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Yemen Rebels Claim Drone Hits Depot    05/21 06:13

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi rebels 
said Tuesday they attacked a Saudi airport and military base with a bomb-laden 
drone, an assault acknowledged by the kingdom as Mideast tensions remain high 
between Tehran and the United States. There were no immediate reports of 
injuries or damage.

   The attack on the Saudi city of Najran came after Iran announced it has 
quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity a year after the U.S. 
withdrew from its nuclear deal with world powers, though still a level far 
lower than needed for atomic weapons.

   Underlining the tensions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seeking 
expanded executive powers to better deal with "economic war" triggered by the 
Trump's administration's renewal and escalation of sanctions targeting the 
Islamic Republic, the state-run IRNA news agency reported Tuesday.

   By increasing production, Iran soon will exceed the stockpile limitations 
set by the nuclear accord. Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to set 
new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels in a 
Middle East already on edge. The U.S. has deployed bombers and an aircraft 
carrier to the Persian Gulf over still-unspecified threats from Iran.

   In the drone attack, the Houthis' Al-Masirah satellite news channel said 
early Tuesday they targeted the airport in Najran with a Qasef-2K drone, 
striking an "arms depot." Najran, 840 kilometers (525 miles) southwest of 
Riyadh, lies on the Saudi-Yemen border and has repeatedly been targeted by the 
Iran-allied Houthis.

   A statement earlier on the state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted Saudi-led 
coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki as saying the Houthis "had tried to 
target" a civilian site in Najran, without elaborating.

   Al-Maliki warned there would be a "strong deterrent" to such attacks and 
described the Houthis as the "terrorist militias of Iran." Similar Houthi 
attacks in the past have sparked rounds of Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen, which 
have been widely criticized internationally for killing civilians.

   Civilian airports throughout the Middle East often host military bases.

   The New York Times last year reported that American intelligence analysts 
were based in Najran, assisting the Saudis and a U.S. Army Green Berets 
deployment on the border. The Pentagon referred questions to the U.S. 
military's Central Command, which did not immediately respond to requests for 

   Last week, the Houthis launched a coordinated drone attack on a Saudi oil 
pipeline amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. Earlier this month, 
officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers were 
sabotaged and U.S. diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could 
be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something dismissed by Tehran.

   In its nuclear program announcement Monday night, Iranian officials made a 
point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set 
under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power 
plant but far below what's needed for an atomic weapon.

   Iran said it had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of the 
development. The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog did not respond to a 
request for comment. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, 
though the West fears its program could allow it to build them.

   President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to pull the U.S. from 
the Iran deal, has engaged in alternating tough talk with more conciliatory 
statements ---a strategy he says is aimed at keeping Iran guessing at the 
administration's intentions. Trump also has said he hopes Iran calls him and 
engages in negotiations.

   But while Trump's approach of flattery and threats has become a hallmark of 
his foreign policy, the risks have only grown in dealing with Iran, where 
mistrust between Tehran and Washington stretches four decades. While both sides 
say they don't seek war, many worry any miscalculation could spiral out of 
control. A Trump tweet Monday warning Iran would face its "official end" if it 
threatened the U.S. drew sharp rebuke from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad 
Javad Zarif on Twitter, who used the hashtag #NeverThreatenAnIranian.

   In Iran, it remains unclear what powers Rouhani seeks. In Iran's 1980s war 
with Iraq, a wartime supreme council was able to bypass other branches to make 
decisions regarding the economy and the war.

   "Today, we need such powers," Rouhani said, according to IRNA. He added that 
country "is united that we should resist the U.S. and the sanctions."

   Meanwhile, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told an audience in 
the United Arab Emirates on Monday night that America "needs to engage more in 
the world and intervene militarily less." While "Iran's behavior must change," 
he urged the U.S. not to engage in unilateral action and that American 
"military must work to buy time for diplomats to work their magic."

   "I will assure you no nation will be more honest with you than America," the 
retired Marine Corps general said, according to a report in the state-linked 
newspaper The National. "America will frustrate you at times because of its 
form of government, but the UAE and America will always find their way back to 
common ground, on that I have no doubt."

   Mattis abruptly resigned in December after clashing with Trump over 
withdrawing troops in Syria. He spoke at a previously unannounced speech before 
a Ramadan lecture series in honor of Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh 
Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.


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