INTERNATIONAL

U.S.-Iran tensions on the rise again

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned of reprisals if Washington resorts to further sanctions. Picture shows Rouhani in December after he registered for the elections to the Assembly of Experts to be conducted in February. —PHOTO: AFP

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned of reprisals if Washington resorts to further sanctions. Picture shows Rouhani in December after he registered for the elections to the Assembly of Experts to be conducted in February. —PHOTO: AFP  

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has denounced possible new U.S. sanctions on his country which could jeopardise a hard-won nuclear deal due to be finally implemented within weeks.

In a letter to his Defence Minister, Mr. Rouhani said reports that the U.S. Treasury Department planned to blacklist companies and individuals with ties to Iran’s ballistic missile programme constituted “hostile and illegal interventions” that justified a response.

The comments from Mr. Rouhani, who said the military should intensify its development of missiles, seemed to cause backtracking in Washington with reports that the White House had put the intended sanctions on hold indefinitely.

Breach of resolutions

In the five months since the nuclear deal was struck, U.S. officials say Iran has conducted two missile tests, one of which state media reported at the time, on October 11. Iran also recently aired television footage of an underground missile base.

The actions angered the United States and a United Nations panel found earlier this month that the tests breached previous resolutions aimed at stopping the Islamic republic from developing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

But the threat of new sanctions — the nuclear deal is due to lift past measures that froze Iran out of the global financial system and crippled its oil exports — brought already worsening relations to a head. It also came after U.S. officials said an Iranian vessel had test-fired several rockets near three Western warships, including the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier.

The alleged incident in the strategic Strait of Hormuz on December 26 drew denials from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who are responsible for protecting Iranian interests in the strategic waterway where much of the world’s oil passes.

Spokesman General Ramezan Sharif accused the U.S. of fabricating the incident as part of a “psychological operation”.

The Wall Street Journal had first reported on Wednesday that the U.S, was preparing fresh sanctions against companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates over alleged links to Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.

But on Thursday the newspaper said the measures had been delayed — although they remain on the table — over fears the nuclear deal could be derailed. Mr. Rouhani, whose government negotiated the agreement with the United States and five other world powers, warned of reprisals.

Should individuals and companies be added to “the previously unjustified sanctions list, it is necessary that the production of various missiles required by the armed forces move forward with increased speed and seriousness”, said his letter to Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan. “If such wrong and interventionist actions are repeated by the U.S., the Ministry of Defence should use all its capabilities to come up with new plans to expand Iran’s missile capabilities,” he added.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated the deal with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany, alluded to the missile row in a New Year message posted on Twitter.

“Much was achieved in 2015 through diplomacy — let’s learn from history and repeat successes, not past mistakes. A Happy New Year to all,” he wrote. — AFP

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