Tehran, Sep 21 (AP/UNB) — The chief of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard says his forces are ready for combat and "any scenario" as the country's nuclear deal with world powers collapses and tensions with the U.S. soar.
Gen. Hossein Salami said Saturday that his forces have carried out "war exercise and are ready for any scenario."
Salami was speaking during a ceremony showing pieces of the American drone shot down by the Guard in June.
He added: "If anyone crosses our borders, we will hit them."
His comments came as the U.S. alleges Iran was behind a weekend attack on major oil sites in Saudi Arabia. Iran denies the charge and says any retaliatory strike could result in "all-out war."
Washington, Sep 21 (AP/UNB) — The Pentagon says the U.S. will deploy additional troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to beef up security, as President Donald Trump has at least for now decided against any immediate military strike on Iran in response to the attack on the Saudi oil industry.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper says this is a first step, and he is not ruling out additional moves down the road. He says it's a response to requests from the Saudis and the UAE to help improve their air and missile defenses.
Esper and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say details of the deployments will be determined over the coming days.
President Donald Trump is signaling that he's not inclined to authorize an immediate military strike on Iran in response to the attacks on the Saudi oil industry, saying he believes showing restraint "shows far more strength" and he wants to avoid an all-out war.
Trump has laid out new sanctions on the Iranian central bank.
Trump spoke just before he gathered his national security team at the White House to discuss how to respond to the weekend drone and missile attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.
He left the door open a bit for a later military response, saying people thought he'd attack Iran "within two seconds." But he says he has "plenty of time."
Des Moines, Sep 21 (AP/UNB) — The question posed to Pete Buttigieg — gay, married and running for president — came from a supporter at an Iowa campaign stop: What should he tell friends who say America isn't ready to elect a gay man as president?
That prompted a woman in the crowd to object with an expletive, igniting cheers from hundreds in the audience.
Of the many intriguing things about Buttigieg and his candidacy for president — his Ivy League, Rhodes Scholar pedigree and his war service in Afghanistan — a vital question overlaying the 2020 campaign is whether as a gay man his sexual orientation is a barrier to the nation's highest office.
The first answer will come in Iowa, a state where the 37-year-old South Bend, Indiana, mayor has campaigned frequently and spent heavily. So far, Democratic voters here seem to say that Buttigieg's sexual orientation is immaterial.
"The world will be watching. The activist world. The party world," said Paul Tewes, who directed Barack Obama's 2008 Iowa caucus victory, which propelled him to become the nation's first African American president. "It would signal to the rest of the world that this stuff doesn't matter, that people just want him to be president."
On Friday at an LGBTQ forum in Cedar Rapids, Buttigieg framed his experience as a gay man as an advantage.
"There's a culture of belonging that we need to establish in this country," he said. "One of the reasons I'm so proud to be a member of this community is because I think we have the power to reach into our own experiences, belonging to a part of America that also cuts across all the other different categories. . We could help be that glue."
Buttigieg also spoke about his own experiences facing discrimination as a gay man, noting the "weight lifted" when the government's policy barring gay men from serving in the military was reversed. He also described how it felt to host South Bend's first blood drive and not be able to participate, due to the ban on gay men donating blood.
Buttigieg was one of 10 Democratic candidates to speak at the forum, the first ever focused solely on the issue in a presidential race. The forum itself is a measure of the acceptance gay rights have achieved in the state party and the nation as a whole.
In June, the Iowa Poll by The Des Moines Register and its partners found that 62 percent of likely Iowa caucus participants said it would make no difference to them for a Trump challenger to be gay. They were more concerned, by 12 percentage points, about a Democratic nominee being over 70 years old.
The age group most likely to disregard the notion of a gay nominee was voters 65 and older, people like John Sauer, a retired school superintendent from the Cedar Rapids area.
"I have no problem with it," said Sauer, 71, who showed up at a Buttigieg campaign office opening in Cedar Rapids this month. He and his wife, Elizabeth, say Buttigieg tops their lists of candidates.
Sauer's feelings, which he described as unheard of in his parents' generation, speak in part to a decade-long maturing of gay rights in Iowa.
In 2009, Iowa became the first state outside of the East Coast to legalize same-sex marriage, a change implemented by a unanimous state Supreme Court case that came six years before the U.S Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationally. In 2003, only 23 percent of Iowans overall supported allowing same-sex marriage.
By 2015, not only did 81 percent of likely Democratic caucus participants support gay marriage, so did 26 percent of Republican caucus goers, the Iowa Poll showed.
"But, I do think there are people who might have a problem with it. You can't get around that," Sauer said.
That sentiment also registered in the June Iowa Poll, where 28 percent of likely Democratic caucus participants said being gay would be a disadvantage for a Democratic nominee.
Buttigieg's profile in the state may not be so out-of-the-ordinary among Iowa's progressive Democratic caucus electorate, said JoDee Winterhof, Human Rights Campaign's senior vice president for policy and political affairs.
"That package of things I don't think is extraordinary to Iowa Democrats," said Winterhof, a veteran Iowa Democratic campaign strategist and former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaigns. "I bet you in terms of the questions he gets asked very few of the questions he is asked are about being gay."
In fact, the question at the crowded outdoor campaign event in August was the only Buttigieg fielded on his sexuality during the eastern Iowa trip.
Buttigieg's answer focused on his personal hope of finding a partner after returning from Afghanistan.
"I just had to find the courage that said, either way, I can live with it. But I've got to be who I am and trust the voters, based on the job I've been doing," he said, noting that he was overwhelmingly reelected mayor in 2015.
Still, he is not even the unanimous choice in Iowa's Democratic LGBTQ community.
Des Moines lawyer and gay-rights activist Sharon Malheiro, who isn't supporting Buttigieg, says his age and lack of more global experience is a liability in her mind.
"I'm not hearing people say I'm not looking at him because he's gay," said Malheiro, who is leaning toward supporting former Vice President Joe Biden or California Sen. Kamala Harris.
At the same time, Buttigieg may have a built-in advantage in Iowa, should he emerge as the consensus choice of Iowa's LGBTQ voters, estimated at roughly 80,000 and a potentially decisive slice of a caucus electorate that could number roughly 300,000.
"That's a lot in terms of overall caucus participation," Winterhof said.
Detroit, Sep 21 (AP/UNB) — A diver and maritime history buff has found two schooners that collided and sank into the cold depths of northern Lake Michigan more than 140 years ago.
Bernie Hellstrom, of Boyne City, Michigan, said he was looking for shipwrecks about 10 years ago when a depth sounder on his boat noted a large obstruction about 200 feet (60 meters) down on the lake bottom near Beaver Island.
"I've made hundreds of trips to Beaver Island and every trip I go out the sounder is on," he told The Associated Press on Friday. "But if you happen to see something that's not normal, you go back. A lot are nothing but fish schools. This was 400 feet of boat. There's nothing out there that big that's missing."
He returned to the area in June with a custom-made camera system and discovered the Peshtigo and St. Andrews about 10 feet (3 meters) apart with their masts atop one another. The hull of one of the ships has a huge gash.
It had been believed the ships sank in 1878 farther to the east in the Straits of Mackinac in Lake Huron. But only one ship could be found and that was thought to be the St. Andrews.
"They never found the second boat," said Hellstrom, 63.
Hellstrom brought technical divers in to record video of the wrecks. Madison, Wisconsin-based marine historian Brendon Baillod was recruited to help solve the mystery.
Baillod said he searched through old news reports and learned that the Peshtigo and St. Andrews did hit each other and sink between Beaver and Fox islands, northwest of Charlevoix, Michigan.
The Peshtigo was 161 feet (49 meters) long and carrying coal. The St. Andrews was 143 feet (43 meters) long and carrying corn. The collision was blamed on confusion in signal torches, he said.
Two of the Peshtigo's crewmen were lost. Survivors from both ships were rescued by another passing schooner, according to Baillod.
Wayne Lusardi, Michigan's state maritime archaeologist, calls finding the actual resting place of the Peshtigo and St. Andrews a "fantastic discovery."
"You can argue that any new discovery is important because it really gives you a first-time look at something that has been lost and missing for such a long time," Lusardi said.
He added that the Peshtigo and St. Andrews "had been mistakenly identified as two vessels up in the Straits for decades."
"Now, it begs the question: What are those wrecks?" he said.
An estimated 6,000 shipwrecks sit on the bottoms of the Great Lakes, according to Cathy Green, executive director of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc.
"If you think about it, cities like Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee would never have been able to develop without the water highway," Green said. "When material remains of that history is found, it's a big deal to historians and archeologists."
Buqayq, Sep 20 (AP/UNB) — The heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry remained wrapped in scaffolding Friday as workers sought to repair the charred innards and shrapnel-blasted arteries caused by drone-and-cruise-missile attacks that raised tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
Saudi officials brought journalists to the kingdom's crucial Abqaiq oil processing facility, described by the state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco as "the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world." It was the first such trip for outsiders to see the damage done to its facilities that have been targeted in a summer-long campaign of attacks.
Saudi Arabia is seeking to build international consensus ahead of the U.N. General Assembly next week after the Sept. 14 attack that it claims was "unquestionably sponsored by Iran." The U.S. has gone further, alleging Iran carried out the attack as part of a campaign seeking to roil the region as American sanctions on its oil industry prevent it from selling crude oil abroad as Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers collapses.
Iran has denied involvement in the attack that was initially claimed by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, now heading to New York for the high-level meetings at U.N. headquarters, has warned that any retaliatory strike on Iran by the U.S. or Saudi Arabia will result in "an all-out war."
President Donald Trump, who withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal more than a year ago, said separately Friday that America "just sanctioned the Iranian national bank." He did not elaborate.
In Abqaiq, an oil facility in the Arabian Peninsula's sprawling Empty Quarter desert, journalists saw what previously only had been glimpsed in satellite photos released earlier by the U.S.
The attack punched holes in giant metal onion-shaped structures that help separate gas from crude oil. Separation towers there, which process crude oil, were scorched and damaged, with the top of one looking like a melted candle.
Officials said they put out about 10 large fires at the site less than seven hours after the attack. There were at least 18 direct hits on 11 of the spherical structures, five column stabilizers and two small processing facilities, they said.
Abqaiq processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, and it is transported to transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea or to refineries for local production. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day. By comparison, Saudi Arabia produced 9.65 million barrels of crude oil a day in July.
The plant has been targeted before by militants. Al-Qaida-claimed suicide bombers tried but failed to attack the oil complex in February 2006. However, the Sept. 14 attack reached deep inside a facility that analysts long warned was vulnerable, knocking out half of the kingdom's oil production and spiking crude prices this week by a percentage unseen since the 1991 Gulf War.
Saudi Arabia also flew journalists to its Khurais oil field to see damage done to the oil field, which is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. Officials there said 110 contractors evacuated the site after the attack, but there were no injuries. They said the oil field was back online within 24 hours of the attack.
An oil stabilization tower was damaged and other pipes had holes from the attack.
Repair crews swarmed both sites beneath large cranes, working through the heat. Saudi Arabia says it already has restored half of the cut production and hopes to have it fully online by the end of the month, although damage at several structures seen by journalists looked severe.
The trip comes as Saudi Arabia hopes to offer a sliver of Saudi Aramco in an initial public offering, a key component of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's development plans for the kingdom. Opening up the facilities slightly to journalists both bolsters Saudi Arabia's push for international condemnation of the attack while offering at least a glimpse at the crown jewels ahead of the IPO.
While Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the assault, analysts say the missiles used wouldn't have enough range to reach the site from the impoverished nation. The missiles and drones used resembled Iranian-made weapons, although analysts say more study is needed to definitively link them to Iran.
A Saudi-led coalition has battled the Houthis in Yemen since March 2015, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and sparked what the U.N. describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The International Crisis Group warns that the Saudi attack could push the wider Persian Gulf into war, saying the risk of conflict is "arguably the highest it has been in years."
"The Aramco strikes were no minor incident: They were perhaps the most significant attacks on Saudi Arabian infrastructure in modern history, and the result of a series of provocations and tit-for-tat exchanges that have been allowed to gather momentum for too long," the group said. "At this point, a single misstep could set off a chain reaction."
Underlining that Friday was Iranian Gen. Rahim Safavi, a senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"If the Americans think of a conspiracy, the Iranian nation will respond to them from the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Indian Ocean," Safavi said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
Also on Friday, the tiny, oil-rich country of Kuwait said it would increase security at both its commercial and oil ports. Kuwait's state-run KUNA news agency reported the decision, quoting Khaled al-Roudhan, the minister of commerce and industry.