Iran rules out halt to missile tests as tensions with US rise
Iran vowed to press ahead with its missile program and condemned new U.S. sanctions, as tensions rise after the West hardened its tone against the Islamic republic. In the latest incident, Tehran and Washington accused each other’s naval forces of provocative maneuvers in the Gulf that culminated in a U.S. helicopter firing warning flares.
The U.S. Navy said it had reacted to unresponsive vessels belonging to the Revolutionary Guards closing in on American ships at high speed, a charge denied by Iran which described the American move as unprovoked.
“At 4 pm (1130 GMT) on Friday, the supercarrier USS Nimitz and its accompanying warship, while being monitored by the Guards’ frigates, flew a helicopter near the Resalat oil and gas platform and approached the force’s ships,” the Iranian paramilitary force said.
“The Americans in a provocative and unprofessional move, sent a warning message to the frigates and fired flares,” it said. The Guards “ignored the unconventional move by the US ships and continued their mission”.
The U.S. Navy said its ships were on a routine patrol when an American helicopter “observed several Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps naval vessels approaching US naval forces at a high rate of speed”.
“U.S. naval forces attempted to establish communications, with no response from the Iranian vessels. Shortly thereafter, at a safe distance, the US helicopter deployed flares, after which the Iranian vessels halted their approach,” it said.
The latest incident came after a U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots at a Guards boat in similar circumstances last Tuesday, with each side blaming the other. U.S. and Iranian naval forces have encountered each other several times in the Gulf. According to the statistics released by the U.S. in May, seven interactions have been reported so far this year. Iran’s navy routinely holds war games that it says are aimed at improving its readiness against threats. It also sends its warships to international waters off the Gulf of Aden to fight piracy.
On the political front, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Tehran condemned new US sanctions against its missile program, which U.S. President Donald Trump is set to sign into law, and vowed to press on.
“We will continue with full power our missile program,” he said. “We consider the action by the U.S. as hostile, reprehensible and unacceptable, and it’s ultimately an effort to weaken the nuclear deal.” Ghasemi was referring to the 2015 agreement between Iran and U.S.-led world powers that lifted some sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
U.S.-Iran relations have become more hostile than ever as the White House takes an aggressive posture toward Tehran over test-firing a ballistic missile that could raise tensions in the already chaotic region.
The Trump administration has called the nuclear agreement with Iran “the worst deal ever negotiated,” and senior administration officials have repeatedly criticized Iran’s behavior for its support for Bashar Assad in Syria, its ballistic missile activities and its support for militant groups in the region.
Iran, which has been accused of exposing sectarian fault lines in the region, especially in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, tried to soften its rhetoric as Rouhani said there should be greater unity between Shiites and Sunnis and that they had coexisted side by side peacefully for hundreds of years. During the Barak Obama era, Iran enjoyed the opportunity to fill the vacuum in the Middle East after the White House abandoned its traditional allies, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Referring to Iran as “the number one terrorist state,” the U.S. president said the Middle Eastern country supplies money and weapons to terrorist groups. The Trump administration hit the ground running, re-imposing sanctions against Iran in its first weeks in office and also instating restrictions against those who are complicit with Tehran.
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