23 Jun 2019

US to hit Iran with more sanctions

7:23 am on 23 June 2019

The United States will impose additional sanctions on Iran in a bid to prevent the country obtaining nuclear weapons, President Donald Trump says.

President Donald Trump delivers a statement in the Rose Garden after cutting short a meeting with senior Democrats.

Photo: AP

US President Donald Trump said today he would impose fresh sanctions on Iran but that he wanted to make a deal to bolster its flagging economy, an apparent move to defuse tensions following the shooting down of an unmanned US drone this week by the Islamic Republic.

On Thursday, an Iranian missile destroyed a US Global Hawk surveillance drone, an incident that Washington said happened in international airspace.

Tehran repeated yesterday that the drone was shot down over its territory and said it would respond firmly to any US threat.

Mr Trump said yesterday he had called off a military strike to retaliate over the downing of the drone because it could have killed 150 people.

Speaking in Washington today before heading to the US presidential retreat at Camp David, where he said he would deliberate on Iran, Mr Trump indicated the US government was taking a diplomatic path to put pressure on Tehran.

"We are putting additional sanctions on Iran," Mr Trump told reporters. "In some cases we are going slowly, but in other cases we are moving rapidly."

Military action was "always on the table," the president said, but he added that he was open to quickly reaching a deal with Iran that he said would bolster the country's flagging economy.

"We will call it 'Let's make Iran great again,'" Mr Trump said.

The Trump administration has sought to use promises of economic revival to solve other thorny foreign policy challenges, including the Israel-Palestinian peace process, with the White House outlining today a plan to create a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighbouring Arab state economies.

Iran warns of 'crushing' response

But worries about a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted despite Mr Trump saying he has no appetite for war. Tehran has also said it is not seeking a war but has warned of a "crushing" response if attacked.

"Regardless of any decision they (US officials) make... we will not allow any of Iran's borders to be violated. Iran will firmly confront any aggression or threat by America," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told the semi-official Tasnim news agency today.

A senior commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards struck a similarly defiant note, in comments quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

"If the violation is repeated then our response will be repeated," said Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards' aerospace division. "It's possible that this infringement of the Americans was carried out by a general or some operators."

Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, published a map on Twitter with detailed coordinates which he said showed the drone was flying over Islamic Republic's territorial waters.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Commander Rebecca Rebarich, said: "We stand by where we said the aircraft was operating in international airspace."

Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned a United Arab Emirates envoy because the UAE allowed the drone to be launched from a US military base on its territory, the Fars news agency reported.

Military sources told Reuters that US forces were getting ready to evacuate contractors from a military base in neighbouring Iraq over "potential security threats," without saying what those threats might be. That was denied by Iraqi and US military spokesmen today.

Flights rerouted

Tensions in the region began to worsen significantly when Mr Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions on the country. The sanctions had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear programme.

The United States and Iran's main regional rival Saudi Arabia have also blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers last week in the Gulf of Oman and on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates on 12 May.

Both incidents happened near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit for global oil supplies.

Iran has denied any involvement in those incidents, but world powers are calling for calm and sending in envoys for talks to try to lower the temperature of a dispute that is already helping push up the price of oil.

The US Federal Aviation Administration on Friday issued an emergency order prohibiting US operators from flying in an oversea area of Tehran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman. Some other international airlines are taking related precautions.

But Iran said its airspace was "safe and secure" for all planes to cross, Tasnim reported.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a political resolution of the crisis, adding: "That is what we are working on."

Britain's Foreign Office said Middle East minister Andrew Murrison would visit Tehran tomorrow to raise concerns about "Iran's regional conduct and its threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal."

Iran has threatened to breach the deal if the European signatories to the agreement fail to salvage it by shielding Tehran from US sanctions.

"The Europeans will not be given more time beyond July 8 to save the deal," Mr Mousavi said, referring to Iran's deadline of 60 days that Tehran announced in May.

Separately, Iran has executed a former contract employee for the aerospace organisation of the Ministry of Defence on charges of spying for the US Central Intelligence Agency, the IRIB news agency reported on Saturday.

Jalal Hajizavar was convicted by a military court after an investigation which discovered documents and spying equipment at his home, the report said.

- Reuters

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