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Wednesday May 22nd, 2019 1:08PM

The Latest: Chechs say they will continue training in Iraq

By The Associated Press
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on developments in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere in Mideast amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran (all times local):

7:15 p.m.

The Czech Defense Ministry says the country's military is continuing with its training operations in Iraq.

The ministry also says it has taken "adequate measures" due to a worsened security situation. No details were immediately given.

The Czech presence in Iraq includes a chemical unit, military police and air force instructors. There are currently 60 Czech service members in Iraq.

The ministry's announcement on Wednesday came after the German and Dutch governments suspended training of Iraqi soldiers due to tensions in the region between the U.S. and Iran.

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday ordered all non-essential government staff to leave Iraq right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.

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6:35 p.m.

U.S. embassies in Lebanon, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates are warning American citizens of heightened tensions in the region amid escalation with Iran.

In advisories issued Wednesday, the embassies advised Americans to maintain a "high level of vigilance" and keep a low profile. The embassy in the central Asian nation of Turkmenistan, on Iran's northeast borders, issued similar warnings.

The advisories followed an earlier alert out of Iraq ordering non-essential staff to leave the country.

Tensions have been quickly rising between Iran and the United States, which has said last week it detected new and urgent threats from Tehran and its proxy forces in the region targeting Americans. Two Saudi pumping stations and two of its oil tankers off the coast of the Emirates came under attack this week.

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6:30 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says that he has been urging Iran's leadership to stick to the nuclear deal, despite the U.S. withdrawal from it.

Putin, who was meeting Austria's president in Russia's Sochi, told reporters on Wednesday that the 2015 nuclear accords "are coming apart" but that he has been advising Iranian leaders to adhere to them no matter what the United States does.

The Russian leader said that after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran deal with world powers, "Europe can't do anything to save it" and that if Iran begins to backtrack on its commitments, "everyone will end up blaming it all on Iran."

Putin said Russia was glad to help mediate the deal and would be willing to help in the future but he added that Russia "is not a rescue squad" and cannot fix "everything that doesn't depend on us entirely."

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6:25 p.m.

Germany's foreign minister says European allies made clear to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this week that they don't consider unilateral "maximum pressure" against Iran an effective strategy.

Heiko Maas addressed German lawmakers on Wednesday, two days after he and his British and French colleagues met Pompeo in Brussels. He reiterated the European argument that dialogue with Iran helps to keep up pressure on concerns about issues that go beyond its nuclear program.

He said: "We don't think, and we made this very clear to Pompeo on Monday, that a unilateral strategy of maximum pressure really takes us further."

Maas added that "maximum pressure always carries the risk of an unintended escalation, and what has happened in recent days — acts of sabotage against ships or pipelines — are indications that these dangers are concrete and real."

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5:40 p.m.

The Netherlands has suspended its military training mission in Iraq because of a security threat.

State broadcaster NOS said Wednesday the 50-person mission is halted "until further orders." It quoted a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying he couldn't elaborate on the threats. It said the Dutch forces are primarily training Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State group in the region.

The Dutch Defense Ministry did not immediately comment.

The announcement came soon after the German government suspended training of Iraqi soldiers due to tensions in the region between the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. State Department on Wednesday ordered all non-essential government staff to leave Iraq right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.

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4:30 p.m.

The German government has expressed concern about the tensions in the Mideast between the U.S. and Iran, warning of a military escalation and saying it supports all measures for a peaceful solution.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said on Wednesday that, "obviously, we are watching the increasing tensions in the region with big concern and welcome any measure that is aimed at a peaceful solution."

Demmer added that the government condemns all acts that escalate the situation in the region further.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said despite the tension, the German government has not reduced its staff at the embassies in Iraq and Iran.

Earlier Wednesday, Germany's military said it suspended training of Iraqi soldiers due to the tensions, though there was no indication of any specific threat to its own troops in Iraq.

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3:35 p.m.

The German government says the country's military has suspended training of Iraqi soldiers due to tensions in the region between the U.S. and Iran but has no indication of any specific threat to its own troops.

The announcement came shortly after the U.S. State Department on Wednesday ordered all non-essential government staff to leave Iraq right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.

German Defense Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff says that Germany is "orienting itself toward our partner countries, which have taken this step."

But he stressed that "there is no concrete threat" and the decision is down to the security situation in general being viewed as more tense.

Germany currently has about 160 German soldiers in Iraq as part of the fight against the Islamic State group, about 60 of them at a base north of Baghdad where Iraqi forces are being trained.

Flosdorff said that training could in principle resume within days.

___

2:20 p.m.

The Kremlin's spokesman says U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn't offer President Vladimir Putin any reassurances or ease Moscow's concerns over the ongoing crisis between the United States and Iran.

Pompeo met with Putin on Tuesday in Russia's resort of Sochi where he sought to alleviate some of the concerns about the spiraling tensions but made clear the U.S. would respond to any attacks on American targets.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Moscow is concerned over mounting tensions and defended Iran's actions as a legitimate response to the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran has given European countries a 60-day deadline to negotiate a new nuclear deal Tehran or it would start enriching uranium to higher levels than outlined in the current agreement.

—This item has been corrected to show that Pompeo and Putin met on Tuesday, not Monday;

___

12: 15 p.m.

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq says the State Department has ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country right away amid escalating tensions with Iran.

The alert, published on the embassy's website on Wednesday, comes after Washington last week said it had detected new and urgent threats from Iran and its proxy forces in the region targeting Americans and American interests. 

On Sunday, the embassy advised Americans to avoid travel to Iraq, citing "heightened tensions."

___

10:30 a.m.

Iran's supreme leader claims that enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels would not be a difficult task for the country — the latest threats from Tehran as tensions roil the region amid the unraveling of the nuclear deal.

State-owned IRAN daily quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as telling a group of officials during a meeting on Tuesday night that "achieving 20 percent enrichment is the most difficult part. The next steps are easier than this step."

Iran recently threatened to resume higher enrichment in 60 days if no new nuclear deal is in place, beyond the 3.67% permitted by the current deal between Tehran and world powers. The Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year.

Iranian officials have said that they could reach 20% enrichment within four days. Though Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, scientists say the time needed to reach the 90% threshold for weapons-grade uranium is halved once uranium is enriched to around 20%.

___

10:10 a.m.

A satellite image obtained by The Associated Press shows one of the two pumping stations attacked by drones in Saudi Arabia apparently intact.

The image from San Francisco-based Planet Labs Inc. that the AP examined on Wednesday shows Saudi Aramco's Pumping Station No. 8 outside of the town of al-Duadmi. It's 330 kilometers, or 205 miles, west of the capital, Riyadh.

The photo, taken Tuesday after the attack claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels, shows two black marks near where Saudi Arabia's East-West Pipeline passes by the facility. Those marks weren't there in images taken Monday.

The facility otherwise appears intact.

The attack came as regional tensions flared, just days after what the kingdom called an attack on two of its oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

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