Iran’s Revolutionary Guards impound foreign ship in the Gulf: state TV

FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012, a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has seized a foreign ship smuggling fuel in the Gulf, state television quoted Iran’s elite force as saying in a statement on Thursday.

“A foreign vessel smuggling one million litres of fuel in the Larak Island of the Persian Gulf has been seized,” the station said, adding that the ship was seized on Sunday.

Iranian state TV earlier said the seized vessel was the same one Iran towed after it sent a distress call on Sunday, but there was no confirmation of this in the statement issued by the Revolutionary Guards about the impounded vessel.

The Guards, who have yet to name the vessel concerned, said they had seized no other ship in the Gulf.

Iranian navy vessels came to the assistance of a disabled foreign oil tanker in the Gulf that needed repairs, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Tuesday by the semi-official news agency ISNA.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Jon Boyle)

Iran gives medals for capture of U.S. sailors

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader has awarded medals to navy commanders for capturing U.S. sailors who entered Iranian territorial waters this month, Iran’s state media said on Sunday.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has said Iran should remain wary of its arch-enemy the United States even after a landmark accord over Tehran’s nuclear program, awarded the Fath (Victory) medal to the head of the navy of the Revolutionary Guards and four commanders involved in the seizure of two U.S. Navy boats.

Iran has awarded the Fath medal since 1989 to war heroes, military commanders and politicians, especially those linked to the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Iran freed the ten U.S. sailors on Jan. 13, a day after detaining them aboard the two U.S. Navy patrol boats in the Gulf, bringing a swift end to an incident that had rattled nerves shortly before the expected implementation of the nuclear accord with world powers.

The Revolutionary Guards said it had determined the patrol boats had entered Iranian territorial waters by mistake.

The quick resolution contrasted with previous cases in which British servicemen were held by Iran for considerably longer, in once case almost two weeks.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Sami Aboudi and David Goodman)

Iran detained American sailors at gunpoint, U.S. military says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The 10 U.S. sailors who were briefly detained by the Iranian military last week were held at gunpoint and had a verbal exchange with Iranian personnel before they were released, the U.S. military said Monday.

Just two days after the United States and other world powers lifted sanctions on Iran, the military released its most comprehensive timeline to date of the events surrounding the sailors’ brief detainment.

In a news release, the military said the sailors also had two SIM cards pulled out of their satellite phones, but that there was no gunfire exchange.

There were no details on the verbal exchange the sailors had with the Iranians.

The U.S. sailors, who were aboard two patrol craft, were detained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on January 12 when they inadvertently entered Iranian territorial waters. They were released the next day after being held for about 15 hours.

The U.S. military said the Americans were intercepted after the diesel engine in one of their boats developed a mechanical problem, although it was unclear if the crew was aware of their precise location.

The sailors were released unharmed and are in good health.

Their prompt release came just days before world powers lifted crippling sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran’s implementation of a deal curbing its nuclear program.

The Obama administration has said their speedy release shows the power of diplomacy and the promise of its new engagement with Iran.

Republicans, however, have been critical of the deal with Iran, and some say the detainment of the sailors shows how little regard Iran has for America.

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has been among some of the vocal critics. On Fox News Sunday, Cruz said the only reason the sailors were seized was because of the “weakness of Barack Obama.”

In a speech at Liberty University on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump also lambasted the administration over the incident with the sailors.

“Those young people were on their hands and knees in a begging position with their hands up and thugs behind them with guns, and then we talk like it’s OK. It’s not OK. It’s lack of respect.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said on CNN that once he heard about the sailors’ detention, he was “very frustrated and angry”, and that “I raised it immediately with the Iranians.”

He declined to give the content of his conversation, but added: “Suffice it to say that I made it crystal clear how serious this was. It was imperative to get it resolved.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Ian Simpson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

Pentagon: ‘Navigation error’ led U.S. sailors into Iranian waters

MIAMI (Reuters) – The 10 U.S. sailors who were held by Iran before being released on Wednesday made a navigational mistake that led them into Iranian waters but did not communicate that to Navy commanders before being intercepted, the U.S. military said on Thursday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the information came from debriefings of the sailors, who were flown on Wednesday to a U.S. military facility in Qatar after Iran released them along with their two riverine boats.

“The information that they have given us, and through their commanders, is that they did stray accidentally into Iranian waters due to a navigation error,” Carter said in an interview with FUSION television’s Jorge Ramos, which will also air on Spanish-language Univision.

Carter’s comments were the most detailed so far from American officials on the incident, which rattled nerves just before the expected implementation of a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Diplomats in Washington and Tehran, through a series of anxious phone calls, sought to resolve the incident quickly, ensuring it did not torpedo the nuclear accord.

In the end, Iran released the U.S. sailors – nine men and one woman – on Wednesday.

The speedy resolution of the incident contrasted with previous cases in which British servicemen were held considerably longer, in one case nearly two weeks.

Carter said the sailors apparently did not radio in to tell their commanders they were off-course before encountering the Iranians.

“They did not report this navigational error at the time. It may be that they were trying to sort it out at the time they encountered the Iranian boats and discovered they were inside of the territorial waters of Iran,” Carter said in the interview, which took place in Miami.

He denied that the sailors were on a covert mission, saying instead, “they were simply transiting from one place to another.”

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was clear that the boats did not run out of fuel.

A senior Navy official said the Navy was beginning the process of reintegrating the sailors after thorough medical, psychological and mental health examinations.

Navy officials were also staying in close touch with the families of the sailors to keep them apprised of the situation, the official said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Susan Heavey and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler)

Iran releases U.S. sailors as diplomacy eases tensions

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran freed ten U.S. sailors on Wednesday a day after detaining them aboard two U.S. Navy patrol boats in the Gulf, bringing a swift end to an incident that had rattled nerves shortly before the expected implementation of a landmark nuclear accord.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it had released the sailors after determining they had entered Iranian territorial waters by mistake. IRGC Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said earlier the boats had strayed due to a broken navigation system.

The quick resolution contrasted with previous cases in which British servicemen were held by Iran for considerably longer, in once case almost two weeks.

Iran expects the U.N. nuclear watchdog to confirm on Friday it has curtailed its nuclear program, paving the way for the unfreezing of billions of dollars of Iranian assets and an end to bans that have crippled oil exports.

“Our technical investigations showed the two U.S. Navy boats entered Iranian territorial waters inadvertently,” the IRGC said in a statement carried by state television. “They were released in international waters after they apologized,” it added.

Iranian state television later released footage of one of the detained men, identified as a U.S. navy commander, apologizing for the incident.

“It was a mistake, that was our fault, and we apologize for our mistake,” the sailor said on IRIB state TV.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden rejected reports Washington had offered Iran an apology over the incident.

“No, there was no apology, nothing to apologize for … and there’s no looking for any apology,” Biden said on CBS’s ‘This Morning’ program.

COOPERATION

A carefully worded statement did not explain how the sailors and their two riverine command boats ended up being detained by Iran, saying only that “the Navy will investigate the circumstances that led to the sailors’ presence in Iran”.

The sailors were later taken ashore by U.S. Navy aircraft, while other sailors took charge of the boats and headed towards Bahrain, their original destination.

The Pentagon said there were no indications the sailors were harmed while in Iranian custody.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he was pleased the sailors had been freed and appreciated “the timely way in which this situation was resolved”.

He added: “I want to personally thank Secretary of State John Kerry for his diplomatic engagement with Iran to secure our sailors’ swift return.”

Kerry thanked Iran for its cooperation in the release of the sailors.

“I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago, and the fact that today this kind of issue can be resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong,” Kerry said.

Kerry spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif several times as the United States sought to win the release of the sailors, a U.S. official said.

Zarif said on twitter that he was “happy to see dialogue and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the sailors episode”.

Four photographs published by Shargh Daily, a Tehran newspaper, and posted on Twitter, purportedly show the moments after one of the U.S. boats was stopped by the IRGC.

Iranian state television released footage of the arrest, showing the sailors as they knelt down with hands behind their heads and their two vessels being surrounded by several IRGC fast boats.

The video showed weapons and ammunition confiscated from the sailors, who were seen eating food provided by the Iranians. There were also images of American passports being inspected.

The incident raised tensions between Iran and the United States, which, along with other world powers, reached a deal last year under which Iran will curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Some conservatives in both countries, enemies since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, have criticized the deal that is due to be implemented in the coming days.

NUCLEAR DEAL

Iran’s armed forces chief, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, said the incident should demonstrate Iranian strength to “troublemakers” in the U.S. Congress, which has sought to put pressure on Iran after the nuclear deal.

And at a presidential campaign rally in the United States, Republican front runner Donald Trump, who accuses President Barack Obama of being weak on foreign policy, described the detention of the sailors as “an indication of where the hell we’re going”.

A senior U.S. defense official said the circumstances surrounding the incident were still not entirely clear.

“We haven’t been able to fully debrief the sailors,” the official said, adding the U.S. military hoped to do so within hours. The sailors were headed to a U.S. military facility in Qatar.

“They’re going through what always happens in these cases, they’ll get a medical evaluation, and there will be a debriefing.”

Attributing the boats’ incursion into Iranian waters to a navigation error marked a de-escalation in rhetoric. Earlier, the Guards had said the boats were “snooping” in Iranian territory and Zarif had demanded an apology from Washington.

The IRGC, the Islamic Republic’s praetorian guard, is highly suspicious of U.S. military activity near Iran’s borders and many senior officers suspect Washington of pursuing regime change in Tehran.

The Guards operate land and naval units separate to the regular armed forces and stage frequent war games in the Gulf, which separates Iran from its regional rival Saudi Arabia and a U.S. naval base in Bahrain.

Last month, the U.S. Navy said an IRGC vessel fired unguided rockets near the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Strait of Hormuz, a critical shipping route for crude oil that connects the Gulf to the Indian Ocean. Iran denied the vessel had done so.

In April 2015, the Guards seized a container ship belonging to Maersk, one of the world’s major shipping lines, in the Gulf because of a legal dispute between the company and Iran. The ship and its 24 crew members were released after 10 days.

The Guards have also seized British servicemen on two occasions, in 2004 and 2007, and a civilian British yacht crew in 2009. On each occasion the sailors were released unharmed.

Iran said the British sailors were released when their government apologized to Iran, but London denied that it had offered any apology.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Susan Heavey, Phil Stewart and Jonathan Landay; Writing by Sam Wilkin; Editing by Sami Aboudi, Peter Graff, Giles Elgood, Peter Millership and Philippa Fletcher)

New Study Finds that Persian Gulf Could Become Uninhabitable Due to Extreme Climate Change

By the end of the century, major cities along the Persian Gulf could be too hot for human survival.

On Monday a scientific study published in the journal Nature Climate Change warned that climate change could make the summer days in the Persian Gulf area too hot for “human habitability.” It would be so hot that even the healthiest of people would only be able to be outdoors for just a few hours. Cities such as Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Mecca are at risk if global warming continues at its current rate, according to the Washington Post.

“The threats to human health may be much more severe than previously thought, and may occur in the current century,” Christoph Schaer, a physicist and climate modeler at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, Switzerland, said in a commentary on the study’s conclusions.

The Washington Post reports that the authors of the study are a pair of scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount University. Using high-resolution climate models of the Persian Gulf, they were able to view several different scenarios that could affect the area due to climate change over the coming decades. They focused on “wet-bulb temperature,” a key heat measurement that includes evaporation rates and humidity, averaged over several hours to determine when the Persian Gulf would be uninhabitable to humans. They determined that the high temperatures would be so high that the human body would not be able to sweat to ward off the heat.

The scientists predicted that low-lying regions of the Persian Gulf could see temperatures as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit while other cities including Kuwait City and Al Ain would see temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer months, they predict the temperatures rising to as high as 165-170 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Washington Post and Fox News.

And while some could stave off the heat with air conditioning, the impoverished areas in the Persian Gulf would see disastrous results.

“People who have resources could use air conditioning and avoid the outdoors during heat waves but, in some corners of that region, there are communities and people who don’t have resources to do that,” Elfatih Eltahir, a co-author of the study, told Fox News. “We pointed to some corners of Yemen along the Red Sea that are not as well off as other parts of the Gulf Region.”