Turkish Official: Turkey Stopped Purchasing Iranian Oil as of May

Turkey stopped purchasing Iranian oil as of May as U.S. waivers granted last November to eight buyers expired, and will continue to abide by Washington’s demand that it halt all imports of crude oil from the Islamic Republic, a senior Turkish official said on Wednesday.

“We are not getting any oil from Iran now,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We were one of the eight countries getting an exception from those sanctions, and now we are ready to abide by them,” he said.

Reuters on Monday reported that no tankers loaded in Iran have arrived at Turkish ports so far in this month, according to Refinitiv tracking data. Analysts said it was replacing Iranian oil with supplies from Iraq, Russia and Kazakhstan.

The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. Aiming to cut Iran’s sales to zero, Washington this month ended sanctions waivers for importers of Iranian oil, ending a six-month reprieve for Turkey and seven other big importers including China and India.

Iranian crude oil exports have fallen in May to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) or lower, tanker data showed and industry sources said last week. The bulk of the crude was heading for Asia but it was unclear who was buying and whether the oil was heading to end-users or storage.

Turkey’s largest oil refiner Tupras had pressed Washington for an extension of the import waiver before the May 1 expiration, according to a person familiar with the talks, adding that when it was not granted, the company made clear it would halt all imports from Iran.

But the senior Turkish official added that Ankara did not agree with U.S. sanctions policy on Iran.

“We don’t believe in sanctions, but as a strategic ally we respect the U.S. decision …” We don’t believe isolation of Iran will be helpful,” he said.

Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.



Iran Tells German Envoy Its Patience Is Over, Fars Reports

Iran told a German envoy seeking to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal that its patience was over and urged the treaty’s remaining signatories to fulfill their commitments after the United States pulled out, the Fars news agency reported on Thursday.

Jens Ploetner, a political director in the German Foreign Ministry, met Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. A German diplomatic source told Reuters that talks with other Iranian officials were also planned.

The semi-official Fars news agency said Araghchi had relayed Iran’s impatience during the talks.

Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 deal along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s U.S. withdrawal from

the deal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb. 

But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some commitments in response to U.S. measures to cripple its economy threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed

to curbs on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.

“At the center of the political director’s visit is the preservation of the Vienna nuclear accord (JCPOA),” the German diplomatic source told Reuters. “After Iran’s announcement to partly suspend its commitments under the JCPOA, there is a window of opportunity for diplomacy to persuade Iran to continue to fully comply with the JCPOA.”

U.S., Iran tensions

Tensions have soared between Iran and the United States since Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials said the Defense Department was considering a U.S. military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East.

Despite such pressure, Keyvan Khosravi, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, reiterated on Thursday that there would be no negotiations with Washington.

He said officials from several countries had visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States,” but that Tehran’s message to them was firm. 

“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said. 

‘Clash of wills’

Fars earlier quoted a senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards as saying the U.S.-Iranian standoff was a “clash of wills” and any enemy “adventurism” would meet a

crushing response.

The German diplomatic source added: “The situation in the Persian Gulf and the region, and the situation around the Vienna nuclear accord is extremely serious. There is a real risk of escalation. … In this situation, dialogue is very important.”



US Providing $16B in Aid to American Farmers  

The United States is providing $16 billion in aid to American farmers who have been hurt by the trade war with China.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Fox Business News on Thursday that most of the funds would go directly to farmers, while smaller amounts would be directed to aid initiatives such as food banks and school lunch programs.

The administration allocated $12 billion in bailout money to farmers last year to offset the costs of President Donald Trump’s trade battles with China and other trading partners.

Perdue did not disclose additional information about the aid package, but said more information would be made available later Thursday. Trump was to address the nation’s farmers Thursday afternoon at a White House event.

Trump has placed tariffs on thousands of Chinese products and on foreign steel and aluminum. Countries have retaliated with their own tariffs, particularly on agricultural exports produced in the rural U.S., where Trump enjoys strong political support.

The Trump administration had voiced optimism that an agreement with China was close to being finalized earlier this month, but hopes were dashed when China backed away from previous commitments.

Trump responded by doubling existing punitive tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese products and threatened to impose tariffs on goods that had been spared to date.



Trump Visits Arlington National Cemetery Before Memorial Day

President Donald Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, a few days before Memorial Day, to pay tribute to those who died in service to the United States.  

  

The president quietly traveled across the Potomac River to pay his respects at the hallowed burial ground. Presidents typically lay a wreath and deliver remarks at the cemetery on the holiday, but Trump will be in Japan on Monday, which is Memorial Day. 

 

First lady Melania Trump accompanied the president to the cemetery.  



UNHCR: People Fleeing Venezuela Need Protection, Must Not Be Deported

The U.N. refugee agency says the majority of Venezuelans fleeing worsening conditions in their country are in need of international protection and must not be forcibly returned home.

Citizens are leaving Venezuela as political, economic, human rights and humanitarian conditions deteriorate. The U.N. refugee agency reports some 3.7 million people have fled the country. Most have gone to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Caribbean countries.

The agency says by the end of last year, some 460,000 Venezuelans had formally sought asylum.

But given the dire conditions back home, UNHCR spokeswoman Liz Throssell said it is clear the majority of the millions of those who have left need international refugee protection.

“This is because of the threats to their lives, security or freedom resulting from circumstances that are seriously disturbing public order in Venezuela,” she said. “UNHCR also calls on states to ensure that Venezuelans, regardless of their legal status, are not deported or otherwise forcibly returned to Venezuela.”

Throssell said so far Venezuelans are not being deported, but warned that might change as more people flee and the refugee load becomes more burdensome.

She said there was a period not long ago when official border crossings into Latin American countries were closed. She notes Brazil’s border with Venezuela was reopened only last week.

“What we have seen is people crossing over regular crossing points, but also, importantly, some people are opting to take irregular routes that are dangerous, putting themselves at risk,” she told VOA. “One of the reasons why we are saying this now is that given the progressive deterioration of the circumstances in Venezuela, we are seeing that Venezuelans who are increasingly vulnerable are leaving the country.”

Throssell said countries hosting the ever-growing number of Venezuelans need international support. She said they are under incredible strain and do not have the financial means to care for the asylum-seekers.

She is appealing to donors to be more generous in their contributions, noting that the U.N.’s $146 million appeal for Venezuela is only 28 percent funded.



US Senate Committee Unveils 2020 Defense Policy Bill

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday unveiled a draft $750 billion defense policy bill that would authorize more Lockheed Martin F-35 jets for the United States and effectively end Turkey’s partnership in the program if Ankara pursues a plan to buy a Russian missile defense system.

In March, U.S. President Donald Trump requested $750 billion for defense, a budget that included more money to build ships and buy jets.

In the coming weeks the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, controlled by Democrats, will release its own version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which must be reconciled with the version in the Republican-controlled Senate before it can be passed.

Because it sets policy for the Defense Department, the annual NDAA is one of the few bills that Congress passes every year. Because it has become law every year for more than half a century, lawmakers use it as a vehicle for a wide range of policy measures.

This year, the Senate version of the bill would authorize spending on eight F-15X fighter jets as the current aging fleet of about 234 jets is getting more expensive to operate. The defense arm of aircraft maker Boeing Co could potentially make 80 or more of them for the U.S. Air Force.

F-35 The bill authorizes the Pentagon to buy 94 Lockheed Martin-made F-35 stealth fighter jets.

The F-35 comes in three models. The bill authorizes 60 of the F-35A conventional take-off and landing model; 12 of the F-35B, a short take-off/vertical landing version, and 22 of the F-35C, used aboard aircraft carriers.

The F-35 program targets a fleet of more than 3,000 jets, with unit price of the F-35A closer to $80 million in 2020 as more of the aircraft are produced.

Lockheed, the jet’s prime contractor, is developing and building the new warplanes for the U.S. military and 10 other countries: Britain, Australia, Italy, Turkey, Norway, the Netherlands, Israel, Japan, South Korea and Belgium.

Strained relations

The NDAA would remove Turkey from the international partnership of nations that have worked together to build the fifth generation F-35 fighter jet.

Like other NATO allies of Washington, Turkey is both a prospective buyer and a partner in production of the F-35. But U.S. officials have said Turkey’s plan to buy the Russian system would compromise the security of the F-35 jets.

The dispute has strained relations between Washington and Ankara.

Members of Congress have tried repeatedly to discourage Turkey from buying Russia’s S-400 air defense system. An early version of a House appropriations bill released this month also sought to prevent the shipment of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because of its planned Russian purchase.

Space force

The legislation also authorizes the creation of a Space Force as a separate uniformed service, but still part of the U.S. Air Force.

Islamic State prisoners

Another provision of the bill would create a special U.S. envoy to address the situation of former fighters and supporters of the Islamic State militant group now languishing in detention centers in Syria.



China Rebukes US Over Warship Sail-by in Taiwan Strait

China said Thursday it had lodged a protest with Washington after two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait amid rising tensions between the two powers.

The US Navy said the USS Preble, a destroyer, and USNS Walter S. Diehl, a supply ship, conducted a routine transit “in accordance with international law” on Wednesday.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the navy said. “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

US warships periodically conduct “freedom of navigation” exercises in the narrow waterway separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, triggering angry responses from Beijing every time.

Beijing views any ships passing through the strait as essentially breaching its sovereignty, while the US and many other nations view the route as international waters open to all.

“We have lodged solemn representations with the US,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing.

The sail-by comes on top of tensions between the United States and China over trade and US efforts to thwart Chinese telecom giant Huawei over security concerns.

The transit also comes as the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia kicked off operation “Pacific Vanguard” near Guam, bringing together more than 3,000 sailors from the four countries.

Drills will focus on “live fire exercises, defensive counter-air operations, anti-submarine warfare, and replenishment at sea,” the US 7th Fleet said.

In April, Beijing said its navy warned off a French warship that had entered the Taiwan Strait and lodged an official complaint with Paris.

China sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.

The US diplomatically recognizes China over Taiwan, but remains the island’s chief military ally and arms supplier.

For the Guam naval drills, Australia has contributed two frigates, Japan two destroyers and South Korea one destroyer. The USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet’s flagship, will lead the operation from the US side.

Home to more than 160,000 people, Guam was at the center of nuclear tensions between Washington and Pyongyang in 2017, with North Korea threatening to hit the US territory with “enveloping fire.”



UN Names David Gressly to Tackle DRC Ebola Outbreak

The UN named a pointman on Thursday to coordinate the global response to the devastating Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as it ramps up efforts to contain the outbreak.

David Gressly, currently serving as the UN’s deputy special representative in DRC, will take charge of the anti-Ebola effort, the World Health Organization said in a statement.

The outbreak declared in eastern DRC last August has killed more than 1,200 people in two provinces — Ituri and North Kivu — and new cases have surged in recent weeks.

Containing the virus has proved especially challenging because of militia violence in the region.

“We have no time to lose,” Gressly said in the statement, adding that the epidemic required “an enhanced, UN-wide response.”

WHO has also accused political leaders in the affected region of manipulating the Ebola issue to turn people against health workers.

The response has been helped by the use of a new vaccine, given to an estimated 120,000 people.

But the UN remains concerned the virus could still spread beyond eastern DRC into neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.

The outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after an epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa in 2014-16.