Tehran, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Iran warned the U.S. that any action taken against it following an attack on Saudi oil installations will "immediately" be met with a response from Tehran, its state-run news agency reported Wednesday, further raising Mideast tensions.
Iran's president and foreign minister also may skip next week's high-level meetings at the United Nations as the U.S. has yet to issue them visas, IRNA reported.
The U.N. meeting had been considered as an opportunity for direct talks between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and President Donald Trump amid a summer of heightened tensions and attacks in the wake of America's unilateral withdraw from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers a year ago.
However, the recent attack in Saudi Arabia and hardening comments from Iran suggest such talks are increasingly unlikely.
Iran sent a note through Swiss diplomats in Tehran on Monday, reiterating that Tehran denies being involved in the Saudi attack, IRNA reported. The Swiss have looked after American interests in Tehran for decades.
"If any action takes place against Iran, the action will be faced by Iran's answer immediately," IRNA quoted the note as saying. It added that Iran's response wouldn't be limited to the source of the threat, without elaborating.
IRNA separately reported Wednesday that Iran's first delegation for the annual U.N. event had not left Iran due to not having visas. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was to travel to New York on Friday, with Rouhani following behind Monday, according to the agency.
As the host of the U.N.'s headquarters, the U.S. is mandated to offer world leaders and diplomats visas to attend meetings there. But as tensions have risen, the U.S. has put increasing restrictions on Iranians like Zarif.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to Saudi Arabia for meetings after Saturday's attack on a Saudi oil field and the world's largest crude oil processing plant. Saudi officials separately planned to share information about the weapons used in the attack they allege are Iranian.
Saudi Arabia also said on Wednesday that it joined a U.S.-led coalition to secure the Mideast's waterways amid threats from Iran after an attack targeting its crucial oil industry, while Rouhani told the kingdom it should see the attack as a warning to end its yearslong war in Yemen.
Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have claimed the attack. The U.S. accuses Iran of being behind the assault, while Saudi Arabia already has said "Iranian weaponry" was used. Iran denies that.
"Almost certainly it's Iranian-backed," Prince Khalid bin Bandar, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United Kingdom, told the BBC. "We are trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region."
The state-run Saudi Press Agency carried a statement Wednesday morning quoting an unnamed official saying the kingdom had joined the International Maritime Security Construct.
Australia, Bahrain and the United Kingdom already have joined the mission.
"The kingdom's accession to this international alliance comes in support of regional and international efforts to deter and counter threats to maritime navigation and global trade," the news agency said.
Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, declined to comment on the Saudi announcement, saying it "would be inappropriate to comment on the status of individual nations and the nature of any potential support."
The coalition aims to secure the broader Persian Gulf region. It includes surveillance of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of the world's oil travels, and the Bab el-Mandeb, another narrow strait that connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden off Yemen and East Africa. Smaller patrol boats and other craft will be available for rapid response. The plan also allows for nations to escort their own ships through the region.
The U.S. blames Iran for the apparent limpet mine explosions on four vessels in May and another two in June sailing in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz, something Iran denies being behind. Iran also seized a British-flagged oil tanker and another based in the United Arab Emirates.
In Tehran, Rouhani told his Cabinet that Saudi Arabia should see the attack as a warning to end its war in Yemen, where it has fought the Houthi rebels since 2015 and sought to restore the internationally recognized government.
Rouhani said Yemenis "did not hit hospitals, they did not hit schools or the Sanaa bazaar," mentioning the Saudi-led coalition's widely criticized airstrikes.
He added that Iran does not want conflict in the region, but it was the Saudi-led coalition that "waged the war in the region and ruined Yemen."
"They attacked an industrial center to warn you. Learn the lesson from the warning," he said, portraying the Houthis as responsible for the drone strikes.
Wednesday's announcements comes after Saudi Arabia's energy minister said late Tuesday that more than half of the country's daily crude oil production that was knocked out by an attack had been recovered and that production capacity at its targeted plants would be fully restored by the end of the month.
Pompeo was due to land in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, where he was scheduled to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Pompeo later will travel to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday to meet with Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Both nations are U.S. allies and have been fighting against the Houthis in Yemen since March 2015.
The Saudi military planned to speak to journalists Wednesday in Riyadh to discuss the investigation into Saturday's attack "and present material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Iranian regime's involvement." It did not elaborate.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that U.S. military experts were in Saudi Arabia working with their counterparts to "do the forensics on the attack" — gleaning evidence that could help build a convincing case for where the weapons originated.
On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron's office announced experts from his nation would be traveling to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom shed light " on the origin and methods" of the attacks. France has been trying to find a diplomatic solution to the tensions between Iran and the U.S., so any conclusion they draw could be used to show what a third-party assessed happened.
Hong Kong, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Hong Kong has called off an annual fireworks display marking China's National Day as pro-democracy protests show no sign of ending.
The city issued a terse statement Wednesday saying the Oct. 1 show over its famed Victoria Harbour had been canceled "in view of the latest situation and having regard to public safety."
While specific plans have not been announced, major protests are expected on that day, which marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party-governed People's Republic of China.
Hong Kong has experienced often-violent demonstrations all summer as many residents fear their rights and freedoms are being eroded by the mainland Chinese government. The semi-autonomous territory has a separate legal system under a "one country, two systems" framework.
Colombo, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Doctors at state-run hospitals across Sri Lanka began a 24-hour strike on Wednesday, demanding that the government resolve what they say is a salary "injustice."
Two years ago, the government gave an unusually high salary increase to legal officers in the government sector, creating what Dr. Haritha Aluthge, secretary of the Government Medical Officers Association, called "a severe injustice to doctors and other professionals."
"For two years, we have been urging the government to rectify this anomaly, but so far no meaningful measures have been taken to resolve the injustice," he said Wednesday.
The strike caused hardships to the thousands of patients who arrived at state-run hospitals, where doctors were providing only emergency treatment. Government hospitals provide free services, making them very popular with most Sri Lankans.
Due to the strike — which began Wednesday morning and is scheduled to end Thursday morning — all routine surgeries and other medical services were not performed.
Samantha Perera, 49, who was to undergo a minor abdominal operation Wednesday at the government hospital in Ragama, on the outskirts of the capital, Colombo, said hospital authorities asked him to go home and come back later this week to get a new date for his surgery.
"It's really frustrating and now I have to come back on another day. Patients have to pay for the tussle between the government and doctors," he said.
Aluthge said the doctors' union resorted to a strike as the last option, and that the government should take responsibility for the hardships faced by the public.
The union did not conduct the strike at the country's main cancer or children's hospital, maternity hospitals and the specialized hospital that treats kidney patients.
There was no immediate comment from the government.
Aluthge urged the government to rectify the anomaly within a week by offering a solution acceptable to all concerned parties. He said if no solution is reached, "an island-wide continuous strike" would take place starting Sept. 25.
Atlanta, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Weeks shy of his 95th birthday, former President Jimmy Carter said he doesn't believe he could have managed the most powerful office in the world at 80 years old.
Carter, who earlier this year became the longest-lived chief executive in American history, didn't tie his comments to any of his fellow Democrats running for president in 2020, but two leading candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, would turn 80 during their terms if elected.
Biden is 76. Sanders is 78.
"I hope there's an age limit," Carter said with a laugh as he answered audience questions on Tuesday during his annual report at the Carter Center in Atlanta. "If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don't believe I could undertake the duties I experienced when I was president."
Carter's observation came in response to a jovial inquiry about whether he had considered running in 2020 since he's still constitutionally allowed another term. The 39th president left office in 1981 at the age of 56 after losing his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan, who served two terms and left office as the oldest sitting president in history, at 77.
Either Biden or Sanders would be older upon their inauguration than Reagan was on his final day in the Oval Office. At 73, President Donald Trump is a record setter, as well. He eclipsed Reagan's mark as the oldest newly elected president in history and would become the oldest president to be reelected. Age has been a flashpoint for some critics of Trump, Sanders and Biden.
Carter, who turns 95 on Oct. 1, said the Oval Office requires a president "to be very flexible with your mind," particularly on foreign affairs. He was speaking on the 41st anniversary of the Camp David Accords, a peace agreement he negotiated with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
"You have to be able to go from one subject to another and concentrate on each one adequately and then put them together in a comprehensive way, like I did between Begin and Sadat with the peace agreement," Carter said.
"The things I faced in foreign affairs, I don't think I could undertake them at 80 years old," he continued, before adding with a smile: "At 95, it's out of the question. I'm having a hard time walking."
Carter said he remains undecided in the 2020 primary.
"I'm going to keep an open mind," he said, explaining that he wants to vote for a candidate who pledges to make the U.S. the world's leading champion for peace, human rights and equality. "One of the major factors I will have in my mind is who can beat Trump," he added, noting that he'll vote for the Democratic nominee in the general election regardless.
Still, Carter's assessments on age could leave him with few easy choices in the primary.
Carter repeated his previous disclosure that he voted for Sanders over Hillary Clinton in 2016, siding with the democratic socialist over the party establishment favorite. But Carter has since warned Democrats not to go too far left, lest they risk alienating independents and moderate Republicans who can help the party defeat Trump.
He has specifically cited proposals like a single-payer health insurance system as potential deal-breakers for some voters inclined to vote against Trump. Sanders and another leading progressive candidate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, back single-payer health insurance run by the federal government. Warren is 70 years old.
Meanwhile, Biden is leading most national and early state primary polls in part because of his strength among more moderate Democrats. Other moderates in the field trail far behind Biden, Sanders and Warren.
When Carter ran and won in 1976, he was the outsider toppling establishment favorites. But the former Georgia governor also represented the more moderate wing of a party that had been dominated by Northeastern liberals.
Since his defeat, however, Republicans have used Carter as a liberal caricature. And Carter himself, through his work at the Carter Center, has embraced the role of an outspoken human rights advocate willing to criticize the world's establishment institutions and accepted world order.
He's long blasted Israel's treatment of Palestinians, even as both major U.S. parties more carefully navigated the U.S. alliance with Israel. As Israel tallies votes from its Tuesday elections, Carter lamented that returning hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power could "end the peace process" altogether. Exit polls show that Netanyahu's party fell short of securing a parliamentary majority, potentially threatening his position.
Speaking about his post-presidency legacy, Carter said he wants the Carter Center, which has focused since 1982 on public health and election monitoring, to be more willing to criticize the U.S. government, advocate for policies to combat the climate crisis and explicitly take sides against war.
"The Carter Center has been basically mute on the subject of global warming," Carter said, putting blame on himself.
He also warned Americans against the consequences of perpetual military conflict. He noted that China, the major economic and geopolitical competitor to the U.S., has spent four decades at peace since Carter normalized relations with Beijing. In that time, China has spent trillions of dollars on infrastructure and education, Carter said, while the U.S. has spent corresponding amounts on military engagement.
"That just shows you the difference between peace and war," Carter said, later adding, "I just want to keep the world at peace."
Washington, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Six weeks after a pair of mass shootings killed more than 30 people, Congress remains "in a holding pattern" on gun control as lawmakers await proposals from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.
While President Donald Trump has said he would veto a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, McConnell said he is hopeful there are other gun-related proposals that Congress can approve and Trump can support.
"I still await guidance from the White House as to what (Trump) thinks he's comfortable signing," the Kentucky Republican told reporters. "If and when that happens, then we'll have a real possibility of actually changing the law and hopefully making some progress."
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said McConnell and Trump were blocking meaningful action on gun violence, adding, "This is the moment for the president to do something different and courageous."
The New York Democrat said he wonders whether Trump will "rise to the occasion, or will he squander this opportunity as he always has done in the past?"
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Trump on Sunday that any proposal on gun control must include the House-passed bill to expand background checks. Pelosi and Schumer spoke with Trump by phone and said they made it clear any proposal that does not include the House legislation "will not get the job done" because dangerous loopholes will be left open.
Schumer said Tuesday he was "not encouraged by what the president said," but remained committed to pushing for stricter gun control measures. Senate Democrats planned to speak for hours on the Senate floor Tuesday to urge passage of background checks and other measures in the wake of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio last month that killed more than three dozen people.
Trump and White House aides have discussed a number of gun-control measures with members of Congress, including steps to go after fraudulent buyers, notify state and local law enforcement when a potential buyer fails a background check, issue state-level emergency risk protection orders, boost mental health assistance and speed up executions for those found guilty of committing mass shootings.
Trump hopes to reveal something on gun control to the American public "very soon," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday. The White House expects the gun proposal later this week or early next week, according to a person familiar with the administration's thinking.
Attorney General William Barr and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland met with GOP senators Tuesday to talk about a path forward. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said background checks remained under discussion, but it was not clear whether progress was being made.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said background checks did not come up during a lunch meeting Tuesday between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., cautioned against overinterpreting the relative silence by the White House. "My guess is they're still vetting ideas, proposals and kind of putting together their plan," he said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has helped lead a bipartisan push to expand background checks, said he had not spoken to Trump since late last week. Manchin said he considers a proposal he is offering with Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey a starting point for legislative action.
"You can't water it down because that's the bedrock," Manchin said, adding that senators and the White House haven't agreed on anything yet. "We're just going to see where it goes," he said.