US to End Sanctions Waivers for Iranian Oil Importers

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to announce Monday the Trump administration is ending sanctions waivers for those importing Iranian oil.

President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran last year after he abandoned the 2015 international agreement that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for it limiting its nuclear activity.

The sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to change what the administration calls Iran’s “malign activities,” including its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Houthi rebels in Yemen. 

The United States issued eight waivers when it brought back the sanctions in November, temporarily exempting most of the biggest buyers of Iranian oil. Those included China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece.

Since the sanctions were reintroduced, Italy, Greece and Taiwan have halted their Iranian oil imports.

It was not clear ahead of the announcement if the other countries would be required to end Iranian imports when the waivers expire May 2, or if they will be given more time to wind down their purchases before penalties take effect.

While the United States has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran and the other signatories — Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany — have said they remain committed to carrying out the agreement.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is in charge of monitoring Iran’s compliance with terms such as limiting the number of centrifuges in operation at its nuclear facilities and abiding by caps on its stock of enriched uranium, and in multiple reports the IAEA says Iran is abiding by the deal.

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US to End Sanctions Waivers for Iranian Oil Importers

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to announce Monday the Trump administration is ending sanctions waivers for those importing Iranian oil.

President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran last year after he abandoned the 2015 international agreement that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for it limiting its nuclear activity.

The sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to change what the administration calls Iran’s “malign activities,” including its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Houthi rebels in Yemen. 

The United States issued eight waivers when it brought back the sanctions in November, temporarily exempting most of the biggest buyers of Iranian oil. Those included China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece.

Since the sanctions were reintroduced, Italy, Greece and Taiwan have halted their Iranian oil imports.

It was not clear ahead of the announcement if the other countries would be required to end Iranian imports when the waivers expire May 2, or if they will be given more time to wind down their purchases before penalties take effect.

While the United States has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran and the other signatories — Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany — have said they remain committed to carrying out the agreement.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is in charge of monitoring Iran’s compliance with terms such as limiting the number of centrifuges in operation at its nuclear facilities and abiding by caps on its stock of enriched uranium, and in multiple reports the IAEA says Iran is abiding by the deal.

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Armed Civilian Border Group Member Arrested in New Mexico

A New Mexico man belonging to an armed group that has detained Central American families near the U.S.-Mexico border was arrested Saturday in a border community on a criminal complaint accusing him of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, authorities said.

The FBI said in a statement it arrested 69-year-old Larry Mitchell Hopkins in Sunland Park with the assistance of local police. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a separate statement that Hopkins was a member of the group that had stopped migrants.

Hopkins was booked into the Dona Ana County detention center in Las Cruces and it wasn’t immediately known whether he has an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

The FBI statement did not provide information on Hopkins’ background, and FBI spokesman Frank Fisher told The Associated Press that no additional information would be released until after Hopkins has an initial appearance Monday in federal court in Las Cruces.

The FBI said Hopkins is from Flora Vista, a rural community in northern New Mexico and approximately 353 miles (572 kilometers) north of Sunland Park, which is a suburb of El Paso, Texas.

The Sunland Park Police Department on Saturday referred an AP reporter to the FBI.

Balderas said in a statement that Hopkins “is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families. Today’s arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes.”

Federal authorities on Friday warned private groups to avoid policing the border after a string of videos on social media showed armed civilians detaining large groups of Central American families in New Mexico.

The videos posted earlier in the week show members of United Constitutional Patriots ordering family groups as small as seven and as large as several hundred to sit on the dirt with their children, some toddlers, waiting until Border Patrol agents arrive.

Customs and Border Protection said on its Twitter account that it “does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations that take enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”

Jim Benvie, a spokesman for United Constitutional Patriots, did not immediately respond Saturday to a request for comment made via Facebook.

Benvie said in a video that the group’s members were assisting a “stressed and overstrained Border Patrol” and said the group is legally armed for self-defense and never points guns at migrants. The posted videos do not show them with firearms drawn.

Armed civilian groups have been a fixture on the border for years, especially when large numbers of migrants come. But, unlike previous times, many of the migrants crossing now are children.

In the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which has emerged as the second-busiest corridor for illegal crossings after Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, 86% of arrests in March were people who came as families or unaccompanied children.

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Armed Civilian Border Group Member Arrested in New Mexico

A New Mexico man belonging to an armed group that has detained Central American families near the U.S.-Mexico border was arrested Saturday in a border community on a criminal complaint accusing him of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, authorities said.

The FBI said in a statement it arrested 69-year-old Larry Mitchell Hopkins in Sunland Park with the assistance of local police. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a separate statement that Hopkins was a member of the group that had stopped migrants.

Hopkins was booked into the Dona Ana County detention center in Las Cruces and it wasn’t immediately known whether he has an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

The FBI statement did not provide information on Hopkins’ background, and FBI spokesman Frank Fisher told The Associated Press that no additional information would be released until after Hopkins has an initial appearance Monday in federal court in Las Cruces.

The FBI said Hopkins is from Flora Vista, a rural community in northern New Mexico and approximately 353 miles (572 kilometers) north of Sunland Park, which is a suburb of El Paso, Texas.

The Sunland Park Police Department on Saturday referred an AP reporter to the FBI.

Balderas said in a statement that Hopkins “is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families. Today’s arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes.”

Federal authorities on Friday warned private groups to avoid policing the border after a string of videos on social media showed armed civilians detaining large groups of Central American families in New Mexico.

The videos posted earlier in the week show members of United Constitutional Patriots ordering family groups as small as seven and as large as several hundred to sit on the dirt with their children, some toddlers, waiting until Border Patrol agents arrive.

Customs and Border Protection said on its Twitter account that it “does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations that take enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”

Jim Benvie, a spokesman for United Constitutional Patriots, did not immediately respond Saturday to a request for comment made via Facebook.

Benvie said in a video that the group’s members were assisting a “stressed and overstrained Border Patrol” and said the group is legally armed for self-defense and never points guns at migrants. The posted videos do not show them with firearms drawn.

Armed civilian groups have been a fixture on the border for years, especially when large numbers of migrants come. But, unlike previous times, many of the migrants crossing now are children.

In the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which has emerged as the second-busiest corridor for illegal crossings after Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, 86% of arrests in March were people who came as families or unaccompanied children.

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US Carves Out Exceptions for Foreigners Dealing With IRGC

The United States has largely carved out exceptions so that  foreign governments, firms and NGOs do not automatically face U.S. sanctions for dealing with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards after the group’s designation by Washington as a foreign terrorist group, according to three current and three former U.S. officials.

The exemptions, granted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and described by a State Department spokesman in response to questions from Reuters, mean officials from countries such as Iraq who may have dealings with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, would not necessarily be denied U.S. visas. The IRGC is a powerful faction in Iran that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces.

The exceptions to U.S. sanctions would also permit foreign executives who do business in Iran, where the IRGC is a major economic force, as well as humanitarian groups working in regions such as northern Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to do so without fear they will automatically trigger U.S. laws on dealing with a foreign terrorist group.

However, the U.S. government also created an exception to the carve-out, retaining the right to sanction any individual in a foreign government, company or NGO who themselves provides “material support” to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO).

The move is the latest in which the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has staked out a hardline position on Iran, insisting for example that Iran’s oil customers cut their imports of Iranian petroleum to zero, only to grant waivers allowing them keep buying it.

Pompeo designated the IRGC as an FTO on April 15, creating a problem for foreigners who deal with it and its companies, and

for U.S. diplomats and military officers in Iraq and Syria, whose interlocutors may work with the IRGC.

The move – the first time the United States had formally labeled part of another sovereign government as a terrorist group – created confusion among U.S. officials who initially had no guidance on how to proceed and on whether they were still allowed to deal with such interlocutors, three U.S. officials said.

American officials have long said they fear the designation could endanger U.S. forces in places such as Syria or Iraq, where they may operate in close proximity to IRGC-allied groups.

The State Department’s Near Eastern and South and Central Asian bureaus, wrote a rare joint memo to Pompeo before the designation expressing concerns about its potential impact, but were overruled, two U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity.

The action was also taken over the objections of the Defense and Homeland Security Departments, a congressional aide said.

“Simply engaging in conversations with IRGC officials generally does not constitute terrorist activity,” the State Department spokesman said when asked what repercussions U.S.-allied countries could face if they had contact with the IRGC.

“Our ultimate goal is to get other states and non-state entities to stop doing business the IRGC,” the State Department spokesman, who declined to be identified by name, added without specifying the countries or entities targeted.

Separately, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has replaced the head of the IRGC, Iranian state TV reported on Sunday, appointing Brigadier General Hossein Salami to replace Mohammad Ali Jafari.

Pompeo’s carve-outs appear designed to limit the potential liability for foreign governments, companies and NGOs, while leaving open the possibility that individuals within those groups could be punished for helping the IRGC.

“Under the first group exemption, the secretary determined that, generally – but with one important exception – a ministry, department, agency, division, or other group or sub-group of any foreign government will not be treated as a Tier III terrorist organization,” the State Department spokesman said.

A Tier III terrorist group is one that has not formally been designated as an FTO or a terrorist group under other laws, but that the U.S. government deems to have engaged in “terrorist activity,” and hence, its members may not enter the United States.

This exemption, a congressional aide and two former U.S. State Department lawyers said, appeared designed to ensure that the rest of the Iranian government, as well as officials from partner governments such as Iraq and Oman who may deal with the IRGC, would not automatically be tainted by its FTO designation.

Under U.S. law, someone who provides “material support” to terrorist groups is subject to extensive penalties. Material support is defined widely and can cover anything from providing funds, transportation or counterfeit documents to giving food, helping to set up tents or distributing literature, the Department of Homeland Security’s website shows.

A former State Department lawyer said the guidance quoted above seemed to signal visa officers should not reflexively deny applications from officials of foreign governments or businesses that might deal with the IRGC, but called the language unclear.

“Frankly, a lot of people are going to have questions about the impact of these exemptions. Why be so opaque about it?” asked the lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The State Department declined requests to explain the guidance language.

“Under the second group exemption, the secretary determined that, generally, a non-governmental business, organization, or group that provided material support to any sub-entity of a foreign government that has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization … will not be treated as a Tier III terrorist organization,” the State Department spokesman said.

A congressional aide suggested the Trump administration wanted to signal it was ratcheting up pressure on Iran by targeting the IRGC, but not to disrupt diplomacy of U.S. allies.

“I got the sense that the administration was looking for a splash, but not a policy change,” said the congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They are not necessarily looking to punish anyone. They are looking to scare people.”

However, the State Department also made clear it could go after individuals in exempted groups if they wished.

“The exemptions do not benefit members of an exempted group who themselves provided material support … or had other relevant ties to a non-exempt terrorist organization,” the agency spokesman said.

“This FTO designation, like other sanctions actions, has a number of unintended consequences that if left to play out in their natural way, would harm U.S. interests,” said former State Department lawyer Peter Harrell, alluding to the potential denial of U.S. visas to officials from partner countries.

“The State Department is trying to in a reasonable way limit those consequences,” he said.

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US Carves Out Exceptions for Foreigners Dealing With IRGC

The United States has largely carved out exceptions so that  foreign governments, firms and NGOs do not automatically face U.S. sanctions for dealing with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards after the group’s designation by Washington as a foreign terrorist group, according to three current and three former U.S. officials.

The exemptions, granted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and described by a State Department spokesman in response to questions from Reuters, mean officials from countries such as Iraq who may have dealings with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, would not necessarily be denied U.S. visas. The IRGC is a powerful faction in Iran that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces.

The exceptions to U.S. sanctions would also permit foreign executives who do business in Iran, where the IRGC is a major economic force, as well as humanitarian groups working in regions such as northern Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to do so without fear they will automatically trigger U.S. laws on dealing with a foreign terrorist group.

However, the U.S. government also created an exception to the carve-out, retaining the right to sanction any individual in a foreign government, company or NGO who themselves provides “material support” to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO).

The move is the latest in which the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has staked out a hardline position on Iran, insisting for example that Iran’s oil customers cut their imports of Iranian petroleum to zero, only to grant waivers allowing them keep buying it.

Pompeo designated the IRGC as an FTO on April 15, creating a problem for foreigners who deal with it and its companies, and

for U.S. diplomats and military officers in Iraq and Syria, whose interlocutors may work with the IRGC.

The move – the first time the United States had formally labeled part of another sovereign government as a terrorist group – created confusion among U.S. officials who initially had no guidance on how to proceed and on whether they were still allowed to deal with such interlocutors, three U.S. officials said.

American officials have long said they fear the designation could endanger U.S. forces in places such as Syria or Iraq, where they may operate in close proximity to IRGC-allied groups.

The State Department’s Near Eastern and South and Central Asian bureaus, wrote a rare joint memo to Pompeo before the designation expressing concerns about its potential impact, but were overruled, two U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity.

The action was also taken over the objections of the Defense and Homeland Security Departments, a congressional aide said.

“Simply engaging in conversations with IRGC officials generally does not constitute terrorist activity,” the State Department spokesman said when asked what repercussions U.S.-allied countries could face if they had contact with the IRGC.

“Our ultimate goal is to get other states and non-state entities to stop doing business the IRGC,” the State Department spokesman, who declined to be identified by name, added without specifying the countries or entities targeted.

Separately, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has replaced the head of the IRGC, Iranian state TV reported on Sunday, appointing Brigadier General Hossein Salami to replace Mohammad Ali Jafari.

Pompeo’s carve-outs appear designed to limit the potential liability for foreign governments, companies and NGOs, while leaving open the possibility that individuals within those groups could be punished for helping the IRGC.

“Under the first group exemption, the secretary determined that, generally – but with one important exception – a ministry, department, agency, division, or other group or sub-group of any foreign government will not be treated as a Tier III terrorist organization,” the State Department spokesman said.

A Tier III terrorist group is one that has not formally been designated as an FTO or a terrorist group under other laws, but that the U.S. government deems to have engaged in “terrorist activity,” and hence, its members may not enter the United States.

This exemption, a congressional aide and two former U.S. State Department lawyers said, appeared designed to ensure that the rest of the Iranian government, as well as officials from partner governments such as Iraq and Oman who may deal with the IRGC, would not automatically be tainted by its FTO designation.

Under U.S. law, someone who provides “material support” to terrorist groups is subject to extensive penalties. Material support is defined widely and can cover anything from providing funds, transportation or counterfeit documents to giving food, helping to set up tents or distributing literature, the Department of Homeland Security’s website shows.

A former State Department lawyer said the guidance quoted above seemed to signal visa officers should not reflexively deny applications from officials of foreign governments or businesses that might deal with the IRGC, but called the language unclear.

“Frankly, a lot of people are going to have questions about the impact of these exemptions. Why be so opaque about it?” asked the lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The State Department declined requests to explain the guidance language.

“Under the second group exemption, the secretary determined that, generally, a non-governmental business, organization, or group that provided material support to any sub-entity of a foreign government that has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization … will not be treated as a Tier III terrorist organization,” the State Department spokesman said.

A congressional aide suggested the Trump administration wanted to signal it was ratcheting up pressure on Iran by targeting the IRGC, but not to disrupt diplomacy of U.S. allies.

“I got the sense that the administration was looking for a splash, but not a policy change,” said the congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They are not necessarily looking to punish anyone. They are looking to scare people.”

However, the State Department also made clear it could go after individuals in exempted groups if they wished.

“The exemptions do not benefit members of an exempted group who themselves provided material support … or had other relevant ties to a non-exempt terrorist organization,” the agency spokesman said.

“This FTO designation, like other sanctions actions, has a number of unintended consequences that if left to play out in their natural way, would harm U.S. interests,” said former State Department lawyer Peter Harrell, alluding to the potential denial of U.S. visas to officials from partner countries.

“The State Department is trying to in a reasonable way limit those consequences,” he said.

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World Leaders React to Sri Lanka Explosions

Several world and religious leaders condemned the explosions on Easter at Sri Lankan churches and hotels that killed scores of people.

Dozens of foreigners — British, Dutch and American citizens — are believed to be among them the dead.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said attacks were “truly appalling.”

“The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time,” she tweeted. “We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practice their faith in fear.”

The Catholic Church in Jerusalem released a statement saying “We pray for the souls of the victims and ask for speedy recovery of the injured, and ask God to inspire the terrorists to repent of their killing and intimidation.”

But during the traditional Easter address at the Vatican, Pope Francis conveyed sadness over the attacks.

“I want to express my affectionate closeness with the Christian community, attacked while it was at prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.

Sunday’s bomb attack came a month after dozens of Muslims were killed in a shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern such violence was “devastating”.

“New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism, and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil on the 15th of March. … New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely. Collectively we must find the will and the answers to end such violence,” Ardern said in a written statement.

Meanwhile in the U.S., President Donald Trump said Americans stand “ready to help.”

”Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels,” he tweeted.

The World Jewish Congress denounced the attack as “heinous” and appealed for “zero tolerance of those who use terror to advance their objectives.”

“This truly barbarous assault on peaceful worshippers on one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar serves as a painful reminder that the war against terror must be at the top of the international agenda and pursued relentlessly,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called the attacks despicable.

“We are all children of God; an attack on one religion is an attack on us all,” he said on Twitter.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan condemned  in the “strongest terms possible the Easter terror attacks in Sri Lanka. This is an assault on all of humanity.” While Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said terrorism must be condemned and confronted globally as is a global menace with no religion.

“Terribly saddened by terrorist attacks on Sri Lankan worshippers during Easter. Condolences to friendly government and people of Sri Lanka. Our thoughts and prayers with the victims and their families,” he said.

 

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World Leaders React to Sri Lanka Explosions

Several world and religious leaders condemned the explosions on Easter at Sri Lankan churches and hotels that killed scores of people.

Dozens of foreigners — British, Dutch and American citizens — are believed to be among them the dead.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said attacks were “truly appalling.”

“The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time,” she tweeted. “We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practice their faith in fear.”

The Catholic Church in Jerusalem released a statement saying “We pray for the souls of the victims and ask for speedy recovery of the injured, and ask God to inspire the terrorists to repent of their killing and intimidation.”

But during the traditional Easter address at the Vatican, Pope Francis conveyed sadness over the attacks.

“I want to express my affectionate closeness with the Christian community, attacked while it was at prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.

Sunday’s bomb attack came a month after dozens of Muslims were killed in a shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern such violence was “devastating”.

“New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism, and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil on the 15th of March. … New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely. Collectively we must find the will and the answers to end such violence,” Ardern said in a written statement.

Meanwhile in the U.S., President Donald Trump said Americans stand “ready to help.”

”Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels,” he tweeted.

The World Jewish Congress denounced the attack as “heinous” and appealed for “zero tolerance of those who use terror to advance their objectives.”

“This truly barbarous assault on peaceful worshippers on one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar serves as a painful reminder that the war against terror must be at the top of the international agenda and pursued relentlessly,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called the attacks despicable.

“We are all children of God; an attack on one religion is an attack on us all,” he said on Twitter.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan condemned  in the “strongest terms possible the Easter terror attacks in Sri Lanka. This is an assault on all of humanity.” While Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said terrorism must be condemned and confronted globally as is a global menace with no religion.

“Terribly saddened by terrorist attacks on Sri Lankan worshippers during Easter. Condolences to friendly government and people of Sri Lanka. Our thoughts and prayers with the victims and their families,” he said.

 

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