Iran developments


Oman warns on military confrontation with Iran

March 18, 2012 04:29 PMBy Martina Fuchs

MUSCAT: Oman, located strategically on the opposite side of the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, said the risk of military conflict between Tehran and the West was rising but there was still plenty of opportunity to negotiate peace.

Iran has repeatedly denied charges by Western nations it is developing the capability to build nuclear weapons, but the United States and European Union have recently imposed tougher sanctions in an effort to convince Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

“It is in the interest of both sides to come to the middle road,” Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the sultanate’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, told Reuters at the Foreign Ministry in Muscat.

“We can see that the threat of an unfortunate flash of military confrontation is more possible rather than it is remote.”

Oman on several occasions has acted as an intermediary between Iran and the West.

Last year, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said facilitated the release of two U.S. hikers held by Tehran for spying, and three French aid workers held hostage by Yemeni tribesmen were freed in November after Oman negotiated their release.

Speculation has grown in recent months that Israel, with or without U.S. support, may launch some form of preemptive military strike against Iranian nuclear installations, which the Jewish state sees as a threat to its existence.

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‘Mossad, CIA agree Iran has yet to decide to build nuclear weapon’

New York Times report quotes senior American officials who believe there is little disagreement between Israeli and U.S. intelligence over Iran’s nuclear program, despite calls for a strike by Israeli officials.

Israel’s intelligence services agree with American intelligence assessments that there is not enough proof to determine whether Iran is building a nuclear bomb, according to a report published Sunday in the New York Times.

The newspaper said that senior American officials believe there is little disagreement between the Mossad and U.S. intelligence agencies over Iran’s nuclear program, despite the fact that Israeli political leaders have been pushing for quick action to block Iran from becoming what they describe as an existential threat.

The report further quoted one former senior American intelligence official who states that the Mossad “does not disagree with the U.S. on the weapons program,” adding that there is “not a lot of dispute between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities on the facts.”

According to the New York Times, the extent of the evidence the spy agencies have collected is unclear since most of their findings are classified. However, intelligence officials say they have been throwing everything they have at the Iranian program.

The United States and Israel share intelligence on Iran, American officials said. For its spying efforts, Israel relies in part on an Iranian exile group that is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or M.E.K., which is based in Iraq, says the report.

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Iraq approves Hormuz oil exports contingency plan [Reuters]

Sun Mar 18, 2012 9:57am EDT By Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD, March 18 (Reuters) – Iraq has approved a plan to expand its oil export routes by adding capacity from its northern fields and building a pipeline to ship oil from southern fields to Ceyhan in Turkey, a government spokesman said. The contingency plan was set by the government’s energy and economic committee to deal with any potential crisis should Iran close the Strait of Hormuz, which would halt about 80 percent of Iraq’s oil exports. Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, used for a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade, if Western moves to ban Iranian crude exports crippled its energy sector. “Short and mid-term plans will be through boosting crude pumping and upgrading export capacity via Ceyhan port in Turkey. Also to increase the number of trucks that are shipping crude,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Sunday. Iraq exported 2.014 million barrels per day in February, including 1.711 million bpd from its southern oil hub of Basra and via exports terminal in the Gulf, and 375,000 bpd from its northern fields around Kirkuk to Ceyhan. Dabbagh said plans approved by the government were a short-term measure based on recommendations from the oil ministry, and said stepping up efforts to convince Iran and the United States of the need to avoid closing the Strait of Hormuz. “The oil ministry suggested accelerating work to complete building the north strategic pipeline and connect it to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline to export oil from Basra via Ceyhan port,” Dabbagh said. Iraq has also been moving ahead with building a 680 kilometre pipeline able to transport 1 million bpd of crude from southern oilfields around Basra to a main pumping station in Haditha in the west, an oil ministry spokesman said. “We managed to complete constructing 200 km of the pipeline with plans to finish all work in 2013. We will have the flexibility of shipping Basra crude to various destinations, including towards Ceyhan port,” Asim Jihad said. The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline has come under sabotage attacks many times since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and frequently breaks down due to technical faults.

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Iran, USA reinforce Hormuz Strait defence with minehunters [AGI]

(AGI) Washington- The US navy has strengthened its flotilla in the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz with four more minehunters.
Alongside the fifth fleet in Bahrain, the Pentagon has readied the vessels and four CH-53 Sea Stallion with mine-detecting equipment for departure. The aim, admiral Jonathan W. Greenert explained, is to reinforce security in the narrow Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman, through which 20% of the world’s oil passes; a strategic point which Iran has repeatedly threatened to blockade in case of an attack on its nuclear facilities. In January Iran’s chief military official warned the U.S. to not send any more aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf after the USS John C. Stennis traversed Hormuz.

Navy says it will add ships to Persian Gulf amid Iran threats [World Now]

by Tony Perry

REPORTING FROM SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Navy is upgrading its defensive and offensive capabilities in the Persian Gulf to counter threats from Iran to seize the Strait of Hormuz and block the flow of oil, the chief of naval operations said Friday.

Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert told reporters in Washington that the Navy will add four more mine-sweeping ships and four more CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters with mine-detection capability. The Navy is also sending more underwater unmanned mine-neutralization units to the region.

Greenert said he plans to assign more patrol craft to the gulf, possibly armed with Mark 38 Gatling guns. The same kind of guns might be placed on ships that provide protection for U.S. aircraft carriers or perhaps on the carriers themselves.

U.S. ships have excellent long-range defenses but could use weapons for closer combat, Greenert said.

“It’s like being in an alley with a rifle and maybe what you need is a sawed-off shotgun,” he said.

The Iranians have boasted that they could “swarm” large U.S. ships with their smaller, fast-moving craft. They have also reportedly been laying mines along their coastline.

The narrow Strait of Hormuz is a key transit way for oil tankers. Any closure of the strait could send oil prices skyrocketing, officials say.

In January, the chief of the Iranian army warned the U.S. not to send another ship to the Persian Gulf after the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis departed. Another carrier, the Abraham Lincoln, entered the gulf weeks later without incident.

Greenert told reporters at the Defense Writers Group that he was aboard the John C. Stennis as it left the gulf through the Strait of Hormuz.

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