Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

US deploys stealth fighters to Gulf amid Iran tensions

Iran has said that EU efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal are too little too late

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors arrive at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 27, 2019. These aircraft are deployed to Qatar for the first time in order to defend American forces and interests in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nichelle Anderson)
U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors arrive at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 27, 2019. These aircraft are deployed to Qatar for the first time in order to defend American forces and interests in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nichelle Anderson)

The United States has deployed advanced F-22 stealth fighters to the Gulf region for the first time as it builds up forces in the region to respond to further Iranian aggression.

The Air force did not specify how many F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets had been deployed, although a hand out photo showed five aircraft, but it said they were intended “to defend American forces and interests.”

Tehran and Washington have been locked in an increasingly tense standoff since May when tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the UAE and a Saudi pipeline was hit with bomb-laden drones.

US President Donald Trump pulled the country out of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, effectively crippling the agreement that saw sanctions removed in exchange for strict limits on Iranian nuclear enrichment programmes. America has since perused a massive pressure campaign with economic sanctions, effectively isolating Iran from the international community.

Tensions spiked last week when Iran shot down a US drone over sensitive Gulf waters. Iran says the drone entered its airspace while the US says it was over international waters. In response, Mr Trump ordered and then cancelled a limited response strike that he said would have hit key Iranian military installations.

Mr Trump then announced new sanctions against Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Mr Zarif said on Saturday that Iran would resist US pressure just as it had persevered during the devastating 1980 Iran-Iraq war that led to tens of thousands of lives.

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors fly in formation as they prepare to land at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 27, 2019. These aircraft are deployed to Qatar for the first time in order to defend American forces and interests in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley Gardner)
US Air Force F-22 Raptors fly in formation as they prepare to land. US Air Force photo

"We persevered then, and will now," Mr Zarif tweeted in reference to the chemical attack on 1987 chemical weapons attack by Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein on the Iranian town of Sardasht. "We'll never forget that Western world supported and armed Saddam ... Security Council never condemned his gassing of our people."

In a bid to save the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the EU met on Friday in Vienna to discuss measures to allow Iran to continue trading without companies being hit with US sanctions.

The 27 member bloc said that the special trade channel, known as Instex was operations and available to all EU states.

"France, Germany and the United Kingdom informed participants that Instex had been made operational and available to all EU Member States and that the first transactions are being processed," the EU said in a statement on Saturday.

Iran has also established an entity to trade with Europe, while some more EU countries are joining Instex as shareholders, the statement said, following talks between the remaining signatories to the Iran nuclear deal - Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - after the United States pulled out.

But Iran has said that the EU measures are, effectively, too little too late.

"It was a step forward, but it is still not enough and not meeting Iran’s expectations," Araqchi told reporters after Friday’s meeting. "For Instex to be useful for Iran, Europeans need to buy oil or consider credit lines for this mechanism otherwise Instex is not like they or us expect," he said.

Iran stopped complying with some commitments in the nuclear deal on May 8 and Tehran said it would suspend further obligations under the deal after 60 days if the EU and other signatories failed to protect the benefits of sticking to the agreement.

It has said it has already ramped up enrichment of uranium and will surpass the between 3 and 4 per cent threshold laid down by the deal in a matter of weeks.

Iran has also looked to other signatories to the 2015 deal, namely Russia and China, to help safeguard the agreement. However, China's envoy to Friday’s talks was guarded when asked if his country was willing to defy US sanctions and buy Iranian oil but said his country rejects the sanctions.

"We reject the unilateral imposition of sanctions and for us, energy security is important," Fu Cong, director general of the Department of Arms Control of the Chinese Foreign Ministry told reporters after the talks.

"We do not accept this zero policy of the United States," he said when asked if China would buy Iranian oil.

Meanwhile, in the US on Friday, the Senate defeated legislation that would have blocked Mr Trump from launching an attack on Iran without first obtaining the approval of Congress – except in cases of self-defence.

In a 50-40 vote against the bill (with 10 senators not casting a vote), the Republican-majority house threw out the amendment to the annual defence policy bill.

The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act passed the Senate on Thursday, but Senate leaders made the unusual decision to allow the amendment vote on Friday after a handful of Republicans joined Democrats in calling for a debate on the matter.

Republican opponents of the legislation argued it would impose unnecessary restrictions on Trump if he faced a threat from Iran.

Supporters said it was necessary to ensure that Congress retains its constitutional right to authorize the use of military force and to lessen the chance of a miscalculation that could plunge the country into a prolonged conflict.

Updated: June 30, 2019 07:35 AM

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