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Trump White House puts Iran 'on notice'
By Andrew BEATTY
Washington (AFP) Feb 1, 2017

US, Saudi defence chiefs reject Iran 'interventions'
Riyadh (AFP) Feb 1, 2017 - New Pentagon chief James Mattis agreed in a telephone call with his Saudi counterpart to oppose Iranian "interventions" in the Middle East, Saudi state media reported on Wednesday.

Mattis and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expressed "their full rejection of the suspicious activities and interventions by the Iranian regime and its agents", the Saudi Press Agency said.

The two ministers spoke on Tuesday.

Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia regularly accuses Shiite Iran of interference in the region, while some of President Donald Trump's picks for cabinet have adopted an anti-Iran stance.

Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, has described Iran as "the biggest destabilising force in the Middle East".

Trump has opposed an July 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran that saw the lifting of international sanctions in exchange for guarantees that it will not pursue a nuclear weapons capability.

On Sunday, the White House said Trump and King Salman, Prince Mohammed's father, agreed on "rigorously" enforcing the Iran deal.

Also during Tuesday's call, Prince Mohammed said he "looked forward to working together to serve the interests of both countries and the fight against terrorism," SPA said.

It is the latest hopeful comment issued by the longtime US ally about the administration of Trump, who took office on January 20.

Prince Mohammed, one of the most powerful figures in Saudi Arabia, "underscored the US secretary of defence's experience in the region", SPA said.

Mattis, 66, commanded a Marine battalion during the First Gulf War and a division in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In 2010, he became head of US Central Command which covers the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have a decades-old relationship based on the exchange of American security for Saudi oil.

But ties between Riyadh and Washington became increasingly frayed during the administration of president Barack Obama.

Saudi leaders felt Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and was tilting towards its rival Iran.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has expressed optimism that the Trump administration will be more engaged in the region, particularly in containing Iran.

Saudi Arabia is part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria, while US forces provide aerial refuelling and intelligence support to Saudi military operations against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Donald Trump's White House signaled a tougher stance toward Iran on Wednesday, condemning a recent missile test and declaring America was putting the Islamic republic "on notice."

In his first public remarks since taking office, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn accused Barack Obama's administration of having "failed to respond adequately to Tehran's malign actions."

Flynn cited a recent missile test and the actions of Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen as examples of Tehran's malign behavior.

"Iran is now feeling emboldened," Flynn said, in trenchant pre-written remarks, "as of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice," he said without elaborating.

Both Trump and Flynn have been harsh critics of Tehran and vocal opponents of an international deal that saw Iran curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Chris Sherwood, a Pentagon spokesman, said there had been "no change in the US military posture" around Iran at this time.

"We stand ready to defend America's interest and partners around the world," he said.

Flynn insisted that Sunday's missile test was "in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231," which calls on Iran not to test missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapon.

Iran's ballistic missile program has been a bone of contention with the West since the nuclear deal took effect in January last year.

But a previous, while controversial, test was not found to be in breach of the UN guidelines.

- Looming sanctions? -

It remains to be seen if the White House will push for sanctions this time around.

A senior Trump administration official said that it was clear the missile was capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

"That's something that it's just a matter of engineering and science," the official said.

But a second official stopped short of describing America's next step, except to say that this was not considered a breach of the nuclear deal.

"We are in the process of evaluating the strategic options and the framework for how we want to approach these issues."

"I think it's premature," the official added. "What we sincerely hope is that the Iranians will take this notice and will cease that kind of behavior altogether."

A move toward sanctions could test the foundation of the nuclear deal and would likely meet resistance from European nations as well as Russia and China.

Iran confirmed it had tested a ballistic missile, but denied that was a breach of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The comments from Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan came after the UN Security Council met Tuesday to discuss the weekend test, which Washington described as "absolutely unacceptable."

Iran says its missiles do not breach United Nations resolutions because they are for defense purposes only and are not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

"The action was in line with boosting Iran's defense power and is not in contradiction with the JCPOA (the nuclear deal) or Resolution 2231," Dehghan said.

"This test was in line with our ongoing program," Iranian media quoted him as saying.

"We have previously announced that we will execute the program we have planned in production of defense equipment meant for our national interests and objectives. Nobody can influence our decision."

Iran has missiles with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), sufficient to reach Israel as well as US bases in the region.

Flynn also criticized Iran after Yemeni rebel "suicide" boats attacked a Saudi warship on patrol in the Red Sea, killing two sailors in what the Saudi-led coalition called an escalation of the nearly two-year-old war.

The assault off the rebel-held port of Hodeida came as coalition-backed government forces pressed a deadly drive up the Red Sea coast, despite mounting international pressure for a ceasefire.

American and European officials previously said that while Iran has supplied arms and training to the Huthi rebels, they expressed doubt that Iran has command-and-control power over the group's operations.

On Wednesday, Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to receive the casket of Navy Seal Ryan Owens, who was killed in a raid on an Al-Qaeda position in Yemen.

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