TEHRAN, Iran (AP) The U.S. government is warning ships across Mideast waterways crucial to global energy supplies that there’s the “possibility of Iranian action against U.S. maritime interests” in the region. The U.S. Maritime Administration put out the warning Tuesday, citing the rising threats after an American drone strike in Baghdad killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Oil tankers were targeted in mine attacks last year the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied being responsible though it did seize oil tankers around the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of the world’s crude oil travels.
Iran’s foreign minister says he’s been told he won’t get a U.S. visa to travel to the United Nations later this week. Mohammed Javad Zarif told CBS “This Morning” on Tuesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed the U.N. secretary general, who told Zarif, that “they didn’t have time to review my request.” The trip would have been an opportunity for Zarif to discuss the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad last week. That targeted killing has escalated tensions with Iran, which has vowed to retaliate. Zarif was to have spoken to a U.N. Security Council session Thursday about the importance of upholding the U.N. charter.
Egypt’s national airline EgyptAir has temporarily suspended flights to Baghdad. A statement by the country’s civil aviation authority says it is due to the turmoil there. A spokesman for the authority says the airline will halt flights Wednesday through Friday this week and then assess the situation again. Governments and companies around the world are weighing how to respond to the rising tensions in the Middle East after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top military commander near Baghdad’s airport last week and Tehran vowed “harsh retaliation.”
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What you need to know
- Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds military force and one of the most powerful figures in the Islamic Republic, was in an airstrike in Baghdad.
- A senior Iranian commander threatened at Soleimani’s funeral to “set ablaze” America’s supporters in the region, but Iran’s foreign minister told CBS News the response would be “proportionate” and “against legitimate targets.”
- At least 32 people were killed in a stampede as thousands turned out to mourn Soleimani in his hometown of Kerman.
- The secretary of defense has denied reports that the U.S. military was planning to withdraw from Iraq in response to a resolution passed by the Iraqi Parliament on Sunday.
- The Iranian government says it will no longer abide by key terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, lifting restrictions on centrifuges, uranium enrichment and more. President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal in 2018.
- Mr. Trump says his administration “may discuss” releasing the intelligence that led to the strike on Soleimani.
- Mr. Trump tweeted Saturday that the U.S. would target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliates for the strike.
- Lawmakers are divided over the strike, with Republicans applauding Mr. Trump’s action and Democrats warning about the possible repercussions.
Ayatollah wants direct attack on U.S. interests
A senior U.S. official told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin on Tuesday that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered a direct attack on American interests in retaliation for the airstrike that killed his top military commander and friend Qassem Soleimani.
The official said the U.S. military was “extremely concerned” that the retaliation could come quickly. As Martin reported on Monday, American officials believe the next 24 hours or so, following Soleimani’s burial, could reveal whether Iran intends to make good on its threats to retaliate.
Asked by CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer on Tuesday when the Iranian response would come, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would only say that his country would retaliate at the time of its choosing.
The primary concern remains Iran’s ballistic missiles, officials have told Martin. As of Monday evening those weapons had not been moved into firing positions, but the alert status was raised so they were prepared to move and could be fired in substantial numbers within 24 hours. Moving them could also mean they are simply being dispersed as a defensive measure, Martin noted.
American forces in Iraq, and their allies in that country, Israel and across the region are all easily within reach of Iran’s missiles.
Stampede delays burial of slain general
A deadly stampede at the funeral ceremony for slain general Qassem Soleimani forced officials in Iran to postpone his burial on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately as a result of the stampede, some of our compatriots have been injured and some have been killed during the funeral processions,” Pirhossein Koulivand, the head of Iran’s emergency medical services, said earlier. At least 40 people were killed and about 200 injured according to Iran’s official state media.
In delaying Soleimani’s burial, authorities cited concerns about the massive crowd that had gathered, the semi-official ISNA news agency said. No date was announced for the rescheduled burial.
Iran says it will retaliate against “legitimate targets”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarifon Tuesday that his country would retaliate for the U.S. strike that killed a top Iranian general, but he said that “unlike Trump” has threatened to do, the Islamic Republic would respond in a proportionate manner “against legitimate targets.”
Zarif would not tell Palmer what constituted, in the minds of Iran’s leaders, a legitimate target, nor when Iran would launch its retaliation.
The U.S.-educated diplomat blasted the Trump administration as “a regime that has no respect for international law, threatens to commit war crimes — attacking cultural sites, which is a war crime.”
It was a reaction to Mr. Trump’s threat over the weekend to attack 52 sites identified as targets inside Iran should the country retaliate for the U.S. airstrike that killed Major General Qassem Soleimani on Friday. Mr. Trump has insisted that the U.S. would be within its rights to strike “cultural sites” in Iran.
Zarif said the U.S. killing of Soleimani was “an act of war done in a terrorist, cowardly operation, and Iran will take an appropriate response… Action by the U.S. has consequences that will happen, and I believe it has already started.”
He pointed to the Iraqi parliament’s work on legislation that would force American troops to withdraw from the country as evidence of the first consequence of Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran: ‘Maximum pressure is dead, as is the U.S. presence in our region.”
Dozens killed in stampede at Soleimani funeral
Iranian state television said 32 people were killed and about 190 more injured in a stampede that erupted at a funeral procession for a general slain in a U.S. airstrike.
The TV said the stampede erupted in Kerman, the hometown of Gen. Qassem Soleimani where the procession was underway on Tuesday.
A procession in Tehran on Monday drew over 1 million people in the Iranian capital, crowding both main thoroughfares and side streets in Tehran.
Iran threatens to “set ablaze” U.S. allies
The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened on Tuesday to “set ablaze” places supported by the United States over the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike last week, sparking cries from the crowd of supporters of “Death to Israel!”
Hossein Salami made the pledge before a crowd of thousands gathered in a central square in Kerman, the hometown of the slain Gen. Qassem Soleimani. His vow mirrored the demands of top Iranian officials – from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to others – as well as supporters across the Islamic Republic, demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.
Mourners in Kerman dressed in black carried posters bearing the image of Soleimani, a man whose slaying prompted Iran’s supreme leader to weep over his casket on Monday as a crowd said by police to be in the millions filled Tehran streets. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million, and the throngs were visible on satellite images of Tehran taken Monday.
The outpouring of grief was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force.
– Associated Press
Firm guarding U.S. diplomats in Baghdad could go bankrupt
A defense firm that provides security services to diplomats entering and exiting the U.S. Embassy in Iraq is nearing bankruptcy, according to a new report from credit ratings firm Moody’s.
Moody’s said the contractor, Constellis Holdings, could enter court supervision by early February, although a bankruptcy isn’t assured. The company, which has piled on debt over the past decade and now has liabilities of more than $1 billion, missed a debt payment on December 31, putting it in default, according to both Moody’s and credit rater Standard & Poor’s.
Although Constellis doesn’t guard the U.S. Embassy facility in Baghdad, it does provide security for diplomats and others entering and exiting the building. The status of its contract with the embassy in Iraq hasn’t changed, according to a person close to the company. Constellis offers similar protection services in 30 countries around the world to governments and private businesses.
“Constellis plans to continue to operate our business, execute our business strategy and meet our obligations to our stakeholders,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to CBS Moneywatch.
Esper says U.S. military has “no plans to leave” Iraq
In a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper responded to reports that the U.S. command in Iraq had informed its Iraqi counterparts of plans to withdraw from the country.
Numerous media outlets reported an unsigned letter purporting to come from the U.S. commander in Iraq informing the Iraqis of the military’s plans to prepare for “onward movement” out of the country. The letter said the move was pursuant to a resolution by the Iraqi Parliament calling for the U.S. to leave.
But Esper categorically denied the U.S. planned to withdraw.
“There has been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq. Period,” he said. “We’ve issued no plans to leave.”
Esper said he doesn’t know where the letter originated, but said he read it and called it “inconsistent with where we are right now.”
Soon after Esper made that statement, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley returned to the briefing room and told reporters that he’d heard from CENTCOM commander Kenneth McKenzie, who told him the letter was a draft being circulated for input, including from the Iraqis. Milley also said the letter discussed a repositioning of troops, not a withdrawal.
U.S. officials to brief congressional leaders Tuesday
Administration officials will brief congressional leaders on Tuesday about the strike that took out Soleimani, with additional sessions for all lawmakers set for Wednesday, sources familiar with the matter tell CBS News.
Tuesday’s briefing will include the so-called “Gang of Eight” — leaders from both parties in the House and Senate, and the chairs and ranking members of the two intelligence committees.
Wednesday’s briefings will be open to all members from both chambers and will be conducted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
Democrats have criticized the administration for not notifying congressional leaders about Friday’s airstrike in advance and for failing to brief lawmakers sooner.
Iran’s president: “Never threaten the Iranian nation”
Hassan Rouhani, president of the Islamic Republic, responded to President Trump’s threat to target 52 sites if Iran retaliates for the Soleimani strike. Mr. Trump said the number was a reference to 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for 444 days between 1979 and 1981, after the revolution.
Rouhani issued his response on Twitter, with a warning to “never threaten the Iranian nation”: Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655 Never threaten the Iranian nation.
Rouhani’s reference to 290 and IR655 is a reference to, a passenger jet that was shot down by U.S. missiles over the Persian Gulf in 1988. All 290 people on board were killed.
The U.S. acknowledged the incident as a “terrible human tragedy” and agreed to pay $131.8 million in a settlement with Iran before the International Court of Justice in 1998.