RAND PAUL: ‘Our National Security is Threatened. Not By Ukraine, But By Congress’s War on the American Taxpayer’

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul

‘MANY OPTIONS’: Trump considers penalties for Iran as tensions mount

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday said there are “many options” with dealing with Iran in the wake of the rogue state’s alleged attack on Saudi Arabia.

“There are many options. There’s the ultimate option and there are options that are a lot less than that. And we’ll see,” the president told reporters while in Los Angeles. “I’m saying the ultimate option meaning go in — war.”

Trump has already ordered the U.S. Treasury to “substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran” in the wake of the the Sept. 14 raids which left the world’s biggest crude oil processing facility devastated.

Despite Iran’s denials that it was involved in the attack, which temporarily knocked out half of Saudi production, Saudi officials produced drone and missile debris which they claimed provided “undeniable evidence” of Iranian involvement.

“A total of 25 drones and missiles were used in the attacks launched from Iran, not Yemen,” Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki told the media at a news conference. “The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” he said, adding that Iranian Delta Wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were used in addition to cruise missiles.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the attack a “real test of the global will” to confront subversion of the international order.

In an interview with the BBC, Salmon’s envoy to London, Prince Khalid bin Bander, said the attack was “almost certainly” Iranian-backed.

“We’re trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region,” said Bander.

Despite the evidence, Iranian officials continue to deny any wrongdoing.

“They want to impose maximum … pressure on Iran through slander,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said.

“We don’t want conflict in the region … Who started the conflict?” he asked, before directly placing the blame on Washington and its Gulf allies for the ongoing war in Yemen.

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‘NO MORE JOHN KERRY & OBAMA!’: Trump threatens to ‘obliterate’ Iran as tensions escalate

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday drew a clear line in the sand with Iran, threatening to “obliterate” the rogue state as tensions between East and West mount.

The president’s comments come in the wake of Iran’s response to tough new sanctions imposed upon them by the Trump administration, which Iranian officials referred to as “mentally retarded.”

“Iran leadership doesn’t understand the words “nice” or “compassion,” they never have,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military Force in the world, with 1.5 Trillion Dollars invested over the last two years alone.”

“The wonderful Iranian people are suffering, and for no reason at all. Their leadership spends all of its money on Terror, and little on anything else. The U.S. has not forgotten Iran’s use of IED’s & EFP’s (bombs), which killed 2000 Americans, and wounded many more,” the president continued. “Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry and Obama!”

Speaking at a White House press conference, the president reiterated his threats against Tehran and vowed Iran must not be cleared a path to develop nuclear weapons.

“We’re not gonna allow that to happen, can’t do it,” Trump said, warning Iranian officials to end the “hostility.”

Trump went on to say he hopes Iran gets the “message” from the newly issued sanctions, but warned Iran is “not going to need an exit strategy” should they choose not to comply.

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HITTING HARD: Trump fires off tough new sanctions against Iran as tensions mount

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order targeting Iran’s supreme leader with financial sanctions as tensions increase with the United States.

The sanctions, which follow follow Iran’s downing of a more than $100 million U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz, are meant to deter Tehran from supporting militant groups and from developing nuclear weapons.

“These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he signed the executive order. “We will continue to increase pressure on Tehran until the regime abandons its dangerous activities and its aspirations, including the pursuit of nuclear weapons, increased enrichment of uranium, development of ballistic missiles, engagement and support for terrorism, fueling of foreign conflicts and belligerent acts directed against the United States and its allies.”

The sanctions are a direct hit to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and prevent him from accessing money and other methods of financial support.

Tensions have been steadily increasing between the U.S. and Iran since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from a global nuclear deal with Iran signed by former president Barack Obama Iran re-imposed economic sanctions against the rogue state.

Iranian officials have declared the sanctions put forth by President Trump, which essentially bar Iran from selling oil internationally, as “economic terrorism.”

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TRUMP: I Reversed on Striking Iran Because 150 People Would Die

WASHINGTON (Newsmax) — President Donald Trump said Friday the U.S. was “cocked and loaded” to retaliate against Iran for downing an unmanned American surveillance drone, but he canceled the strikes he had ordered 10 minutes before they were to be launched after being told 150 people could die

Trump’s tweeted statement raised several questions, including how he could have learned about casualties only minutes before the operation when that information typically would be provided much earlier. His tweet was the latest indication that he does not want to escalate the U.S. clash with Tehran, though he didn’t rule out future strikes. He said U.S. economic sanctions are crippling the Iranian economy, more are being added and he insisted anew that the U.S. would never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon

After days of harsh words against the United States, Iran also seemed to be tamping down its rhetoric.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, told reporters on Friday that a U.S. spy plane with around 35 crew members was flying close to the unmanned U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk that was shot down, but that Iran chose not to target the manned aircraft. Separately, he told Iranian state TV that Iran warned the drone several times before downing it with a missile.

Late Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration barred American-registered aircraft from flying over parts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and several major airlines from around the world on Friday began rerouting their flights , including British Airways, Australia’s Qantas, Germany’s Lufthansa and the Dutch carrier KLM.

In a lengthy tweet, Trump defended his stance on Iran amid criticism from Democrats who accuse him of having no strategy. He said he pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which gave Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for pledges to rein in its nuclear program, because the agreement only temporarily blocked Iran from having nuclear weapons. Trump said the nuclear deal also did not stem Iran’s support of militant groups or restrain its ballistic missile program.

He said his exit from the deal and the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran has crippled its economy.

“Now they are Bust!” Trump tweeted and then outlined his reasons for canceling the strikes.

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it.”

He added that those deaths would not be a proportionate response to the downing of an unmanned drone.

“I am in no hurry,” he said. “Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”

The overnight events, however, were a stark reminder of the serious risk of military conflict between U.S. and Iranian forces as the Trump administration combines its “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American troops in the region. As tensions have mounted in recent weeks, there have been growing fears that either side could make a dire miscalculation leading to war.

The U.S. military operation was called off around 7:30 p.m. Washington time, after Trump had spent most of Thursday discussing Iran strategy with top national security advisers and congressional leaders.

The downing of the U.S. drone — a huge, unmanned aircraft — over the Strait of Hormuz prompted accusations from the U.S. and Iran about who was the aggressor. Iran insisted the drone violated Iranian airspace; Washington said it had been flying over international waters.

Trump’s initial comments on the attack were succinct. He declared in a tweet on Thursday that “Iran made a very big mistake!” But he also suggested that shooting down the drone — which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737 — was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation, suggesting he was looking for some way to avoid a crisis.

“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said at the White House. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”

Trump, who has said he wants to avoid war and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, cast the shootdown as “a new wrinkle … a new fly in the ointment.” Yet he also said “this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”

But fears of open conflict shadowed much of the discourse in Washington. As the day wore on, Trump summoned his top national security advisers and congressional leaders to the White House for an hour-long briefing in the Situation Room. Attendees included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Army Secretary Mark Esper, whom Trump has said he’ll nominate as Pentagon chief.

“The president was very clear of what he wants to achieve with Iran — to never allow them to have a nuclear weapon,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told “Fox and Friends” Friday.

“He was very clear that there will be action,” said McCarthy, who was in the meeting.

“He has a long-term game plan here and it doesn’t mean that you have to act within the few hours. … He’s just not overreacting. It’s going to be measured. And it’s going to achieve a goal.”

“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said at the White House. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”

Trump, who has said he wants to avoid war and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, cast the shootdown as “a new wrinkle … a new fly in the ointment.” Yet he also said “this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”

But fears of open conflict shadowed much of the discourse in Washington. As the day wore on, Trump summoned his top national security advisers and congressional leaders to the White House for an hour-long briefing in the Situation Room. Attendees included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Army Secretary Mark Esper, whom Trump has said he’ll nominate as Pentagon chief.

“The president was very clear of what he wants to achieve with Iran — to never allow them to have a nuclear weapon,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told “Fox and Friends” Friday.

“He was very clear that there will be action,” said McCarthy, who was in the meeting.

“He has a long-term game plan here and it doesn’t mean that you have to act within the few hours. … He’s just not overreacting. It’s going to be measured. And it’s going to achieve a goal.”

Pompeo and Bolton have advocated hardline policies against Iran, but Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, said “the president certainly was listening” when congressional leaders at the meeting urged him to be cautious and not escalate the already tense situation.

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers insisted the White House must consult with Congress before taking any actions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said no specific options for a U.S. response were presented at Thursday’s meeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The administration is engaged in what I would call measured responses.” And late Thursday, House Republicans on the Foreign Affairs, intelligence and Armed Services committees issued a statement using the same word, saying, “There must be a measured response to these actions.”

The Trump administration has been putting increasing economic pressure on Iran for more than a year. It reinstated punishing sanctions following Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of an international agreement intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from earlier sanctions.

Citing Iranian threats, the U.S. recently sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there. All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.

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REPORT: Iran ups uranium production as US tensions mount

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran will surpass the uranium-stockpile limit set by its nuclear deal in the next 10 days, an official said Monday, raising pressure on Europeans trying to save the accord a year after the U.S. withdrawal lit the fuse for the heightened tensions now between Tehran and Washington.

The announcement by Iran’s nuclear agency marked yet another deadline set by Tehran. President Hassan Rouhani already has warned Europe that a new deal needs to be in place by July 7 or the Islamic Republic would increase its enrichment of uranium.

Atomic energy spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi suggested that Iran’s enrichment could reach up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels.

It appears as if Iran has begun its own maximum pressure campaign on the world after facing one from President Donald Trump’s administration that deeply cut into its sale of crude oil abroad and sent its economy into freefall. Europe has so far been unable to offer Iran a way around the U.S. sanctions.

The development follows apparent attacks last week in the Strait of Hormuz on oil tankers, assaults that Washington has blamed on Iran. While Iran has denied being involved, it laid mines in the 1980s targeting oil tankers around the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of the world’s crude oil passes.

“If this condition continues, there will be no deal” anymore, Kamalvandi said. He accused the Europeans of “killing time” as the clock runs down.

Rouhani, greeting France’s new ambassador to Tehran on Monday, similarly warned that time was running out on the deal.

“The current situation is very critical and France and the other parties to the (deal) still have a very limited opportunity to play their historic role for saving the deal,” Rouhani said, according to his website.

The announcement appeared timed to strike just as European foreign ministers met in Luxembourg. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top diplomat, declined to specifically address the Iranian announcement.

“At the moment, as of today, Iran is still technically compliant and we strongly hope, encourage and expect that Iran continues to comply,” Mogherini told journalists. She insisted she would await the next report on the issue from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Under terms of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium. Kamalvandi said that given Iran’s recent decision to quadruple its production of low-enriched uranium, it would pass the 300-kilogram limit on Thursday, June 27.

The Vienna-based IAEA said last month that Iran remained within its stockpile limits and declined to comment on Iran’s announcement. Kamalvandi said Iran would continue to allow the U.N. to inspect its nuclear facilities for the time being.

He also raised the specter of increasing its enrichment levels, saying Iran needs 5% enriched uranium for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and 20% enriched fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

The nuclear deal limits Iran to enriching uranium only to 3.67%, enough for power plants and other peaceful purposes.

But after America pulled out of the nuclear accord and escalated sanctions, Rouhani set a July 7 deadline for Europe to come up with better terms for the deal or Tehran would boost enrichment further. So far, a European mechanism called INSTEX to protect trade with Iran has yet to take off.

The danger, nuclear nonproliferation experts warn, is that at 20% enrichment, only a fraction of atoms need to be removed to enrich up to weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the 2015 deal grew out of Western concerns about the program.

Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since Trump took office, the U.S. has steadily stripped away at the accord, and he pulled America out of the deal in May 2018.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the international community should reinstate sanctions if Iran follows through on its threats, adding: “In any case, Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.”

Tensions have risen in the region since last month. The U.S. rushed an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the Middle East in response to what it said were threats from Iran.

Meanwhile, a series of mysterious attacks have targeted oil tankers, and the U.S. blames Iranian-laid limpet mines. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen also have launched a series of drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which the U.S. suspects in the attacks, answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and operates outside of the traditional military’s control.

Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chief of the general staff of Iran’s armed forces, denied Tehran was involved in the tanker attacks, saying Monday the country only would respond in “an open, strong and severe way” if needed.

But he also reiterated Iran’s traditional stance on the Strait of Hormuz.

“If we decide to block the Strait of Hormuz, we will to do it in a way that even a drop of oil won’t pass the strait,” Bagheri added.

Kamalvandi spoke to Iranian journalists at the country’s Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. Such reactors produce plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons. Iran, under the nuclear deal, had reconfigured the facility to address Western concerns on that issue.

However, Kamalvandi said the country could rebuild the facility to make it produce plutonium. He made a point to give an interview to Iranian state television, standing next to the open pit where the reactor would be in the facility.

As the camera panned down to what would be the reactor’s core, Kamalvandi stressed that piping could be replaced and the reactor could be built to make plutonium. Hard-liners opposed to the nuclear deal had constantly accused the agency of filling the entire pit with concrete.

“They had previously photoshoped a picture of this place having been filled up with concrete,” Kamalvandi said.

He added: “The message that we tried to get across to Europeans today was that not much time is left for them.”

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Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi, Raf Casert and Frank Jordans contributed to the contents of this report.

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AP: Trump, Kim share smiles, dinner before nuke talks

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un projected optimism Wednesday as they opened high-stakes talks about curbing Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, a problem that has bedeviled generations of leaders.

The second summit between Trump and Kim came against the backdrop of the American president’s domestic troubles. As the leaders dined on steak and chocolate cake, Trump’s former personal attorney was readying explosive congressional testimony claiming the president is a “conman” who lied abut his business interests with Russia.

The turmoil in Washington has escalated concerns that Trump, eager for an agreement, would give Kim too much and get too little in return. The leaders’ first meeting in June was heavy with historic pageantry but light on any enforceable agreements for North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal. Still, both offered optimistic words before dinner.

“A lot of things are going to be solved I hope,” Trump said as dinner began. “I think it will lead to a wonderful, really a wonderful situation long-term.”

Kim said his country had long been “misunderstood” and viewed with “distrust.”

“There have been efforts, whether out of hostility or not, to block the path that we intend to take,” he said. “But we have overcome all these and walked toward each other again and we’ve now reached Hanoi after 261 days” since their first meeting in Singapore.

“We have met again here and I am confident that we can achieve great results that everyone welcomes,” he added.

The leaders’ formal talks continue Thursday. Possible outcomes could include a peace declaration for the Korean War that the North could use to eventually push for the reduction of U.S. troops in South Korea, or sanctions relief that could allow Pyongyang to pursue lucrative economic projects with the South.

Skeptics say such agreements would leave in place a significant portion of North Korea’s nuclear-tipped missiles while robbing the United States of its negotiating leverage going forward.

Asked if this summit would yield a political declaration to end the Korean War, Trump told reporters: “We’ll see.”

Trump’s schedule for Thursday promised a “joint agreement signing ceremony” after their meetings conclude.

The two leaders were joined for dinner by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Kim Yong Chol, a former military spy chief and Kim’s point man in negotiations, and North Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Ri Yong Ho. Interpreters for each side also attended.

Trump did not answer a question from a reporter about his former attorney Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony. Shortly after, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders excluded some U.S. reporters, including the reporter from The Associated Press who asked the president about Cohen, from covering Trump and Kim’s dinner.

“Due to the sensitive nature of the meetings we have limited the pool for the dinner to a smaller group,” she said in a statement.

Still, Trump was unable to ignore the drama playing out thousands of miles away, tweeting that Cohen “did bad things unrelated to Trump” and “is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”

Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison for lying to Congress.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close White House ally, said the Cohen hearing was evidence that “Democrats’ hatred of Trump is undercutting an important foreign policy effort and is way out of line.”

Anticipation for what could be accomplished at the summit ran high in Hanoi, and there were cheers and gasps as Trump’s motorcade barreled through this bustling city. Crowds three or four deep lined the streets and jockeyed to capture his procession with their mobile phones.

The carnival-like atmosphere in the Vietnamese capital, with street artists painting likenesses of the leaders and vendors hawking T-shirts showing Kim waving and Trump giving a thumbs-up, contrasted with the serious items on their agenda: North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Trump has been trying to convince Kim that his nation could thrive economically like the host country, Vietnam, if he would end his nuclear weapons program.

“I think that your country has tremendous economic potential — unbelievable, unlimited,” Trump said. “I think that you will have a tremendous future with your country — a great leader — and I look forward to watching it happen and helping it to happen.”

The summit venue, the colonial and neoclassical Sofitel Legend Metropole in the old part of Hanoi, came with its own dose of history: Trump was trying to talk Kim into giving up his nuclear arsenal at a hotel with a bomb shelter that protected the likes of actress Jane Fonda and singer Joan Baez from American air raids during the Vietnam War.

After their first summit, where Trump and Kim signed a joint statement agreeing to work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, the president prematurely declared victory, tweeting that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” The facts did not support that claim.

North Korea has spent decades, at great economic sacrifice, building its nuclear program, and there are doubts that it will give away that program without getting something substantial from the U.S.

The Korean conflict ended in 1953 with an armistice, essentially a cease-fire signed by North Korea, China and the 17-nation, U.S.-led United Nations Command. A peace declaration would amount to a political statement, ostensibly teeing up talks for a formal peace treaty that would involve other nations.

North and South Korea also want U.S. sanctions dialed back so they can resurrect two major symbols of rapprochement that provided $150 million a year to the impoverished North by some estimates: a jointly run factory park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong and South Korean tours to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort.

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AP journalists Hau Dinh and Hyung-jin Kim in Hanoi and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

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REPORT: Four military service members confirmed dead in Syria explosion

BEIRUT — The U.S. military confirmed Wednesday that at least two U.S. military members were killed during an explosion while on patrol.

Military officials acknowledged the blast which took place in the northern Syrian town of Manbij via Twitter on Wednesday morning.

“U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today,” military officials responsible for operations in Iraq and Syria said in a statement. “We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time.

The blast killed a total of 16 people including nine civilians according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based Syrian war monitoring agency.

Three additional service members were wounded in a blast. Their immediate conditions have not yet been confirmed.

A news site affiliated with Islamic State earlier issued statement claiming an attacker with a suicide vest had targeted a patrol of the U.S.-led coalition operating in Manbij.

U.S. officials have yet to confirm or deny those allegations.

FILE PHOTO: Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah