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Iran threatens to hit US, Israel after John Bolton warns of ‘maximum pressure’

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Iran warned on Wednesday it would hit U.S. and Israeli targets if it were attacked by the United States after President Donald Trump’s security adviser said Washington would exert maximum pressure on Tehran going beyond economic sanctions.

A U.S.-Iranian war of words has escalated since Trump withdrew Washington from the world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran in May, blasting it as flawed and reimposing sanctions to choke Iran’s economy and force it to renegotiate or change direction.

The U.S. turnaround, which scrapped a wary detente between Iran and the United States after decades of hostility, has drawn defiance from Tehran despite renewed unrest over economic privations, and has unnerved other big powers where businesses have been debating whether to divest from Iran.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told Reuters the return of U.S. sanctions was having a strong effect on Iran’s economy and popular opinion.

“There should not be any doubt that the United States wants this resolved peacefully, but we are fully prepared for any contingency that Iran creates,” Bolton said during a visit to Israel, Iran’s enemy in the Middle East.

U.S. sanctions dusted off this month targeted Iran’s car industry, trade in gold and other precious metals, and purchases of U.S. dollars crucial to international financing and investment and trade relations. Farther-reaching sanctions are to follow in November on Iran’s banking sector and oil exports.

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European powers have been scrambling to ensure Iran secures enough economic benefits to persuade it to stay in the deal. This has proven difficult, with many European firms keen to avoid financial penalties by the Trump administration.

“We expect that Europeans will see, as businesses all over Europe are seeing, that the choice between doing business with Iran or doing business with the United States is very clear to them,” Bolton said.

“So we will see what plays out in November. But (Trump) has made it very clear – his words – he wants maximum pressure on Iran, maximum pressure, and that is what is going on.”

Asked at a news conference later whether the United States had discussed any plans with ally Israel on how to capitalize on economic protests in Iran and if these posed any tangible threat to the Tehran government, Bolton said:

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“Just to be clear, regime change in Iran is not American policy. But what we want is massive change in the regime’s behavior … We are going to do other things to put pressure on Iran as well, beyond economic sanctions.” He did not elaborate.

“PRICE OF WAR”
A senior Iranian cleric seen as close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told worshippers at Eid holiday prayers in Tehran: “The price of a war with Iran is very high for America.

“They know if they harm this country and this state in the slightest way the United States and its main ally in the region, the Zionist regime (Israel), would be targeted,” Ahmad Khatami said.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have said it could strike Israeli cities with missiles if it were threatened. Iran also has proxies in the region including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

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The Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday they would continue increasing Iran’s defensive capabilities not surrender to U.S. pressure to scrap its ballistic missile program.

Last week, Khamenei – who has the ultimate say on Iranian policy – said the United States would avoid outright conflict because of Iranian military might.

“There will be no war…We have never started a war and they will not confront Iran militarily,” he said.

Trump’s campaign to isolate Iran and cripple its economy has put the old adversaries back on a collision course that European signatories to the nuclear accord fear will raise the risk of a broader Middle East war.

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DEAL ‘SOFT ON IRAN’
Under the 2015 deal, Iran curbed its contested uranium enrichment program under U.N. monitoring and won an end to global sanctions in return.

Trump has condemned the deal as too soft on Tehran and would not stop it developing a nuclear bomb, though U.N. nuclear non-proliferation inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance with its terms.

Khatami, the prominent Iranian cleric, also said Trump’s offer of talks was unacceptable as he was demanding Tehran give up its ballistic missile program and scale back regional influence. Neither issue was covered by the 2015 agreement.

“Americans say you should accept what we say in the talks. So this is not negotiation, but dictatorship,” Mizan news agency quoted Khatami as saying.

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Trump has said Iran must stop meddling in wars in Syria and Yemen, part of a foreign policy supporting regional allies in conflict with proxies of U.S.-backed Gulf Arab kingdoms.

Tehran has not given an inch to Trump’s pressure despite an economy beset by high unemployment and inflation and a rial currency that has lost half its value since April.

Thousands of Iranians have protested against price rises of some food items, a lack of jobs and state corruption. The protests over the cost of living have often turned into anti-government rallies.

“I think the effects, the economic effects certainly, are even stronger than we anticipated,” Bolton said.

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“But Iranian activity in the region has continued to be belligerent: what they are doing in Iraq, what they are doing in Syria, what they are doing with Hezbollah in Lebanon, what they are doing in Yemen, what they have threatened to do in the Strait of Hormuz.”

The Strait is a strategic waterway for oil shipments which Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block in response to Trump administration calls to ban all Iranian oil exports.

Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Janet Lawrence

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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Democrats believe Mueller testimony could be tipping point for impeachment: CNN

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On Wednesday, CNN congressional correspondent Manu Raju reported that some House Democrats view special counsel Robert Mueller's upcoming public testimony to the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees in July as a potential tipping point that could sway both Democratic leaders and the American people in favor of opening an impeachment probe.

"Democrats who support opening up an impeachment inquiry believe this could bolster the calls to open up formal proceedings, perhaps shift public opinion, perhaps encourage the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move off of her opposition to opening up an impeachment probe because of what Bob Mueller will say," said Raju.

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Ex-FBI chief: Mueller testimony must ‘wake up’ Republicans to the danger in the White House

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Former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe appeared on MSNBC's "Deadline with Nicolle Wallace" to detail what he thinks will happen in the closed-door testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller.

In a Wednesday interview, McCabe said he hopes that Mueller will "wake up" Republicans who seem disinterested in acting to protect the United States from electoral intrusion from Russia.

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Reddit limits popular Trump forum for promoting violence

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Reddit said Wednesday it had "quarantined" a popular forum of supporters of President Donald Trump, claiming users repeatedly violated platform rules by promoting violence.

The online bulletin board said it took the action against the forum or subreddit known as "The Donald" in response to "repeated rule-breaking behavior" that required its moderators to remove posts that seek to encourage or incite violence.

"Most recently, we have observed this behavior in the form of encouragement of violence towards police officers and public officials in Oregon," according to a statement posted on the forum.

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