US: Iran’s Support to Houthis Prolongs Conflict in Yemen

Washington– Washington has again declared it will never allow the Iranian regime to obtain nuclear weapons given that Tehran’s activities are threatening positive contributions for peace.

The State Department stated that through its support of terrorist organizations, Iran is destabilizing the region.

“The United States will continue to use sanctions to target those who lend support to Iran’s destabilizing behavior and above all, the United States will never allow the regime in Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” said the State Department, adding that it will keep its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to continue the monitoring and verification of all of Iran’s nuclear commitments.

This is the first statement issued by the State Department since it announced earlier this year it is reviewing the nuclear deal with Iran.

The statement considered Iran’s continuous testing of ballistic missiles a direct defiance of UN Resolution 2231. It said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action expects participants to fully implement the JCPOA which will “positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.”

The US administration informed the Congress on July 17 that it will continue to waive sanctions as required to continue implementing US sanctions-lifting commitments in the JCPOA. But at the same time, the statement pointed out that Iran’s malign activities outside the nuclear issue “undermine the positive contributions to regional and international peace and security that the deal was supposed to provide.”

Speaking of the crisis in Yemen, the State Department strongly condemned Iran’s regional behavior, saying its continuous support to Houthi insurgents inside the country is prolonging the Yemen conflict.

Tehran’s regime is providing Houthis with “advanced weaponry that threatens freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and has been used to attack Saudi Arabia,” according to the statement.

In a related issue, the State Department blamed Iran for its support of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, while maintaining a “steadfast support for the Assad regime, despite Assad’s atrocities against his own people.”

The US demanded the immediate release of US citizens Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, and Xiyue Wang, and all other unjustly detained in Iran.

The statement expressed Washington’s concern about reports of the declining health of the Namazis, Wang, and other detained US citizens.

“Iran should immediately release all of these US citizens on humanitarian grounds,” declared the State Department.

Robert Levinson, a US citizen, disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island over a decade ago, and, according to the statement, Iran committed to cooperating with the United States in bringing him home. It asked Iran to fulfill this commitment.

“The United States remains unwavering in its efforts to return Bob to his family. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has offered a $5 million reward for any information that could lead to Bob’s safe return,” added the statement.

Washington also condemned the Iranian regime’s flagrant human rights record, including its denial of freedom of religion or belief as well as other human rights and fundamental freedoms to individuals.

“Notably, arbitrary arrest and detention of members of religious minorities and political activists, is common as is the use of torture and other forms of abuse in detention,” pointed out the statement.

Pentagon: ‘Political Vacuum Enabled Qaeda to Expand in Yemen’

Washington- Since al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the September 11, 2011 attacks on the United States and the US military campaigns did not stop, in an effort to stamp out the most dangerous terrorist organization.

One of the most prominent US campaigns against the organization is the one in Yemen, where the Qaeda’s branch in the Arabian Peninsula has been under a series of attacks aimed at destroying its ability to coordinate foreign terrorist attacks and preventing it from seizing areas controlled by the legitimate Yemeni government.

US Central Command spokesman Maj. Josh Jacques told Asharq Al-Awsat that US forces have intensified their attacks on Qaeda strongholds and have launched more than 80 raids in the past four months.

Jacques stressed that they are keen to ensure the safety of innocent victims, pointing to “continuous coordination” with the legitimate government led by President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The US military official said: “We have made progress, but we still have a lot to do. Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a huge terrorist group that is still capable of attacking our country and the US citizens.”

The Yemeni leadership is working with Arab allies to eliminate the Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from its provinces,” he added.

He pointed out that the United States has launched since 28 February more than 80 strikes on Qaeda militants, their infrastructure, combat sites and equipment.

“US forces also eliminated dozens of Qaeda terrorists from the battlefield in the Arabian Peninsula, including Abu Khattab al Awlaqi, the chief of the terrorist organization in Shabwa,” Jacques said.

“Awlaki was a senior commander in charge of planning terrorist attacks against civilians. He had significant influence in the organization, had connections with other senior leaders of the group and was involved in planning and leading efforts to exacerbate instability in southern Yemen,” he added.

2 Hezbollah-Linked Suspects Arrested for Plotting New York Attack

Hezbollah

Washington – The US Justice Department announced on Thursday that it has charged two “Hezbollah”-linked suspects with plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in New York City and Panama.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in cooperation with New York and Detroit police detained Ali Kourani, 32, and Samer al-Debek, 37, on June 1. Kourani was arrested in his New York residence, while al-Debek was detained in Michigan state.

Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon Kim said the men tried to provide support to “Hezbollah’s” Islamic Jihad organization after receiving military training from the group.

They were recruited as “Hezbollah” members and received military training on the use of rocket launchers, hand grenades and machine artillery to use them on their terrorist mission.

Al-Debek was tasked to look for potential targets in Panama, including US and Israeli embassies, and tried to learn how close someone could get to ships passing through the Panama Canal and whether there was weakness in its construction. Kourani meanwhile surveilled American targets, including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.

They will now stand trial in New York, added Kim.

New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said Kourani and others conducted covert surveillance of potential targets, including US military bases and Israeli military personnel in New York City.

“Pre-operational surveillance is one of the hallmarks of ‘Hezbollah’ in planning for future attacks,” he said.

O’Neill noted that Kourani, who was born in Lebanon, received sophisticated military training overseas on at least two occasions, including in the use of a rocket propelled grenade. He said al-Debek also was charged with possessing extensive bomb-making training from “Hezbollah”.

William Sweeney Jr., head of the New York FBI office, said the charges “reveal once again that the New York City region remains a focus of many adversaries, demonstrated as alleged in this instance by followers of a sophisticated and determined organization with a long history of coordinating violent activities on behalf of ‘Hezbollah’.”

The Justice Department said that Kourani became an American citizen in 2009 after lying that he was not a member of any terrorist group. It was later revealed that he had joined “Hezbollah” in 2000.

Authorities said Kourani attended “Hezbollah”-sponsored weapons training in Lebanon in 2000 when he was 16. They said he lawfully entered the US in 2003, obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering in 2009 and a master’s in business administration in 2013.

Al-Debek is believed to have joined the group in 2007. He received military training between 2008 and 2014. He told the FBI that he was arrested by “Hezbollah” between December 2015 and April 2016 after being falsely accused of spying for the US.

Authorities said that from late 2014 until February, al-Debek conducted over 250 Facebook searches with words including “martyrs of the holy defense,” ”martyrs of Islamic resistance” and “martyrs of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon.”

Kourani and al-Debek face 20 to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Anticipated US-Islamic Partnership to End Iran’s Intervention, Confront Terrorism

Washington- US President Donald Trump is expected to discuss during his historic visit to Saudi Arabia the issue of terrorism, which is of particular importance to the US Administration and people.

Trump is fully convinced of the statements he has made about Iran before and after he took office in January: Tehran is the primary sponsor of terrorism and is responsible of destabilizing the Middle East.

The Syrian file is also expected to be of great importance in the talks that will be held by Trump during his visit to Riyadh.

The first US missile attack that was carried out by the US Navy as a response to the chemical massacre in Khan Sheikhoun was a reflection of Washington’s interest in the Syrian developments. The massacre was carried out by the Syrian regime.

Washington has put so much pressure on the international community to take an action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and the United States agrees with many Arab and Islamic countries on the necessity of finding a political solution for the Syrian crisis.

Trump’s administration is convinced that Assad has no place in Syria’s future, according to statements made earlier by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Undoubtedly, the situation in Yemen will be part of Trump’s meetings with leaders of Islamic countries since the US vision in this regard is consistent with the Saudi-led coalition’s vision of the need to enable legitimacy in Yemen and the right of Saudi Arabia to defend its territory.

Obama…Era from the Past

Executive Director of Washington Institute for Near East Policy Robert Satloff said that Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia aims to let the Middle East forget about former President Barack Obama’s policies that were not following the region’s interests.

“He is definitively changing American foreign policy from the Barack Obama era to the Donald Trump era concerning the Middle East,” Satloff said.

“Trump’s journey that starts in Riyadh and then Jerusalem in his first foreign trip since taking office is designed to show both Middle Easterners and the wider world that the Barack Obama era in foreign policy is a thing of the past,” he added.

Satloff stressed the importance of the connotations this visit holds and asked Trump not to limit himself to these connotations.

He said: “As important as these connotations may be, I hope the President does not limit himself to symbolism. In Saudi Arabia, Israel and his subsequent participation in a NATO summit in Brussels, the President has a rare opportunity to steer the US-led coalition of stability-seeking nations in a direction that advances our common interests.”

The Executive Director of Washington Institute for Near East Policy provided Trump with some suggestions in regard to his historic visit.

“The US president should take advantage of his meeting with Muslim leaders in Riyadh to propose a new partnership to roll back the twin forms of extremism that threaten global peace and security — the self-styled jihad of ISIS, al-Qaeda and like-minded sub-state actors, movements and groups and the Iranian-led consortium of radical states, militias and proxies.”

Such a partnership, Satloff added, would formally signal the end of Obama’s misguided effort to accommodate Iranian strategic ambitions at the expense of America’s traditional partners in the broader Middle East.

Demands for a Greater US Role

Director of Middle East and Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Jon Alterman stressed the importance of Washington’s role in ending conflicts in the region.

Commenting on Trump’s visit, Alterman said that through this visit, the US has to exert greater efforts in ending conflicts in the Middle East.

There is a need for a stronger US strategy to resolve the conflicts, including those in Syria and Yemen.

As for Iran, Alterman believes that GCC countries and Trump, who is considered against Iran, have the same point of view, unlike his predecessor former President Barack Obama whose policy put the Gulf in direct confrontation with Tehran.

Alterman reiterated that issues to be discussed during Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, including the situation in Yemen, Syria, Palestine and the Iranian danger, are difficult and require constant follow-up and efforts from experts.

White House Pushes Back on Reports of Intelligence Talks between US, Russia

Washington – White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster rejected reports that US President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials during a meeting last week.

Addressing reporters on Monday evening, McMaster said: “The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false.”

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation,” he added, referring to a meeting in Washington between Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak on May 10.

“At no time — at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known,” the White House official stated.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post published an article saying that Trump divulged highly classified information in a meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, citing anonymous former and current US officials.

The Post added that the information was related to ISIS.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for his part, told reporters at the White House that Trump and Lavrov reviewed a wide range of issues.

“During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a broad range of subjects were discussed among which were common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism,” Tillerson said.

“During that exchange, the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations,” he added.

In a statement, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain described reports that Trump purportedly shared classified intelligence with the Russians as “deeply disturbing.”

“Reports that this information was provided by a US ally and shared without its knowledge sends a troubling signal to America’s allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future,” the US Republican senator said.

US Department of State Offers $10 Million Reward for Information on Joulani

Nusra

Washington – The US Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program announced a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of al-Nusra Front’s leader Abu Mohammed al-Joulani.

In 2013, Joulani pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and its leadership. In 2016, he lauded a video for al-Qaeda that went viral online. Headed by Joulani, Nusra Front conducted several terrorist attacks throughout Syria and targeted civilians – mostly.

Nusra Front also kidnapped around 300 Kurds in April 2015 then released them later on. It also claimed responsibility for killing 20 from a Druze village in Idlib.

In May 2013, Joulani was named a specially designated global terrorist, by the US State Department according to executive order 13224. The Security Council Committee on sanctions also designated him a terrorist, subjecting him to travel-ban, arms-export ban and international freezing.

The US Department of State called on people who have information to contact the Rewards for Justice Program whether by phone or email and confidentiality is guaranteed.

US Offers $5 Million to Find Murderer of American Teacher in Yemen

Washington- The Rewards for Justice program of the US State Department has offered to pay $5 million for information leading to those responsible for the murder of American national Joel Shrum in Yemen in 2012.

Shrum, 29, was fatally shot by a gunman on the back of a motorcycle while he was on his way to work at a nongovernmental organization on March 18, 2012, in the city of Taez, according to the State Department.

The attack was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Nearly five years after the attack, the State Department announced Wednesday that it is offering “a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of any individual who committed, conspired to commit, or aided or abetted in the commission of the murder of US citizen Joel Shrum.”

The department noted that Shrum had been an administrator and English teacher at the International Training and Development Center, “one of the longest standing international development organizations in Yemen.”

The State Department said the $5 million bounty comes under its Rewards for Justice program, which has paid out more than $125 million since its creation in 1984.

In a related development, two suspected members of al-Qaeda were killed on Tuesday in an air raid on the southern Hadramawt province, a security official said.

The two, going by the names Abu Jandal al-Hadrami and Abu Hashim al-Sharuri, were killed in what appeared to be a US air strike, the official said, requesting that his name be withheld.

The United States has conducted more than 40 air raids, including drone strikes, against AQAP in March alone.

At least 25 suspected AQAP members have been killed in the raids.

$200 Billion Saudi-US Partnership

Saudi

Washington – US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman affirmed during a meeting at the White House in Washington the importance of confronting Iran’s destabilizing regional activities and discussed steps to deepen commercial ties and promote investment between both countries.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the White House said Trump and Prince Mohammed Bin Sultan directed their teams to explore additional steps across a broad range of political, military, security, economic, cultural, and social dimensions.

“President Trump provided his support for developing a new US-Saudi program, undertaken by joint US-Saudi working groups, and its unique initiatives in energy, industry, infrastructure, and technology worth potentially more than $200 billion in direct and indirect investments within the next four years,” the statement said.

Commenting on the visit, a senior adviser to the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince told Bloomberg the US-Saudi “relations had undergone a period of difference of opinion. However, the meeting has put things on the right track, and marked a significant shift in relations, across all political, military, security and economic fields.”

The advisor also said the two discussed the issue of banning some citizens from six countries from entering the US, adding that the Saudi position was that Riyadh “does not believe that this measure is targeting Muslim countries or the religion of Islam, but is rather a sovereign decision aimed at preventing terrorists from entering the US.”

The advisor also said President Trump expressed his deep respect for the Religion of Islam, considering it one of the divine religions that came with great human principles misused by radical groups.

Bloomberg also quoted the Saudi senior advisor as saying that President Trump and the Deputy Crown Prince share the same views on the gravity of the Iranian expansionist moves in the region.

“Iran’s support of terrorist organization such as Hezbollah, Qaeda, ISIS and others along with its obstructing of any deal to settle the Palestinian issue, as a form of exporting its issues abroad, are nothing but another attempt to gain the legitimacy it lacks among Muslims,” the advisor said.

According to the White House statement, both men reaffirmed their support for a strong, broad, and enduring strategic partnership based on a shared interest and commitment to the stability and prosperity of the Middle East region.

Trump also expressed his strong desire to achieve a comprehensive, just, and lasting settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to continue the two countries’ consultations to help reach solutions for regional issues.

Trump had lunch on Tuesday with the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince in the family dinning room of the White House in Washington where the two men held lengthy and closed talks.

US Treasury Designates Al-Anizi as Terrorist

Washington- The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action Tuesday against al-Nusra Front (ANF) and al-Qaeda (AQ) facilitator Muhammad Hadi al-Anizi.

Anizi, who is based in Kuwait, was designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) pursuant to Executive Order 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

As a result, all property and interests in property of Anizi subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with him.

“From raising funds to facilitating the travel of terrorists, Anizi is responsible for providing key financial and logistical support to al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda,” OFAC said in a statement.

“The Treasury Department will continue to aggressively target Nusra Front’s and Qaeda’s financial structures to further disrupt their ability to conduct terrorist attacks.”

Anizi, a terrorist facilitator and financier, has provided extensive material and financial support to ANF since at least 2014.

In late 2015, Anizi solicited donations for ANF militants in Syria and sent approximately $20,000 to an ANF member in Syria.

In late 2014, he worked with an al-Nusra associate to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to the group’s members in Syria.

He also provided extensive material and financial support to AQ since at least 2007.

Anizi sought assistance from AQ financier and US- and UN-designated terrorist Sa’d al-Ka’bi to facilitate the travel of Qaeda-associated individuals in late 2015.

In mid- to late-2014, the terrorist obtained passports for a Qaeda associate in Syria, provided medical supplies to an injured Syria-based AQ associate and was appointed as AQ’s representative in Syria by the group’s senior leadership.

Prior to 2014, Anizi provided financial support to his brother, AQ facilitator and SDGT Abdullah al-Anizi, who used the money to fund terrorist operations.

Trump Blames Flynn’s Resignation on ‘Illegal Leaks’

Washington – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the “real story” behind the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was “illegal leaks”.

“The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal with N. Korea etc?” Trump tweeted.

In a statement on Monday night, the White House announced Flynn’s resignation following heated controversy surrounding alleged communications with Russia.

In comments last week, Flynn denied speaking with Russia’s U.S. ambassador during the transition about sanctions imposed by former U.S. President Barack Obama, but admitted this week that he may have done so and “inadvertently” told Vice President Mike Pence and others otherwise.

In his resignation letter, Flynn said: “Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology.”

He added: “Throughout my over thirty three years of honorable military service, and my tenure as the National Security Advisor, I have always performed my duties with the utmost of integrity and honesty to those I have served, to include the President of the United States.”

“I am also extremely honored to have served President Trump, who in just three weeks, has reoriented American foreign policy in fundamental ways to restore America’s leadership position in the world,” Flynn continued.

Flynn had informed Pence that his conversation with the Russian ambassador in late December had not tackled the issues of the sanctions. Pence repeated that assertion in a televised interview in mid-January, but later learned he had been given “incomplete information”, according to his press secretary, when The Washington Post reported on Feb. 9 that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the ambassador.