Khamenei tells Iranians ‘do not be worried at all’ by sanctions
LONDON - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, said the country has nothing to be concerned about, a report on his official website said on Wednesday in an apparent reference to the imposition of strict US sanctions this week.
The sanctions imposed on Tehran this week have already led banks and many companies around the world to scale back dealings with Iran. Companies doing business with Iran will be barred from the United States, President Donald Trump said on Tuesday.
“With regard to our situation do not be worried at all. Nobody can do anything,” Khamenei said recently, the website reported.
“They can be sure. There is no doubt about this,” Khamenei was quoted as saying in comments that appeared only a day after the new US sanctions took effect.
US officials have said in recent weeks that they aim to pressure countries to stop buying oil from Iran in a bid to force Tehran to halt its nuclear and missile programmes and involvement in regional conflicts.
“These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
Separately, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday that a US plan to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero will not succeed, according to the Iran newspaper.
“If the Americans want to keep this simplistic and impossible idea in their minds they should also know its consequences,” Zarif told the Iran newspaper.
“They can’t think that Iran won’t export oil and others will export.”
President Hassan Rouhani hinted last month that Iran could block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, if the US attempted to stop Tehran’s oil exports.
Trump responded by noting that Iran could face serious consequences if it threatened the United States.
“The Americans have assembled a war room against Iran,” Zarif said. “We can’t get drawn into a confrontation with America by falling into this war room trap and playing on a battlefield.”
Last month, Trump offered to meet Iran’s leaders. Zarif said that Oman and Switzerland have acted as mediators in talks with America in the past but that there are currently no direct or indirect talks being held with the United States.
Afghans return home in record numbers as Iran currency plunges
A record 442,344 Afghans have voluntarily returned or been deported from Iran this year as looming US sanctions — which began to be reimposed this week — fuelled a run on the rial and spurred inflation.
Iran’s currency has lost around half of its value against the dollar since May.
That has devastated not only the savings of Iranian households, but also the remittances of undocumented Afghans.
Desperate and jobless Afghans have crossed the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support their struggling families back home.
The 442,344 Afghans who returned from Iran in the first seven months of 2018 was more than double the number for the same period of 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“The number of Afghan returnees from Iran in 2018 has been unprecedented,” IOM spokeswoman Eva Schwoerer told AFP in Herat.
The figure included 191,056 “spontaneous”, or voluntary, returns. The remaining 251,288 were deported as Iran toughens its border controls.
US can’t be trusted, Iran’s Rouhani tells North Korea
Rouhani told North Korea’s foreign minister that the US cannot be trusted, Tehran’s state media said.
North Korea’s top diplomat, Ri Yong Ho, visited Iran as the United States reintroduced sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
“The US administration performance in these years has led the country to be considered untrustworthy and unreliable around the world which does not meet any of its obligations,” Rouhani was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) as telling Ri on Wednesday.
“In the current situation, friendly countries should develop their relations and cooperation in (the) international community,” he said, adding Iran and North Korea have “always had close views” on many issues.
Ri travelled to Tehran after attending a security forum in Singapore, where he and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparred over an agreement made at June’s landmark summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The two sides vowed to work towards North Korea’s denuclearisation at the summit, but have since struggled to reach a deal to meet that goal. North Korea has been pursuing its weapons programmes in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions.
Ri told Rouhani that Washington’s pullout from the 2015 pact and restoration of sanctions was an “action against international rules and regulations”, IRNA said.
“North Korea’s strategic policy is to deepen relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and confront unilateralism,” he said.
Iran naval drills designed to send message to US
The general overseeing US military operations in the Middle East said Wednesday that an Iranian naval exercise around the Strait of Hormuz was meant to send a message to Washington before it reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
Iran launched the exercise in the Gulf last week, sending dozens of small attack boats out into the Strait of Hormuz.
“It’s pretty clear to us that they were trying to use that exercise to send a message to us that as we approach the period of the sanctions here that they had some capabilities,” US Central Command head General Joseph Votel told Pentagon reporters.
The capabilities include ocean mines, explosive boats, coastal defense missiles and radars, he said.
Votel said he saw Qassem Soleimani, who heads the external operations Quds Force for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, as being responsible for the exercise.
“He is an individual who is perpetrating a lot of this destabilizing activity,” Votel said.
“Wherever you see Iranian activity, you see Qassem Soleimani.”
US braces for possible cyberattacks after Iran sanctions
The US is bracing for cyberattacks Iran could launch in retaliation for the re-imposition of US sanctions this week, cybersecurity and intelligence experts say.
“While we have no specific threats, we have seen an increase in chatter related to Iranian threat activity over the past several weeks,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, a global real-time cyber threat intelligence company.
The Massachusetts-based company predicted back in May that the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement would provoke a cyber response from the Iranian government within two to four months.
US intelligence agencies have singled out Iran as one of the main foreign cyber threats facing America, along with Russia, China and North Korea. A wave of attacks that US authorities blamed on Iran between 2012 and 2014 targeted banks and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. They also targeted but failed to penetrate critical infrastructure.
Iran denies using its cyber capabilities for offensive purposes, and accuses the US of targeting Iran. Several years ago, the top-secret Stuxnet computer virus destroyed centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet, which is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation, caused thousands of centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility to spin themselves to destruction at the height of the West’s fears over Iran’s program.
“The United States has been the most aggressive country in the world in offensive cyber activity and publicly boasted about attacking targets across the world,” said Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s diplomatic mission at the United Nations, contending that Iran’s cyber capabilities are “exclusively for defensive purposes.”
General Qassem Soleimani, who heads the elite Quds Force of Iran’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, has sounded more ominous, warning late last month about Iran’s capabilities in “asymmetric war,” a veiled reference to nontraditional warfare that could include cyber attacks.
Norm Roule, former Iran manager for the office of the Director of National Intelligence, said he thinks Tehran will muster its cyber forces in response.
“I think there is a good chance Iran will use cyber, probably not an attack that is so destructive that it would fragment its remaining relationship with Europe, but I just don’t think the Iranians will think there is much cost to doing this,” Roule said. “And it’s a good way to show their capacity to inflict economic cost against the United States.”
“Iran’s cyber activities against the world have been the most consequential, costly and aggressive in the history of the internet, more so than Russia. … The Iranians are destructive cyber operators,” Roule said, adding that Iranian hackers have, at times, impersonated Israeli and Western cyber security firm websites to harvest log-in information.
(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)