Abu Dhabi, May 30 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump's national security adviser warned Iran on Wednesday that any attacks in the Persian Gulf will draw a "very strong response" from the U.S., taking a hard-line approach with Tehran after his boss only two days earlier said America wasn't "looking to hurt Iran at all."
John Bolton's comments are the latest amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran that have been playing out in the Middle East.
Bolton spoke to journalists in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which only days earlier saw former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warn there that "unilateralism will not work" in confronting the Islamic Republic.
The dueling approaches highlight the divide over Iran within American politics. The U.S. has accused Tehran of being behind a string of incidents this month, including the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the Emirati coast, a rocket strike near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and a coordinated drone attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemen's Iran-allied Houthi rebels.
On Wednesday, Bolton told journalists that there had been a previously unknown attempt to attack the Saudi oil port of Yanbu as well, which he also blamed on Iran. He described Tehran's decision to back away from its 2015 atomic deal with world powers as evidence it sought nuclear weapons, even though it came a year after America unilaterally withdrew from the unraveling agreement.
Bolton stressed the U.S. had not seen any further Iranian attacks in the time since, something he attributed to the recent military deployments — America recently sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf. But he warned the U.S. would strike back if again attacked.
"The point is to make it very clear to Iran and its surrogates that these kinds of action risk a very strong response from the United States," Bolton threatened, without elaborating.
Bolton spoke before talks with Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He declined to have his remarks recorded by journalists.
A longtime Iran hawk, Bolton blamed Tehran for the recent incidents, at one point saying it was "almost certainly" Iran that planted explosives on the four oil tankers off the UAE coast. He declined to offer any evidence for his claims.
"Who else would you think is doing it?" Bolton asked at one point when pressed. "Somebody from Nepal?"
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has repeatedly criticized Bolton as a warmonger. Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, said later Wednesday Bolton's remarks were a "ridiculous accusation."
Separately in Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani said that the "road is not closed" when it comes to talks with the U.S. — if America returns to the nuclear deal. However, the relatively moderate Rouhani faces increasing criticism from hard-liners and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the collapsing accord.
Meanwhile, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said some 900 troops coming to the Mideast over the perceived Iran threat to reinforce the tens of thousands already in the region would be placed in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Another 600 attached to a Patriot missile battery have had their deployment in the region extended.
"The Iranian threat to our forces in the region remains," Shanahan said.
Speaking in Abu Dhabi, Bolton linked the rocket fire in Baghdad, the alleged sabotage of the ships and the drone attack by Yemen's rebels, describing them as a response from Iran and its proxies.
"I think it's important that the leadership in Iran to know that we know," Bolton said. He then brought up what he said could be a considered a fourth, previously unknown attack.
"There also had been an attack, an unsuccessful attack, on the Saudi port of Yanbu a couple of days before the attack on the tankers," he said, without elaborating.
Saudi officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Bolton's claim on Yanbu, which is the terminus, or end point, of the kingdom's East-West Pipeline. The Houthis have already targeted two pumping stations on that pipeline during a coordinated drone assault.
Bolton also said the U.S. would boost American military installations and those of its allies in the region.
The White House said Wednesday that Bolton will meet with his counterparts from Israel and Russia next month in Jerusalem to discuss regional security issues. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not disclose further details about Bolton's planned meeting with Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian security council.
Earlier this month, on the first anniversary of Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Tehran announced it would begin to back away from the agreement.
The accord saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Trump pulled out of the accord as he said it didn't go far enough in limiting the Iranian nuclear program, nor did it address Iran's ballistic missile program.
Bolton said that without more nuclear power plants, it made no sense for Iran to stockpile more low-enriched uranium as it now plans to do. But the U.S. also earlier cut off Iran's ability to sell its uranium to Russia in exchange for unprocessed yellow-cake uranium.
Iran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to offer better terms to the unraveling nuclear deal, otherwise it will resume enrichment closer to weapons level. Bolton declined to say what the U.S. would do in response to that.
"There's no reason for them to do any of that unless that's part of an effort to reduce the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons," Bolton said. "That's a very serious issue if they continue to do that."
Bolton's trip to the UAE comes just days after Trump in Tokyo appeared to welcome negotiations with Iran.
"We're not looking for regime change — I just want to make that clear," Trump said. "We're looking for no nuclear weapons."
But Bolton himself, for years before becoming national security adviser, called for overthrowing Iran's government in interviews and in paid speaking engagement before an Iranian exile group.
"I don't back away from any of it. Those are positions I took as a private citizen," Bolton said when asked about his prior remarks. "Right now I'm a government official. I advise the president. I'm the national security adviser, not the nation security decision-maker. It's up to him to make those decisions."
He also dismissed reports that he faced criticism from Trump over his hard-line stance with what he described as an old proverb: "The dogs bark and the caravan moves on."
Xalapa, May 30 (AP/UNB) — A tour bus and a semi-trailer collided Wednesday on a mountain road in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and the bus rolled over and caught fire, killing at least 21 people and injuring 30, officials said.
Roberto Hernández, the civil defense director for Nogales township, said the bus turned onto one side and the ground blocked its exit doors.
Initial reports said 20 people were killed, but state civil defense director Guadalupe Osorno said one injured person died later.
Authorities said both vehicles were westbound when they apparently collided in a mountainous area known as Cumbres de Maltrata. Both caught fire.
In April 2006, a bus carrying religious pilgrims in the same area ran off the highway and tumbled down a steep ravine, killing 65 people.
Jerusalem, May 30 (AP/UNB) — Israel's parliament voted to dissolve itself early Thursday, sending the country to an unprecedented second snap election this year as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition before a midnight deadline.
The dramatic vote, less than two months after parliamentary elections, marked a setback for Netanyahu and sent the longtime leader's future into turmoil.
Netanyahu, who has led Israel for the past decade, had appeared to capture a fourth consecutive term in the April 9 election. But infighting among his allies, and disagreements over proposed bills to protect Netanyahu from prosecution stymied his efforts to put together a majority coalition.
Rather than concede that task to one of his rivals, Netanyahu's Likud party advanced a bill to dissolve parliament and send the country to the polls for a second time this year.
"I didn't spare any effort to avoid unnecessary elections," Netanyahu said after the vote, lashing out at an ally-turned-rival, Avigdor Lieberman, who refused the prime minister's offers to join the government.
He said the country was being forced to hold "unnecessary, wasteful elections because the people had their say. They didn't have their say enough for what Mr. Lieberman wants."
Had the deadline passed without the vote, Israel's president would have given another lawmaker, most likely opposition leader Benny Gantz, an opportunity to put together a coalition.
After the vote, Gantz angrily accused Netanyahu of choosing self-preservation over allowing the country's political process to run its course.
Gantz said that Netanyahu opted for "three crazy months" of a new campaign and millions of wasted dollars over new elections because he is "legally incapacitated" by looming indictments. "There is no other reason," Gantz said.
The country now plunges into a new election campaign that will last at least three months under Israeli law. With much of the country on vacation in late August, a tentative date of Sept. 17 was set.
The campaign looks to complicate Netanyahu's precarious legal standing. Israel's attorney general has recommended pressing criminal charges against him in three separate corruption cases, pending a hearing scheduled for October.
Even if Netanyahu wins the election, it is unlikely he will be able to form a government and lock down the required political support for an immunity deal before an expected indictment. That would force him to stand trial and put heavy pressure on him to step aside.
The political uncertainty could also spell trouble for the White House's Mideast peace efforts. The U.S. has scheduled a conference next month in Bahrain to unveil what it says is the first phase of its peace plan, an initiative aimed at drawing investment into the Palestinian territories.
With the Palestinians, who accuse the U.S. of being unfairly biased toward Israel, opposed to the plan, and Netanyahu preoccupied with re-election, it remains unclear how the Americans will be able to proceed. President Donald Trump's top Mideast adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, was in Israel and scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Thursday.
That Netanyahu struggled to secure a majority coalition in the 120-seat parliament was a shocking turn of events for the country's dominating political figure.
In the April 9 vote, Likud and its hardline nationalist and religious parties captured a majority of 65 seats.
The immediate cause of the crisis was his dispute with Lieberman, a former aide who leads the small Yisrael Beitenu faction.
The men had clashed over Lieberman's demand to subject ultra-Orthodox religious males to the military draft, which is compulsory for most Jewish males. Without Lieberman's five Knesset seats, Netanyahu had no parliamentary majority.
But the deeper issue is connected to Netanyahu's legal troubles. Facing a likely indictment, he had pushed his coalition partners to pass legislation that would grant him immunity and curb the powers of the country's Supreme Court.
Opposition parties strongly oppose granting Netanyahu immunity, robbing him of any alternatives to Lieberman as he tried to form a coalition.
For the past two decades, Lieberman has alternated between being a close ally and a thorn in the side of his former boss. He has held a number of senior Cabinet posts, including defense minister and foreign minister.
Lieberman's base of support is fellow immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and he takes a hard line toward the Palestinians but also is staunchly secular.
He has demanded that the parliament pass pending legislation that requires young ultra-Orthodox men to be drafted into the military. Years of wide exemptions for religious men have generated resentment among the rest of Jewish Israelis, who are required to serve.
"I am not against the ultra-Orthodox community. I am for the state of Israel. I am for a Jewish state but against a Halachic state," Lieberman wrote on Facebook early Wednesday, using a term that refers to a Jewish state governed by Jewish law.
The ultra-Orthodox parties consider conscription a taboo, fearing that military service will lead to immersion in secularism, and insist the exemptions should stay in place. Netanyahu, dependent on the parties' political support, says they have compromised enough and refuses to press them further.
Netanyahu maintained contacts with Lieberman and other parties in hopes of forging a deal as a parliamentary debate took place. Many of the Likud speakers lashed out at Lieberman, accusing him of forcing an unnecessary election.
But as a parliamentary debate stretched toward midnight, it became clear there would be no compromise.
A bitter Netanyahu claimed after the vote that Lieberman "had no intention" to compromise and made unrealistic demands. "He is dragging the entire country for another half a year of elections," he said.
Budapest, May 30 (AP/UNB) — Seven people were confirmed dead and 21 remained missing early Thursday after a sightseeing boat carrying 33 South Korean passengers and two crew members collided with another vessel and sank in the Danube River in downtown Budapest.
Rescue officials said seven bodies had been recovered. Pal Gyorfi, spokesman for the National Ambulance Service, said seven people were rescued and hospitalized in stable condition following the accident Wednesday night.
National police spokesman Kristof Gal said 33 South Koreans were on the boat, after early reports mentioned 32. South Korea's Foreign Ministry later confirmed that 33 of its citizens were on the boat and said 19 were still missing.
The two crew members were identified as Hungarian.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in instructed officials to employ "all available resources" to support the rescue efforts in Hungary.
Moon's spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said in Seoul that Moon also ordered the launch of a government task force led by Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha to deal with the accident and maintain close communication with the family members of the South Korean passengers.
The sunken boat was located early Thursday near the Margit Bridge, not far from the neo-Gothic Parliament building on the river bank.
Employees from the South Korean Embassy in Budapest were assisting Hungarian officials in identifying those rescued and the deceased.
Officials said searchers were checking the Danube for miles downriver from Budapest. The river was fast-flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city.
Earlier, the news website Index.hu said one of those rescued was found near the Petofi Bridge, which is about 3 kilometers (2 miles) south of Parliament.
Dozens of rescue personnel, including from the military and divers, were involved in the search.
The boat that sank was identified as the "Hableany" (Mermaid), which is described on the sightseeing company's website as "one of the smallest members of the fleet." It has two decks and a capacity for 60 people, or 45 for sightseeing cruises.
Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for the Panorama Deck boating company, said the "Hableany" was on a "routine city sightseeing trip" when the accident happened. He told state television that he had no information about any technical problems with the boat, which he said was serviced regularly.
Dhaka, May 29 (UNB): Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi will attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi's oath ceremony tomorrow, sources have said. PM Modi's second swearing-in will be a grand event at the presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in the presence of politicians, world leaders and celebrities.
Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi's decision stands out after an acrimonious election that saw PM Modi and other BJP leaders relentlessly targeting them as well as Priyanka Gandhi Vadra; the Gandhi siblings hitting right back, reports NDTV.
PM Modi was condemned by the opposition for targeting even former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi - Sonia Gandhi's husband - who was assassinated in 1991 by an LTTE suicide bomber.
The BJP, led by PM Modi, won a staggering victory in the national election and a clear mandate to retain power for a second term - a feat achieved only by the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi in the past.
The Congress, at the same time, has suffered a crushing defeat and has been decimated in 18 states and union territories. The party is in an existential crisis that has intensified with Rahul Gandhi's refusal to continue as Congress president after the drubbing, and his insistence that a non-Gandhi should lead the organization for a change.
Since Saturday, the Congress has been trying to persuade Rahul Gandhi to change his mind.
Leaders from BIMSTEC countries, the Prime Minister of Mauritius and the President of Kyrgystan - who is also the chair of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) - will attend the oath ceremony.
Chief ministers and industry leaders have also been invited.
Chief Ministers of non-BJP ruled states will also attend the event, except for Bengal's Mamata Banerjee, who pulled out accusing the BJP of trying to politicise the occasion. She accused the BJP of falsely alleging that 54 of its workers were killed in political violence in Bengal and then inviting their families to the oath.