Washington, May 21 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump is threatening to meet provocations by Iran with "great force," but says he's also willing to negotiate.
Trump spoke to reporters as he left the White House Monday evening en route to a rally in Pennsylvania.
He says, "If they do something it will be met great force."
But he adds, "We have no indication that they will."
Still, he is not mincing his words, calling Iran "hostile" and the "No. 1 provocateur of terror."
The administration recently sent an aircraft carrier and other military resources to the Persian Gulf region, and withdrew nonessential personnel from Iraq, raising alarms over the possibility of a confrontation with Iran.
Trump had been downplaying the chances of potential conflict in recent days.
Washington, May 21 (AP/UNB)— As questions mount over President Donald Trump's tough talk on Iran, top national security officials are heading to Capitol Hill to brief Congress. But skeptical Democrats have asked for a second opinion.
The competing closed-door sessions Tuesday, unusual and potentially polarizing, come after weeks of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf that have raised alarms over a possible military confrontation with Iran. Lawmakers are warning the Trump administration it cannot take the country into war without approval from Congress, and the back-to-back briefings show the wariness among Democrats, and some Republicans, over the White House's sudden policy shifts in the Middle East.
Trump, veering between bombast and conciliation in his quest to contain Iran, threatened Monday to meet provocations by Iran with "great force," but also said he's willing to negotiate.
"We'll see what happens," Trump told reporters Monday as he left the White House for a campaign rally. He said Iran has been "very hostile."
"We have no indication that anything's happened or will happened, but if it does, it will be met, obviously, with great force," Trump said. "We'll have no choice."
Trump said while there are no talks with Iran he still wants to hear from them, "if they're ready."
Over the past several weeks the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier and other resources to the Persian Gulf region, and evacuated non-essential personnel from Iraq, amid unspecified threats the administration says are linked to Iran.
The administration is sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other top brass, including Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, for closed-door briefings Tuesday with both the House and Senate.
But House Democrats, deeply skeptical of the information from the Trump officials — and mindful of the drumbeat of claims during the run-up to the Iraq War — invited former CIA Director John Brennan and former State Department official Wendy Sherman, who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal.
Brennan, an outspoken Trump critic, does not have a formal briefing planned but is prepared to answer questions on Iran — and is willing to do the same for Republicans, said a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. The intent, the person said, is to provide information and not to be partisan.
Top Democrats say Trump escalated problems by abruptly withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, a complex accord negotiated during the Obama administration to prevent the country from nuclear weapons production.
Trump's allies in Congress, including GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, say the threats from Iran are real. Graham urged Trump to "stand firm" and said he received his own briefing over the weekend from John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser.
"It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq," Graham tweeted. "If the Iranian threats against American personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military response."
But Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, an Iraq War veteran, tweeted that after having received "the same" intelligence briefing, that was not his conclusion.
"That is not what is being said. This is total information bias to draw the conclusion he wants for himself and the media," Gallego tweeted.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said it's important to more fully understand the situation. "I think Iranians think that our moves are offensive, we think their moves are offensive, that's how you get into wars by mistake," he said.
Graham's reference to Iran having attacked ships appeared to be a further indication that the U.S. military has concluded that Iran was behind the reported attack May 12 on four commercial vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
At the outset of an investigation into those apparent attacks, which damaged vessels of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Norway but caused no injuries, U.S. officials had said they appeared to be carried out by Iran.
A U.S. official said Monday the probe was finished and evidence still pointed at Iran, although the official did not provide details. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq's capital of Baghdad, days after nonessential U.S. staff were ordered to evacuate from diplomatic posts in the country. No one was reported injured. Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that the rocket was believed to have been fired from eastern Baghdad, an area home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.
Defense officials said no additional Iranian threats or incidents had emerged in the days since the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group arrived in the Arabian Sea late last week.
Iran, meanwhile, announced that it has quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity. Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what's needed for an atomic weapon.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as acknowledging that capacity had been quadrupled. He said Iran took this step because the U.S. had ended a program allowing it to exchange enriched uranium to Russia for unprocessed yellowcake uranium, as well as ending the sale of heavy water to Oman. Heavy water helps cool reactors producing plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build them.
Trump's remarks reflect what has been a strategy of alternating tough talk with more conciliatory statements, which he says is aimed at keeping Iran guessing at the administration's intentions.
He described his approach in a speech Friday, saying, "It's probably a good thing because they're saying, 'Man, I don't know where these people are coming from,' right?"
May 20 (AP/UNB) -A billionaire technology investor stunned the entire graduating class at Morehouse College when he announced at their commencement Sunday that he would pay off their student loans __ estimated at up to $40 million.
Robert F. Smith, this year's commencement speaker, made the announcement while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta. Smith, who is black, is the Founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in software, data, and technology-driven companies.
"On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we're gonna put a little fuel in your bus," the investor and philanthropist told graduates in his morning address. "This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans."
The announcement immediately drew stunned looks from faculty and students alike. Then the graduates broke into the biggest cheers of the morning and stood up, applauding. Morehouse said it is the single largest gift to the college.
Though college officials could not provide an estimate of the exact amount owed by the current graduating class, students graduate with an average debt of $30,000 to $40,000, said Terrance L. Dixon, vice president of enrollment management.
Smith, who received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse during the ceremony, had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the school.
Smith said he expected the recipients to "pay it forward" and said he hoped that "every class has the same opportunity going forward."
"Because we are enough to take care of our own community," Smith said. "We are enough to ensure that we have all the opportunities of the American dream. And we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds."
In the weeks before graduating from Morehouse on Sunday, 22-year-old finance major Aaron Mitchom drew up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay back his $200,000 in student loans — 25 years at half his monthly salary, per his calculations.
In an instant, that number vanished. Mitchom, sitting in the crowd, wept.
"I can delete that spreadsheet," he said in an interview after the commencement. "I don't have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off."
His mother, Tina Mitchom, was also shocked. Eight family members, including Mitchom's 76-year-old grandmother, took turns over four years co-signing on the loans that got him across the finish line.
"It takes a village," she said. "It now means he can start paying it forward and start closing this gap a lot sooner, giving back to the college and thinking about a succession plan" for his younger siblings.
Morehouse College president David A. Thomas said the gift would have a profound effect on the students' futures.
"Many of my students are interested in going into teaching, for example, but leave with an amount of student debt that makes that untenable," Thomas said in an interview. "In some ways, it was a liberation gift for these young men that just opened up their choices."
Dubai, May 20 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump warned Iran early on Monday not to threaten the United States again or it'll face its "official end," shortly after a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad overnight.
Trump's tweet comes after he seemingly sought to soften his tone on Iran following days of heightened tension sparked by a sudden deployment of bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf over still-unspecified threats.
In the time since, officials in the United Arab Emirates allege four oil tankers sustained damage in a sabotage attack. Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia. U.S. diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something dismissed by Tehran.
All these tensions are the culmination of Trump's decision a year ago to pull America out of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. And while both Washington and Tehran say they don't seek war, many worry any miscalculation at this fraught moment could spiral out of control.
The tweet from Trump early on Monday came just hours after a Katyusha rocket fell in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone near the statue of the Unknown Soldier, less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy, causing no injures. Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that the rocket was believed to have been fired from east Baghdad. The area is home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.
"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran," Trump tweeted. "Never threaten the United States again!"
Trump did not elaborate, nor did the White House.
Trump campaigned on pulling the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since the withdrawal, the U.S. has re-imposed previous sanctions and come up with new ones, as well as warned nations around the world they would be subject to sanctions as well if they import Iranian oil.
Iran just announced it would begin backing away from terms of the deal, setting a 60-day deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build atomic bombs.
In an interview aired Sunday on the Fox News Channel, Trump called the nuclear deal a "horror show."
"I just don't want them to have nuclear weapons and they can't be threatening us," Trump said.
However, the nuclear deal had kept Iran from being able to acquire enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb. U.N. inspectors repeatedly certified that Iran was in compliance with the accord.
In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom's military intercepted two missiles fired by the Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. The missiles were intercepted over the city of Taif and the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, the Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya reported.
The channel cited witnesses for the information. The Saudi government has yet to acknowledge the missile fire, which other Saudi media also reported. Hundreds of rockets, mortars and ballistic missiles have been fired into the kingdom since a Saudi-led coalition declared war on the Houthis in March 2015 to support Yemen's internationally recognized government.
Between the two targeted cities is Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that Muslims pray toward five times a day. Many religious pilgrims are now in the city amid the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet on Sunday announced it would begin "enhanced security patrols" in international waters with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Already, the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and others are in the Arabian Sea, waters close to the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes.
Dubai, May 20 (AP/UNB) —The U.S. military command that oversees the Mideast has confirmed an explosion outside the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and says there are no U.S. or coalition casualties.
A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, Bill Urban, says in a statement that Iraqi Security Forces are investigating Sunday's incident.
A State Department spokesman says that "a low-grade rocket" landed within the International Zone near the U.S. Embassy and that there was no significant damage or impact on any U.S.-inhabited facility.
The spokesman says that such attacks will not be tolerated and will be responded to "in a decisive manner" and that the U.S. will hold Iran responsible "if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces."
Days after saying he hoped the U.S. and Iran would not go to war, President Donald Trump threatened Iran with destruction if it seeks a fight.
Trump issued the warning after a rocket landed less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy on Sunday in Baghdad's Green Zone, further stoking tensions in the region.
Trump tweeted: "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!"
Iranian officials say the country is not looking for war.
Trump had seemed to soften his tone after the U.S. recently sent warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. On Thursday, when asked if the U.S. and Iran were headed toward armed conflict, he answered: "I hope not."
An apparent rocket attack has exploded in the Iraqi capital's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government headquarters and the U.S. Embassy.
Iraq's state-run news agency says a Katyusha rocket crashed inside the area without causing any casualties.
Alert sirens sounded briefly in Baghdad after the explosion was heard, according to Associated Press reporters on the east side of the Tigris River.
The apparent attack comes amid heightened tensions across the Persian Gulf, after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. The U.S. also has ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq.
Iraq hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave.
The U.S. Navy says it has conducted exercises in the Arabian Sea with an aircraft carrier strike group ordered to the Persian Gulf to counter an alleged, unspecified threat from Iran.
The Navy said Sunday the exercises and training were conducted with the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group in coordination with the U.S. Marine Corps, highlighting U.S. "lethality and agility to respond to threat," as well as to deter conflict and preserve U.S. strategic interests.
Also taking part in exercises were the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, both deployed to the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations in the Persian Gulf.
The Navy says the exercises, conducted Friday and Saturday, included air-to-air training and steaming in formation and maneuvering.
A top Saudi diplomat says the kingdom does not want war but will defend itself, amid a recent spike in tensions with archrival Iran.
Adel al-Jubeir, the minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke early Sunday, a week after four oil tankers were targeted in an alleged act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and days after Iran-allied Yemeni rebels claimed a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline.
Saudi Arabia has blamed the pipeline attack on Iran. Gulf officials say an investigation into the tanker incident is underway.
A-Jubeir told reporters: "We want peace and stability in the region, but we won't stand with our hands bound."
Ministers from major oil-producing countries were to meet in Saudi Arabia later Tuesday.