani led Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign operations wing of the elite paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Trump administration labeled him a terrorist, and Washington deemed him responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The 62-year-old Soleimani was killed in a drone strike directed by Trump in early January while in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, in a move that sent regional tensions and oil prices soaring and triggered a retaliatory attack by Iran and its proxies on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.  

In emphasizing Soleimani’s significance, one defense analyst called the strike “the equivalent of Iran killing the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and then taking credit for it.”

Less than a week after the drone strike, on January 8, more than a dozen Iranian ballistic missiles hit Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq’s western Anbar province and a base in Erbil in the country’s north. There were no deaths.

The death of Soleimani, revered as a hero in much of Iran, prompted three days of nationwide mourning across the country. And while Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the retaliatory attack as a “slap on the face” to the U.S., he said it was “not enough,” suggesting further action. 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards vowed “severe revenge” on the U.S. and experts warned of Iranian-led attacks on U.S. military bases and energy facilities in the region, cyberattacks and potential attacks via Iran’s numerous proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. But confrontation between the two adversaries has been relatively quiet since, at least compared to the previous year — something some experts attribute to the coronavirus crisis, which has engulfed both countries. By late February, Iran had become the Middle East’s epicenter of the disease. 

Last year saw the U.S. accuse Iran of blowing up multiple foreign tankers in the Persian Gulf, the Iranian downing of a U.S. drone, and more sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic by the Trump administration as both parties move closer to terminating the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Iran has announced numerous steps to roll back its adherence to the Obama-era deal, meant to curb its nuclear program in exchange for economic relief, ever since Trump withdrew the U.S. from it in 2018. 

Washington and Tehran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980.



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US splits with allies again as it looks to extend Iran weapons ban


Speaking at the State Department Wednesday, Pompeo told reporters that the US would work to stop the small arms embargo from sunsetting in October 2020, as outlined by the pact.

“We’re not going to let that happen,” Pompeo said. The administration is urging the E3 — Germany, France and the United Kingdom — “to take action which is within their capacity today,” he said.

“We’ll work with the UN Security Council to extend that prohibition on those arms sales,” Pompeo continued. “And then in the event we can’t get anyone else to act, the United States is evaluating every possibility about how we might do that.”

The five-year expiration on the arms embargo was part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Trump administration withdrew from that deal in May 2018 to launch an ongoing “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran that has led to increased regional tensions and strained relations with European allies who remain in the agreement.

Now, Pompeo is asserting that the US can still participate in decisions about the embargo as well as the deal and use a provision of the pact to “snapback” sanctions on Iran if the arms embargo ends.

‘Either you’re in or either you’re out’

The US position has caused eyebrows to be raised. Peter Stano, the European Commission spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, pointed out that the “US has not participated in any meetings or activities within the framework of the JCPOA ” since withdrawing in May 2018, but said in a statement to CNN that they “do not comment on reports of possible positions the US, or other UN members might take, regarding the JCPOA.”

A European source said the sunsetting arms embargo is a concern, given regional tensions, but stressed that countries still in the agreement cannot support the US proposal because the arms embargo’s expiration is a formal and legal part of the treaty.

“You won’t see the E3 signing up for that because the arms embargo end is a legitimate part of the JCPOA,” this source said.

An Iranian official told CNN that “any US claim of being a participant in the JCPOA is basically rejected by the international community. Even every freshman student of international law or relations do not subscribe to the alleged US position.”

Putin leverages coronavirus chaos to make a direct play to Trump

Other parties to the treaty, including Russia and China, did not respond to requests for comment, but many diplomats shared their disapproval on the condition of anonymity.

“The US pulled out of the JCPOA,” one European diplomat said. “Either you’re in or either you’re out. You cannot cherry pick. … Either you implement it or not.”

A source familiar with administration discussions on Iran said State Department lawyers have prepared a legal argument that the language in the Iran nuclear deal and UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which enshrined the pact, leave room for the US to argue “that they still are a party even though they’ve withdrawn.”

That interpretation allows the US to say that if the arms embargo isn’t extended, Washington can still use a provision of the nuclear deal that allows for sanctions to be snapped back.

The European diplomat dismissed the idea that the US could actually make this plan work, noting that “you will always find a lawyer that tells you what you want to hear.”

‘Unambiguous’

On Wednesday, Pompeo insisted that the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 was “unambiguous” about the US right to participate.

“UN Security Council Resolution 2231 is unambiguous where the United States is a participant in the UN Security, it’s just there in language, there is nothing magic about this. There is no fancy — someone suggested this is fancy lawyering. It’s just reading,” Pompeo said. “We are going to make sure that come October of this year, the Iranians aren’t able to buy conventional weapons.”

In December, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, showed a draft UN Security Council resolution on the arms embargo to a few countries and it has been shared since with a few more.

The first European source noted that conversations with Pompeo and Hook are “still in the brainstorming space” with a focus on making sure “the Iranian proliferation of arms is managed.”

“Come October, it’s not a free for all for Iran,” said this European source, pointing out that Tehran will still be under other arms embargoes, including a comprehensive European Union arms embargo that lasts until October 2023 and a UN measure on missile technology that also lasts until 2023.

The source familiar said that Pompeo has been hoping the UK would take the lead in bringing a resolution to the UN “at the appropriate time,” given that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken a firmer line on Iran. If they can’t get the UK to act, the Trump administration will do it on its own and “there will be a huge fight at the UNSC,” they said.

‘A policy based on coercion only will not make it’

Some countries are trying to work with the US to clearly understand the challenge and walk through the ramifications of a move to snap back sanctions. However, US officials don’t expect other parties to the deal — France, Germany, the European Union, Russia and China — to agree with the US proposal.

Those countries have signaled displeasure with the US maximum pressure campaign, which has levied heavy sanctions against Iran. In the time since the Trump administration’s campaign began, Iran has pulled away from its commitments under the deal, exceeding uranium enrichment levels and resuming use of centrifuges at the Fordow facility for enrichment. Tehran has said it will return to compliance as soon as the US returns to the treaty and lifts its unilateral sanctions against Iran.

Many diplomats also say the US pressure campaign as driving increasing tensions in the Mideast, where Iran has used asymmetric attacks on tankers and oil facilities to try to generate leverage.

“A policy based on coercion only will not make it,” said a second European diplomat, speaking about the looming embargo deadline and sanctions regime. “It has been two years now and the expectation has been that Iran will just realize that they should get back to the table and accept a broader and more intrusive and demanding deal and they have not.”



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Over 100 US troops have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries following Iran strike



Later on Monday the Pentagon released a statement confirming that 109 service members had been diagnosed, an increase of 45 from the end of January when they said 64 service members had been suffered injuries.

The statement added that nearly 70% of the injured service members have returned to duty.

“We are grateful to the efforts of our medical professionals who have worked diligently to ensure the appropriate level of care for our service members, which has enabled nearly 70 percent of those diagnosed to return to duty. We must continue to address physical and mental health together,” Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah said in a statement.

“Our research has been instrumental in the development of various breakthroughs to improve the lives of those individuals who have sustained brain injuries. Our efforts must address the total picture – before, during and after any blast exposure or injury. This is a snapshot in time and numbers can change. We will continue to provide updates as they become available,” Farah added.

The Pentagon and President Donald Trump had initially said no service members were injured or killed in the Iranian missile attack, which was retaliation for the January 2 US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general.

Several Pentagon officials told CNN last month that the number of diagnosed cases is likely to continue to change. Approximately 200 people who were in the blast zone at the time of the attack have been screened for symptoms.

During a news conference at the Pentagon late last month, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the increasing number of reported cases stems in part from the fact that the injuries, for the most part, fall into the category of “mild TBI” which takes time for symptoms to manifest.

“All of those people were screened and we have got a certain number and the number is growing, in this particular case TBI — that manifests, it takes some time to manifest itself, it’s not an immediate thing necessarily — some cases it is, some cases it’s not. So we continue to screen,” Milley said. “Some of them have been evacuated to Europe, some have been evacuated back to the United States so there is a layered approach to this, we’ll continue to do that with our medical professionals.”

Trump downplayed severity of injuries

Last month, Trump said he does not consider potential brain injuries to be as serious as physical combat wounds, downplaying the severity of the injuries suffered in Iraq.

During the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked to explain the discrepancy between his previous comments that no US service member was harmed and reports of US troops being treated for injuries suffered in the attack.

“No, I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it’s not very serious,” Trump replied during a news conference.

Asked about the President’s comments, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Trump “understands the nature of these injuries.”

“I’ve had the chance to speak with the President. He is very concerned about the health and welfare of all of our service members, particularly those who were involved in the operations in Iraq, and he understands the nature of these injuries,” he said last month.

An influential veterans group demanded Trump apologize for those comments.

“The VFW expects an apology from the President to our service men and women for his misguided remarks,” William “Doc” Schmitz, Veterans of Foreign Wars national commander, said in a statement Friday.

“And, we ask that he and the White House join with us in our efforts to educate Americans of the dangers TBI has on these heroes as they protect our great nation in these trying times. Our warriors require our full support more than ever in this challenging environment,” Schmitz added.

How dangerous are TBIs?

The most common form of TBI in the military is mild TBIs, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a TBI as a “disruption in the normal function of the brain” that’s typically caused by a bump, a blow or a jolt to the head. One of the most common forms of TBI is concussion, also known as mild TBI (mTBI).

Away from the military they’re typically seen in car accidents, when a person’s head hits the windshield. They also frequently occur in sports — after a football player tackles an opposing player leading with his own helmet, for example.

In 2014 alone, almost 3 million TBI-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths were reported in the US, according to the CDC. More than 830,000 occurred among children. The total number increased 53% from 2006, the CDC said, indicating brain injuries are on the rise.

They can also be caused by severe shaking, which moves the brain inside the skull and causes injury. That can happen when, using the car accident example, the head jolts from impact but doesn’t actually collide with a surface.

These types of injuries can range from mild to severe. Symptoms of mild injuries include headaches, dizziness and confusion.

For moderate to severe brain injuries, though, symptoms can include severe headaches, a lack of coordination, slurred speech and seizures.

Very severe cases can even result in death. There were 56,800 TBI-related deaths in the US in 2014, according to the CDC

CNN’s Leah Asmelash and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.



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Between Iran threat and Bezos hack, 2020 is shaping up to be good for cybersecurity firms



In a closed-door briefing with Senate aides, the companies described how hacking outfits linked to Iran, criminal groups and other adversaries are growing more sophisticated — and how they could take advantage of a complex web of vulnerable US targets to sow chaos, according to several people familiar with the Jan. 16 meeting.

Some of the hypothetical scenarios could have fit into a James Bond plot. By compromising the power grid, for example, skilled attackers could try to bring down oil and gas facilities that depend on electricity, Sergio Caltagirone, vice president of threat intelligence at Dragos, told the group.

The presentations by Dragos and two other companies — CrowdStrike (CRWD) and Cloudflare (NET) — highlight the way rising international tensions, increasingly capable hackers and a high-stakes election year are combining to create a perfect storm of risks for US businesses, infrastructure providers and state and local governments.
On Jan. 22, The Guardian first reported that a forensic analysis concluded the world’s richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, may have been hacked via a WhatsApp account belonging to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. And just this week, hackers employing a strain of malware that the FBI warned about in December publicly posted the data files of dozens of businesses.

It’s a volatile mix that portends a very good year for the multibillion-dollar cybersecurity industry.

“We are seeing huge growth,” Caltagirone said in an interview with CNN. “We’re servicing more calls than we can handle, which is actually a problem.” Dragos has hired more than 100 additional employees in the past 18 months and is still having trouble keeping up with demand, he added.

Chaos, Inc, or When chaos is good for business

As fears of an escalating conflict between the United States and Iran rattled much of the stock market at the start of the year, multiple cybersecurity companies saw their shares jump. Joel P. Fishbein, Jr., an industry analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, upgraded his rating of one firm, FireEye (FEYE), saying in a research note that “recent events in Iran and Iraq” are likely to drive higher spending on cybersecurity in the coming months.
Information security companies were already riding high. Global spending on cybersecurity topped an estimated $120 billion last year, up 7% from the year prior, according to market research firm Gartner. That figure is expected to grow to $143 billion by 2021. And venture capital investment in cybersecurity startups hit a new high last year.

But the enormous demand for cybersecurity know-how is also creating opportunities for fly-by-night operators with dubious track records, said James Lewis, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a security think tank.

“Everyone has a marketing department,” said Lewis. “Not everyone has the skills to do the good analysis.”

For the uninitiated, the line between self-promotion and cold, sober analysis can be difficult to find. A routine practice across the industry is to label hacking collectives using catchy aliases like Fancy Bear and Ocean Lotus. The naming conventions typically follow a pattern — for example, CrowdStrike refers to Iranian-linked hacking groups as “kittens” and Chinese-based groups as “pandas.”

Though the practice may have originated out of necessity to differentiate anonymous hacking groups, it’s become a successful branding technique for security companies of all kinds, said Lewis.

“If you have a name out there that sticks, it leads people back to your company,” he said. “Chief information officers or boards, when they realize they need to do something, they think about you.”

That can result in situations where a company driven by marketing, not knowledge, wins an unwarranted amount of attention, said Yossi Appleboum, a former Israeli army intelligence officer and the CEO of Sepio Systems, a company specializing in defenses against hardware hackers.

“The problem is that many people in the industry are talking about things they don’t really have a clue about,” said Appleboum.

Appleboum’s skepticism is apparently shared. After the forensic analysis looking into Bezos’s phone became public, a number of high-profile independent experts challenged the consulting firm that Bezos hired for the investigation, saying it had done an incomplete job and had jumped to conclusions.

In particular, the report betrayed a lack of familiarity with the specialized field of mobile forensics, said Sarah Edwards, an instructor at the SANS Institute, a security training and research group. It had principally relied on an iTunes backup of Bezos’s phone, Edwards said, citing the consultant report, which provided only a limited range of evidence.

“My recommendation would have been to bring it to people who truly deal with this kind of work,” she said.

Other experts panned the report for relying on circumstantial evidence to make confident claims about who may have been responsible. The team that did the analysis, FTI Consulting, declined to comment at the time.

Repeated questions about a firm’s credibility or expertise can trigger a more serious loss of trust.

In 2016, a bombshell report by independent journalist Brian Krebs revealed that Norse, an oft-quoted security company, was “imploding” after laying off much of its staff and firing its CEO. A major problem behind the scenes, said Krebs, citing former employees, was that the company had apparently been more committed to building a flashy, interactive map purporting to show real-time cyberattack traffic than it was in fleshing out its analytic capabilities.
Norse later issued a press release alleging “serious errors” in Krebs’s reporting, focusing on details relating to the company’s ownership history and structure. But security experts had already long expressed doubts about Norse’s forensic analyses, questioning its research on Iran as well as the 2014 data breach affecting the entertainment giant Sony. The company’s profile has since diminished considerably; its last tweet was in 2016.

Preparing for the 2020 election

Just as cybersecurity firms can undermine their credibility by getting things wrong and appearing to get in the way of the public interest, though, many are pitching themselves as defenders of the public good.

A growing number of security companies have latched onto concerns about the 2020 elections and whether they could be hacked by foreign adversaries. More than a dozen companies, including Microsoft (MSFT) and Cloudflare, have joined together to offer cybersecurity services to political campaigns of all backgrounds.
The services are provided as in-kind donations, for free, through a not-for-profit group the Federal Election Commission cleared last year. The group is led by former US national security officials, as well as former presidential campaign managers for Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney.

While it won’t make them any money directly, said Lewis, it’s a smart strategy that’ll likely mean even more growth down the road.

“It’s a sweet spot,” he said. “They get both marketing value and they get to do some good.”





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US wants to put Patriot missiles in Iraq to counter Iran as it announces humanitarian aid channel


The announcements come as the House approved a set of measures meant to curb President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, after tensions skyrocketed in the wake of the White House move to kill Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Thursday that the US has asked Iraq for permission to deploy a Patriot missile defense system in the wake of Iran’s response to Soleimani’s killing, a missile attack that injured dozens of US troops and left 50 with traumatic brain injuries.

“Patriot batteries, Patriot battalion is not a small organization, it’s relatively large, so the mechanics of it all have to be worked out and that is in fact ongoing,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said standing alongside Esper at the Pentagon.

Momentum in Iraq seems to be toward reducing, not increasing, the US presence and capabilities there. The Iraqi parliament recently voted to have the US withdraw its troops. The Trump administration has responded by threatening to sanction Iraq and pull its foreign military funding if it does so.

New sanctions

As the US moves to bolster its regional defenses against Tehran, the US special envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, announced new sanctions on the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and its head, Ali Akbar Salehi, as part of the Trump administration’s extended maximum pressure campaign.

Iran’s atomic energy agency played “a big role in Iran breaching its key nuclear commitments,” Hook said Thursday at the State Department. “The head of AEIO personally inaugurated the installation of new advanced centrifuges to expand its uranium enrichment capacity,” Hook claimed. “He also chaired a ceremony when Iran started injecting uranium gas into advanced IR6 centrifuge machines.”

The AEIO has been under US sanctions for much of the last 15 years, Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome noted, and like other senior Iranian officials under US sanctions, Salehi “will likely wear the designation as a badge of honor.”

Hook also announced that the US was extending civil nuclear waivers for four projects for 60 days. The waivers allow foreign companies to work with Iran’s civil nuclear programs without facing US sanctions.

An Iranian with a student visa was detained at the Detroit airport. His lawyer says he 'gave up' after hours of questioning

In addition, the Iran envoy said the US had agreed to a banking channel through Switzerland that has already been used once to help Iranian cancer and transplant patients. Hook warned that companies seeking to use the channel to export to Iran will face “a very high bar for due diligence.”

“The Iranian regime has a history of using front companies disguised as humanitarian organizations,” Hook said, “and then when food or medicine or medical devices are then processed, the regime diverts them and then uses them for the regime elite, medicines for the regime elite, or they sell them on the black market to raise revenue for the government. They don’t make their way to the Iranian people.”

Humanitarian aid

The Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement, initially announced in October, creates a secure payment channel that guarantees that companies will be paid for their exports to Iran. It is intended for commercial exports of agricultural commodities, food, medicine and medical devices. The mechanism is “in keeping with Switzerland’s humanitarian tradition,” the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs said in a statement Thursday.

The secretariat said that an initial trial run payment for a shipment of medicines was approved on January 27. Hook said one European company had met the standards to export, allowing for the delivery of the cancer and transplant drugs.

“There will be more companies that I have been talking with so that we can facilitate especially medicine and medical devices, so you can expect to see more transactions moving through this,” Hook said.

Iranian officials have accused the White House of “state terrorism” because the US pressure campaign is squeezing the Iranian economy and leading to shortages of food and medicine that affect ordinary Iranians.

The administration has begun emphasizing in recent months that it has no interest in punishing the Iranian people. “The United States is determined to ensure the Iranian people have access to food, life-saving medicines, and other humanitarian goods, despite the regime’s economic mismanagement and wasteful funding of malign activities across the region,” Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin said in a statement on Thursday.



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Man Screams ‘You’re Siding With Iran!’ At Elizabeth Warren In NH Town Hall – CBS Boston






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Babson College Professor Suspended For Facebook Post About Iran – CBS Boston






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House slates Iran War Powers resolution vote for Thursday



“Today, to honor our duty to keep the American people safe, the House will move forward with a War Powers Resolution to limit the President’s military actions regarding Iran,” Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. She argued Trump “has made clear that he does not have a coherent strategy to keep the American people safe, achieve deescalation with Iran and ensure stability in the region.”

“Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy,” Pelosi wrote.

The resolution, sponsored by freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a former CIA analyst, will be considered by the Rules Committee to set the parameters for the debate on Wednesday night.

The decision to move forward with the bill follows Pelosi’s initial announcement over the weekend that the House would take up a measure similar to one introduced in the Senate by Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, which calls for the removal of US armed forces from hostilities with Iran not authorized by Congress.
Earlier Wednesday, Democratic leaders were uncertain that the resolution would be ready for a floor vote this week, saying members were still finalizing the draft. Also at issue was whether to include two separate bills in the effort — one, sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna of California to block funding for a war against Iran, and another led by Rep. Barbara Lee, also of California, to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force in Iraq that the Trump administration has pointed to in the aftermath of its strike on top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

Khanna and Lee’s bills were both included in the House-passed version of this year’s Defense Authorization Act, but they were later stripped from the language after negotiations with the Republican-held Senate. Pelosi left the door open to holding separate votes on the bills in the future, indicating in her statement they won’t be included in the resolution itself.

Her announcement came after top administration officials — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, CIA Director Gina Haspel and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire — briefed members from both parties about the situation Wednesday afternoon.

Some Democrats were still hesitant about supporting War Powers legislation after Tuesday night’s strikes by Iran, but any doubt evaporated after hearing the argument presented by the officials Wednesday, a source in the room said, adding that Democrats left the room incensed.

At the House briefing, the administration failed to convince congressional Democrats that the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force provided the legal authorization to conduct the strike that killed Soleimani, reaffirming the belief among several lawmakers that a legislative option like Lee’s bill must also be put on the floor as soon as possible, sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.

Details of the administration’s legal argument remain unclear, but it broadly hinges on the same argument used by the Obama administration to conduct operations against ISIS — a provision stating the President is authorized to use military force to defend the US against “the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

US national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters last week that the killing of Soleimani was “fully authorized” under the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

During the briefing, Democrats also pressed officials for evidence behind the claim that Soleimani posed an imminent threat to US interests, with Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, even noting that Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayotallah Ali Khamenei, had not signed off on the attacks Soleimani had been plotting, per sources present. Schiff’s spokesman declined to comment.

The officials provided lawmakers with a general timeframe of when Soleimani’s attacks against US interests in Iraq and in the region had been planned, and Haspel detailed Soleimani’s long history of violence against American interests. While Republicans praised the White House’s handling of the situation after the briefing, Democrats were unimpressed.

“It was pretty unsatisfactory on the detail and lack of concrete plans,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a Florida Democrat, said. “We did not get an answer as what the imminent threat was, and why now,” she added.

Senate Democrats are also hoping to proceed quickly with Kaine’s version of the War Powers resolution regarding Iran. He told CNN on Wednesday that he hopes to see action on it in the Senate as soon as next week, although the timeline may be complicated by the impending impeachment trial. As a privileged resolution, Kaine will be able to force a vote on the bill without support from Republican leaders.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill invoke the War Powers Act, otherwise known as the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

The War Powers Resolution stipulates parameters of presidential and congressional war powers, including imposing procedural requirements to ensure that presidents keep Congress apprised of military decisions as well as provisions that provide Congress with a mechanism to suspend military operations initiated by the President in certain circumstances.

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

CNN’s Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb, and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.



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Trump vows to impose ‘punishing’ sanctions on Iran but offers no details



“The United States will impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime,” Trump said in a brief White House address. The President said the additional sanctions on Iran would stay in place until the Islamic Republic “changes its behavior” toward the United States and countries in the region.

But it was not immediately clear what shape those sanctions would take. The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The military strike, which the President said caused no casualties, came days after the targeted killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, by the US.

The Trump administration has been ramping up economic penalties as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran since the United States exited the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.

The new announcement follows a round of sanctions imposed against the Iranian region this past September in response to attack on Saudi oil facilities, which the US blamed on Tehran.

In response, the administration imposed sanctions on two pillars of the Iranian economy: the country’s central bank and its sovereign wealth fund. The Pentagon also announced plans to deploy additional troops along the enhanced air and missile defense systems to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Those steps followed “hard hitting” sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in June following the downing of a US drone. Those punitive measures targeted Iran’s Supreme Leader, military officials and its top diplomat, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.



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