- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

IRAN

Shipping line calls sanctions ineffective

TEHRAN | Iran’s largest shipping line on Thursday dismissed U.S. sanctions against it and rejected American accusations that its ships delivered arms and other military-related cargo to Iran’s military.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines said the sanctions targeting it and its affiliates around the globe will be ineffective because the company has no dealings with American companies and no bank accounts or assets in the U.S. However, in announcing the sanctions Wednesday, U.S. officials said they would also seek to discourage international companies from doing business with the Iranian company.

The U.S. order freezes any bank accounts or other financial assets belonging to the shipping line or its 18 related companies that are found in the United States. Americans are also barred from doing business with the companies.

The United States purports that the Iranian company facilitated shipments of military-related cargo destined for Iran’s Defense Ministry and Armed Forces Logistics. The U.S. also purports that the company falsified documents to conceal its cargo.

RUSSIA

Officials downplay planes in Venezuela

MOSCOW | Russia on Thursday downplayed the two strategic long-range bombers that flew to Venezuela in the first such flight since the Cold War, saying the bombers carried no live weapons - nuclear or otherwise - and would return to Russia next week.

The bombers arrived in South America ahead of planned joint military maneuvers between Russia and Venezuela - maneuvers that appear to be a tit-for-tat retort to the United States for sending warships to deliver aid to U.S.-allied Georgia after last month’s war.

Russian analysts said it was the first time that strategic bombers have landed in the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War. The foray, and the coming military exercises with an avowed U.S. enemy, are likely to strain the already tense relationship between Moscow and Washington.

Meanwhile Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned the West on Thursday against starting an arms race in Europe by stationing a U.S. missile-defense shield near Russia’s borders.

“Please do not instigate an arms race in Europe. It is not needed. What should we do? Sit pretty while they deploy missiles?” he said.

FRANCE

Chunnel fire blocks traffic

PARIS | A fire broke out Thursday on a train shuttling trucks under the English Channel between England and France, suspending traffic in the undersea tunnel, officials said. All passengers were evacuated safely.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze after it broke out about seven miles from the French side, said a spokesman for Eurotunnel, the company that operates the tunnel. The spokesman was not authorized to be publicly named.

The shuttle train was carrying 32 people when the fire broke out just before 4 p.m., the spokesman said. Most were truck drivers accompanying their vehicles, and all were evacuated safely.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, according to the regional administration office in Calais on the French coast.

Fires rarely break out in the tunnel, which opened to commercial traffic in 1994.

IRELAND

Big sailboat sinks near French coast

DUBLIN | Ireland’s majestic sail-training ship, the Asgard II, sank mysteriously off the French coast on Thursday, but its 25 passengers and crew escaped safely on lifeboats.

Two French coast guard vessels took everyone in the lifeboats to the island of Belle-Ile-en-Mer, about 10 miles off Brittany’s coast.

The passengers - civilians who paid at least $700 each for a week’s training on the high seas - were checked into an island hotel, where they mulled their close scrape with death.

“It was very traumatic, albeit exciting for some,” said Colm Newport, the ship’s captain.

The untimely sinking could mean the demise of an unusual Irish tradition. Since 1968, Ireland has provided a state-owned vessel so civilian novices could get a taste of sailing the open sea.

Israel

U.S. won’t send ‘bunker busters’

JERUSALEM | The United States turned down an Israeli request for “bunker buster” bombs and mid-air refueling planes for fear they could be used to attack Iran, the Haaretz newspaper said.

The U.S. administration also refused to give permission for Israeli fighter jets to fly over Iraq - the quickest route to Iran, it said.

Israel, the region’s sole if undeclared nuclear armed state, considers Iran its main strategic threat because of its own atomic program, which Israel and the U.S. suspect is aimed at developing weapons.

Iran has repeatedly denied the allegations, insisting it wants only to provide electricity for its growing population when its fossil fuels run out.

Military experts believe the GBU-28 “bunker busters” Israel had requested could be effective against Iran’s underground uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in central Iran.

The GBU-28 is a 2.2-ton, laser-guided, conventional munition equipped with a powerful warhead that can burrow through more than 20 feet of concrete and up to 100 feet of hard ground.

While denying the requests for “bunker-buster” bombs and refueling planes, the U.S. administration has agreed to help reinforce Israel’s defenses.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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