UPDATE – US sanctions Iran's metal sectors as tensions heighten

                              ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT </p>  <p>By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Iran's iron, steel, aluminum, and copper sectors Wednesday as tension between the rivals escalates. </p>  <p>The penalties, contained in an executive order, affect what Trump called the Iranian government's &quot;largest non-petroleum-related sources of export revenue&quot; one year after he pulled the U.S. out of a landmark nuclear accord that placed unprecedented curbs on Tehran's nuclear program. </p>  <p>Trump and his senior officials have embarked upon a wide-ranging campaign to ramp up pressure on the Iranian government in the time since, including reimposing U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil sector that were lifted as part of the 2015 agreement. </p>  <p>&quot;Tehran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct,&quot; the president said in a statement. &quot;Since our exit from the Iran deal, which is broken beyond repair, the United States has put forward 12 conditions that offer the basis of a comprehensive agreement with Iran.&quot;</p>  <p>Trump long decried the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action before unilaterally exiting Washington from the multilateral accord brokered under former President Barack Obama. </p>  <p>The Trump administration has called on the U.S.'s negotiating partners -- the U.K., France, Germany, China, Russia and the EU -- to follow the U.S. lead, but none have to date, insisting the agreement is the best way to ensure Iran not attain a nuclear weapon.</p>  <p>The deal granted Iran sweeping relief from international sanctions in exchange for unprecedented curbs on and inspections of its nuclear program. </p>  <p>In one of the administration's most critical efforts to force Iran to quit the deal, the Trump administration declined to renew waivers that allowed seven countries and Taiwan to continue to import Iranian oil.</p>  <p>Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said earlier Wednesday that Iran would resume high level enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade levels if his country’s interests in the nuclear deal are not protected within 60 days.</p>  <p>Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, said Tehran will suspend implementation of two of the deal's key articles, because following through on them is no longer possible due to U.S. sanctions announced May 4 that prohibited the activities.</p>  <p>&quot;Iran is not engaged in escalating tensions, Iran does not want clashes,&quot; Zarif said. &quot;Iran is a party to the dialogue, a country that has proved in recent years that it is possible to solve the fundamental problems of the world through dialogue.&quot;<br> <br> </p>  <p> </p>  <p> 

US sanctions Iran's metal sectors as tensions heighten

             By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Iran's iron, steel, aluminum, and copper sectors Wednesday as tensions between the rivals escalates. </p>  <p>The penalties affect what Trump called the Iranian government's &quot;largest non-petroleum-related sources of export revenue&quot; one year after he pulled the U.S. out of a landmark nuclear accord that placed unprecedented curbs on Tehran's nuclear program. </p>  <p>Trump and his senior officials have embarked upon a wide-ranging campaign to ramp up pressure on the Iranian government in the time since, including reimposing sanctions on Iran's oil sector that were lifted as part of the 2015 agreement. </p>  <p>&quot;Tehran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct,&quot; the president said in a statement. &quot;Since our exit from the Iran deal, which is broken beyond repair, the United States has put forward 12 conditions that offer the basis of a comprehensive agreement with Iran.&quot;

US lifts sanctions on ex-Venezuelan general

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. on Tuesday removed sanctions on a former high-ranking Venezuelan intelligence official who defected from the government last week.

Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera was the Director General of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, which is known by its Spanish-language acronym SEBIN, as well as a general in the Venezuelan military.

He was designated Feb. 15 for serving Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro amid a political stalemate with opposition leader Juan Guaido who declared himself president in January.

The Trump administration has called on Maduro's senior officials and military to throw their support behind Guaido, offering the removal of sanctions should they change course.

"Today’s action, taken in consultation with the U.S. Department of State, demonstrates that U.S. sanctions need not be permanent and are intended to bring about a positive change of behavior," the Treasury Department said in a statement.

"The delisting of Cristopher also shows the good faith of the United States that removal of sanctions may be available for designated persons who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the illegitimate Maduro regime, or combat corruption in Venezuela," it added.

All property owned by Christopher subject to U.S. jurisdiction has been unblocked and U.S. persons are no longer subject to restrictions on doing business with the former intelligence official.

Pakistan rejects US visa sanctions reports

By Islamuddin Sajid

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AA) – Pakistan rejected the media reports on U.S. visa sanctions on Islamabad and called them misleading information, a Foreign Ministry official said on Sunday.

"We have seen media reports about a U.S. Federal Registry notification on “introduction of new rules” on consular matters. The insinuations made in the media reports are misleading," Mohammad Faisal, Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement.

Earlier on Sunday, several national and international media outlets reported that U.S. has imposed sanctions on Pakistan after Islamabad refused to take back its deported citizens and visa overstayers from Washington.

"There are ongoing discussions between Pakistan and the United States on consular matters including repatriation issues. Both countries are working bilaterally on these issues consistent with their respective laws and have made considerable progress," Faisal said.

We understand that the U.S. government would continue regular consular operations at their embassy in Islamabad, and the ongoing discussions would not affect visas procedures for routine Pakistani applicants, he added.

UPDATE – US imposes sanctions on Venezuelan FM

                              ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT</p>  <p>By Umar Farooq</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. on Friday imposed sanctions on Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.</p>  <p>Arreaza has also served as the country's vice minister for the ministry for science, technology, and intermediate industries, executive vice president, and minister of the ecological mining development.</p>  <p>The sanctions are part of U.S.'s efforts to place economic pressure on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and its regional allies, as Washington has moved to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's president.</p>  <p>The Treasury Department also placed sanctions on Carol Padilla, a special court judge, for her role as an official in Venezuela's government.</p>  <p>&quot;Treasury will continue to target corrupt Maduro insiders, including those tasked with conducting diplomacy and carrying out justice on behalf of this illegitimate regime,&quot; the agency said in a statement.</p>  <p>Guaido declared himself interim president in January following massive protests amid a spiraling humanitarian and economic crisis in the Latin American nation.</p>  <p>The U.S. quickly threw its diplomatic support behind Guaido, calling on other nations to follow suit while imposing economic sanctions on the Venezuelan government as well as taking other punitive measures against its leaders.</p>  <p>Most countries in the Americas and Europe have followed Washington's lead in recognizing Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.</p>  <p>Maduro, however, has refused to hand over control of the country, insisting he is targeted by a U.S.-orchestrated coup.</p>  <p>The political stalemate is being played out as Venezuela grapples with a worsening economic crisis that has led to widespread shortages of goods throughout the country.</p>  <p>Washington has blacklisted other Venezuelan entities and officers, including the country's state oil company PDVSA and the central bank. Treasury also sanctioned Laureano Ortega Murillo, the son of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, to target &quot;corrupt financial operations and Ortega regime support network.&quot;</p>  <p>Nicaragua is one of about a half-dozen Latin American nations who have declined recognition of Guaido.</p>  <p>Venezuela's economy has been in precipitous decline following a global downturn in the price of crude oil, the country's main export.

US imposes sanctions on Venezuelan FM

             By Umar Farooq</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. on Friday imposed sanctions on Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.</p>  <p>Arreaza has also served as the country's vice minister for the ministry for science, technology, and intermediate industries, executive vice president and minister of the ecological mining development.</p>  <p>The move comes as the U.S. continues to ramp up financial pressure on Venezuela and its regional allies.</p>  <p>The sanctions are part of Washington's efforts to place economic pressure on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, as Washington has moved to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's president.</p>  <p>The Treasury Department also placed sanctions on Carol Padilla, a special court judge, for her role as an official in Venezuela's government.</p>  <p>&quot;Treasury will continue to target corrupt Maduro insiders, including those tasked with conducting diplomacy and carrying out justice on behalf of this illegitimate regime,&quot; the agency said in a statement.

Iran warns US against attempts to halt oil shipments

            By Umar Farooq</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - Iran will continue to sell its oil, find buyers for it and ship it through the Strait of Hormuz, its foreign minister said Wednesday.</p>  <p>Speaking at a panel discussion in New York City hosted by the Asia Society, Mohammad Javad Zarif said if the U.S. takes any &quot;crazy measure&quot; against Iran to prevent it from transporting its oil, it will have to be &quot;prepared for the consequences&quot;.</p>  <p>&quot;President [Donald] Trump believes that by pushing us, by imposing economic pressure on us, we will sell our dignity. Not gonna happen,&quot; Zarif said.</p>  <p>He said it is within Iran's &quot;vital national interest&quot; to keep both the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz open.</p>  <p>The Strait of Hormuz, a strait between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, is a major channel for international oil shipments.</p>  <p>Zarif’s comments came after Washington announced Monday that it would be ending sanctions waivers it had granted to countries that were still buying Iranian oil.</p>  <p>The move, effective May 2, is part of Trump's 'maximum pressure' campaign to curb sales of Iranian oil, denying what Washington said was the country’s main source of revenue.</p>  <p>In a statement, the White House said both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have committed to increase their oil supply to ensure that global supply is maintained.</p>  <p>Zarif said the pressure campaign on Iran led by Washington has shown that the &quot;B team wants regime change&quot;, referring to Trump ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton, a staunch critic of Iran's leadership, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and United Arab Emirates leader Mohammed bin Zayed.</p>  <p>Zarif said the U.S. should talk to those protecting the strait – Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Washington had earlier this month designated the elite military force as a foreign terrorist organization.</p>  <p>- Prisoner Swap</p>  <p>However, Zarif also said there was room to cooperate in order to bring stability to both Afghanistan and Iraq.</p>  <p>&quot;It's not a crisis yet. It's a dangerous situation,&quot; he said.</p>  <p>He specifically mentioned the potential of a prisoner swap, with Iran releasing British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.</p>  <p>&quot;Let's have an exchange. I'm ready to do it and I have the authority to do it,&quot; Zarif said.</p>  <p>Ratcliffe has been held in Iran since 2016 on espionage charges.</p>  <p>He proposed a prisoner swap between her and Iranians in jail abroad, including a woman being held in Australia for the past three years on a U.S. extradition request.</p>  <p>Zarif said the woman had given birth in prison.</p>  <p>He said there are other Iranians that have been imprisoned in the U.S. and Europe on what he considered phony charges.

Germany vows to stand by Iran nuclear deal

  By Ayhan Simsek </p>  <p>BERLIN (AA) - Germany on Wednesday reaffirmed its commitment to a nuclear deal with Iran despite the recent U.S. move to impose sanctions on countries that buy Iranian oil. </p>  <p>Ulrike Demmer, the government’s deputy spokeswoman, told a news conference in Berlin that they had taken note of the recent decision of the Trump administration, and will coordinate with other EU members to jointly assess its implications.</p>  <p>“As you know, the German federal government and the European Union remain committed to the nuclear agreement with Iran,” she said, adding that this agreement would facilitate legitimate trade with Iran, in accordance with international and European Union law. </p>  <p>“We continue to believe that this agreement is a very important instrument to prevent Iran from becoming armed with nuclear weapons,” she said. </p>  <p>U.S. President Donald Trump last year pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and further intensified pressure on Tehran by re-imposing sanctions on Iranian oil exports. </p>  <p>On Monday, Trump administration announced that it would no longer renew Iran sanctions' waivers on eight countries -- Turkey, China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan -- upon their expiration on May 2.</p>  <p>In 2015, world powers agreed to lift economic sanctions imposed on Iran in return for Tehran agreeing to limit its nuclear activity to peaceful and civilian purposes.</p>  <p>The agreement, also known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed between Iran and major powers Russia, China, France, the U.K., and U.S., plus Germany. </p>  <p>Despite the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, EU heavyweights Germany, France and the U.K. have set up a new mechanism in January, offering European firms an alternative payments channel to continue trade with Iran despite US sanctions. 

Moscow concerned over new US sanctions on Iran

            By Elena Teslova</p>  <p>MOSCOW (AA) – Russia said Tuesday it is particularly concerned over a new round of U.S. sanctions on Iran.</p>  <p>Under the threat of punishment, Washington is pressuring all countries to stop buying Iranian crude oil with the aim of undermining the Islamic Republic’s economy, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.</p>  <p>The ministry noted that U.S. statements on the tightening of oil sanctions on Iran coincide with news of the deployment of a U.S. carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf.</p>  <p>&quot;In pursuit of global hegemony, the U.S. is not only threatening the international community with punitive economic measures but also openly rattling its saber...Washington is trying to accomplish its geopolitical ambitions, which are dangerous for all mankind,&quot; it said.</p>  <p>The ministry noted that the U.S. took another step against Iran close to the anniversary of Washington’s decision in May last year to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement reached on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna on July 14, 2015 between Iran, the P5+1 and the European Union.</p>  <p>&quot;But the U.S. clearly made a mistake in choosing the means, having decided on a method of economic strangulation, dealing a blow to the living conditions of ordinary Iranians to make Tehran a compliant negotiator ready for any transaction on American terms.</p>  <p>&quot;Such a course of action adds nothing to America’s international standing. The rest of the world can see that Washington's policy is becoming more aggressive and reckless,&quot; it said.</p>  <p>The ministry said it &quot;pays a tribute to the restraint of Iran, which does not succumb to the arrogant provocations of the U.S.”</p>  <p>It reaffirmed its adherence to the JCPOA and called on &quot;sane forces&quot; to do everything in their power to ensure the continuous functioning of the agreement.</p>  <p> 

Saudi, Bahrain welcome US sanctions on Iran oil

RIYADH (AA) – Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on Tuesday welcomed a U.S. move to tighten sanctions on Iran's oil exports.

In a statement cited by the official SPA news agency, Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf reiterated the kingdom’s full support for the U.S. move "as a necessary step to force the Iranian regime to stop its destabilizing policies, and its support and sponsorship of terrorism around the world."

He underlined Saudi efforts “to stabilize the oil market at all times by coordinating with other oil producers in order to ensure that sufficient supplies of oil are available to consumers”.

Bahrain also followed the Saudi footsteps in hailing the U.S. move.

According to the official BNA news agency, Bahrain said the move was "necessary and important, which will support and strengthen efforts drying up the sources of terrorism and address the dangerous role Iran plays in destabilizing security and stability."

On Monday, U.S. announced that it would end sanctions waivers on eight countries — Turkey, China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan — importing oil from Iran.

As of May 2, no country in the world will be able to buy Iranian oil because of the U.S. new sanctions on Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration re-imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports in November after Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The administration then announced it would give 180-day waivers, called Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs), to eight countries to help them wean off their supply of Iranian oil.