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Iran naval drills underway amid tensions with US

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The United States believes Iran has started carrying out naval exercises in the Gulf, apparently moving up the timing of annual drills amid heightened tensions with Washington, U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said possibly more than 100 vessels were involved in the drills, including small boats. A second official expected the drill could be wrapped up this week.

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Iran has been furious over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran. Senior Iranian officials have warned the country would not easily yield to a renewed U.S. campaign to strangle Iran’s vital oil exports.

The U.S. military’s Central Command on Wednesday confirmed it has seen an increase in Iranian naval activity, including in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block.

“We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways,” said Navy Captain Bill Urban, the chief spokesman at Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Central Command did not update its guidance on Thursday.

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A third official said the Iranian naval operations did not appear to be affecting commercial maritime activity.

U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the drills appeared designed to send a message to Washington, which is intensifying its economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran but so far stopping short of using the U.S. military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.

But Iran did not appear interested in drawing attention to them. Iranian authorities have yet to comment on them and several officials contacted by Reuters declined to comment.

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Trump’s policies are already putting significant pressure on the Iranian economy, although U.S. intelligence suggests they may ultimately rally Iranians against the United States and strengthen Iran’s hardline rulers, officials say.

Iran’s currency plumbed new depths this week ahead of Aug. 7, when Washington is due to reimpose a first lot of sanctions following Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over high prices, water shortage, power cuts and alleged corruption.

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On Tuesday, hundreds of people rallied in cities including Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz and Ahvaz to protest high inflation caused in part by the weak rial.

Reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Editing by James Dalgleish


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Trump praises ‘amazing warrior’ Sean Hannity for saying impeachment hearings are a ‘phony showtrial’

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President Donald Trump thanked Fox News personality Sean Hannity for his over-the-top defense the evening before impeachment hearings begin.

According to Trump's quoting, Hannity said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) was a, "corrupt, compromised, coward and congenital liar."

Hannity called the Schiff's Intelligence Committee hearings a "phony showtrial" -- despite the reality that an impeachment trial would occur in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Still, Hannity lashed out at the inquiry as "another fraudulent hoax conspiracy theory" and "witch hunt."

Trump thanked, "Sean the amazing warrior!"

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Rudy Giuliani harshly mocked after admitting Trump’s guilt in new WSJ column

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President Donald Trump's defense attorney took to the pages a Rupert Murdoch's newspaper to make "the case for the impeachment defense" on the eve of televised inquiry hearings.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani lashed out enemies while clinging to conspiracy theories in his Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Giuliani began by attacking the press for reporting on Trump's solicitation of foreign election interference.

"If your only sources of news the past two months have been CNN and MSNBC, you probably think President Trump has committed some heinous act that is deserving of being drawn, quartered and carted out of the White House," Giuliani argued. "That’s a false narrative built on selectively leaked testimony from Rep. Adam Schiff’s closed-door Intelligence Committee hearings."

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CNN’s Cuomo hammers GOP lobbyist for saying Trump can fire the inspector general

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On Tuesday's edition of CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time," anchor Chris Cuomo pushed back on GOP lobbyist and American Conservative Union director Matt Schlapp for saying President Donald Trump has the right to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson for transmitting the whistleblower complaint.

"Why would it be okay for the president to go after the inspector general for dealing with the whistleblower?" said Cuomo.

"Because he serves at the pleasure of the president. The president can get rid of them at any time," said Schlapp. "At the State Department during Obama's presidency, during the whole time Hillary was at the State Department, he didn't bother to pick an IG."

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