Tuesday June 25, 2019
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US Blames Iran for Ship Attacks

Leading U.S. defense and security officials warn Iran was getting ready to unleash a wave of attacks

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US, Iran, Ship Attacks
FILE - Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan talks to reporters at the Pentagon, March 18, 2019. VOA

Leading U.S. defense and security officials warn Iran was getting ready to unleash a wave of attacks across the Middle East targeting the United States and its allies when the decision was made to send more troops to the region.

Speaking separately, the acting secretary of defense and the country’s top-ranking general Wednesday defended intelligence reports suggesting Tehran had planned to raise the stakes in the already volatile region.

‘High confidence’ in reports

“We get intelligence consistently that speaks to the threats in the region. This was an anomaly,” acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan told reporters, while en route to Jakarta.

“I have very high confidence in the reporting,” he added.

US, Iran, Ship Attacks
FILE – U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford is pictured in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 18, 2018. VOA

In Washington, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford likewise confirmed the intelligence that prompted the military to send reinforcements to the region was “qualitatively different.”

“We saw something that looked more like a campaign,” he said. “What is new was a pattern of threat streams that extended from Yemen, threats in the Gulf and threats in Iraq.”

Dunford cited attacks on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, drone strikes and rocket attacks “in the proximity” of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as part of the Iranian campaign.

Also Wednesday, during a visit to Abu Dhabi to discuss security matters, White House national security adviser John Bolton said Iran was “almost certainly” responsible for the mine attacks off the UAE coast.

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Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi rejected Bolton’s accusation as “ridiculous.”

U.S. deployment

Earlier this month, the United States rushed the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, including fighter jets, helicopters, naval destroyers and about 6,000 sailors, and deployed a bomber task force to the region in response to the increased threat.

Last week, defense officials announced they were sending 900 more troops to the region while extending the deployment of another 600 troops, part of a Patriot missile defense battery.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have escalated since President Donald Trump announced his decision to try to eliminate Iran’s oil exports to pressure the Iranian government to alter its aggression in the Middle East.

US, Iran, Ship Attacks
FILE – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the Asia Society in New York, April 24, 2019. VOA

In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused top U.S. officials of “warmongering” and said the Trump administration’s reimposition of sanctions against Iran amounted to “economic terrorism.”

But Shanahan, who said Wednesday that the additional U.S. forces were being sent to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, rejected the Iranian accusations.

“Nobody wants a war,” he said. “When the president says he doesn’t want a war with Iran, I think that’s pretty clear.”

U.S. defense officials also said Tehran was told in advance that the U.S. moves were not designed to increase its offensive capabilities but merely to protect forces already in the region.

Open to talks

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a Cabinet meeting Wednesday that the “road is not closed” to negotiations with the United States if it returns to the 2015 international nuclear deal that Trump abrogated. The pact was aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear weapons development while lifting economic sanctions on Tehran.

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“The road is not closed for them, whenever they put aside their cruel sanctions and return to the negotiation table that they left,” Rouhani said. (VOA)

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Small Shops in US Often Sell Tobacco Without Checking Age

More than 64 per cent of grocery stores checked IDs, compared with about 34 per cent of convenience stores and tobacco shops, and 29 per cent bars, restaurants and alcohol stores

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FILE - An anti-tobacco warning is seen on a road divider on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Nov. 4, 2016. VOA

Those buying tobacco from shops in the US, especially small stores, are usually not asked for identification hence it is easy for underage users to buy cigarettes there, says a study.

When researchers, aged 20 and 21, visited a variety of shops in the US, more than 60 per cent of cashiers did not ask them for identification.

In the study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, it was found that these young adults slipped by without an age check most often when they visited small stores, tobacco shops and shops plastered with tobacco ads.

“Our findings suggest that certain types of stores – tobacco shops, convenience stores and those with a lot of tobacco advertising – are more likely to sell tobacco to a young person without checking his or her ID,” said Megan Roberts, Assistant Professor at Ohio State University in the US.

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FILE – Cigarette packs are seen on shelves in a tobacco shop in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France. VOA

“One implication of this finding is that enforcement may benefit from targeted outreach and monitoring at these locations,” she added.

The study included visits to a randomly sampled 103 tobacco retailers in 2017.

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More than 64 per cent of grocery stores checked IDs, compared with about 34 per cent of convenience stores and tobacco shops, and 29 per cent bars, restaurants and alcohol stores.

“Having a minimum legal sales age for tobacco is important for reducing youth access to tobacco. Not only does it prevent young people from purchasing tobacco for themselves, but it prevents them from buying tobacco and distributing it to others, often younger peers,” Roberts said. (IANS)