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Trump slaps sanctions on Iran as tension mounts
By Dave Clark
Washington (AFP) Feb 4, 2017

Iran 'biggest state sponsor of terrorism': Mattis
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 4, 2017 - US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Saturday that Iran was the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism, as President Donald Trump slapped fresh sanctions on the country's weapons procurement network.

"As far as Iran goes, this is the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world," Mattis said at a press conference in Tokyo, but added that the US had no plans to increase troop numbers in the Middle East in response.

"It does no good to ignore it. It does no good to dismiss it and at the same time I don't see any need to increase the number of forces we have in the Middle East at this time," he said.

"We always have the capability to do so but right now I don't think it's necessary."

US officials said that the new sanctions, announced on Friday, were in response to Iran's ballistic missile test this week and its support for Huthi rebels in Yemen, who recently targeted a Saudi warship.

The new sanctions do not yet mean that the US has abandoned commitments it made under an earlier deal to lift measures aimed at Iran's nuclear programme, officials said.

But Trump has made no secret of his contempt for that accord, which his predecessor Barack Obama approved in July 2015, and officials said Friday's measures would not be the last against the country.

Iran announces 'reciprocal action' to US sanctions
Tehran (AFP) Feb 3, 2017 - Iran announced it will take "reciprocal action" against US individuals and companies after President Donald Trump's administration on Friday imposed new sanctions on Tehran over its weapons procurement network.

"In response to the new move by the United States of America and as a reciprocal action, (Iran) will impose legal limitations for some American individuals and companies that have had a role in the creation and support of extreme terrorist groups in the region," the foreign ministry said.

"The names of these individuals and companies will be announced later," it said in a statement.

"Missile development and capabilities of the country, which is merely designed for defensive objectives and carrying conventional weapons and that will never be used except for legitimate defence, is the right of the people of Iran based on international law and the UN charter," the ministry said.

The fresh US measures were in response to Iran's latest ballistic missile test and its support for Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen who in the past week targeted a Saudi warship, US officials said.

The additional US sanctions list three trading networks and individuals allegedly involved in supplying Iran's missile programme.

Iran last Sunday test-fired a medium range missile, which the White House contends violated a UN Security Council resolution proscribing missiles that could carry a nuclear device.

The Islamic republic has confirmed it tested a ballistic missile but denied it was a breach of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers or UN resolutions.

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

Tehran says its missiles do not breach UN resolutions because they are for defence purposes only and are not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Iran, which accuses Washington and Arab allies in the Gulf of supporting radical Sunni Islamists in the Syrian conflict, has missiles with a range of up to 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles), enough to reach Israel and US bases in the region.

US President Donald Trump slapped fresh sanctions on Iran's weapons procurement network Friday, provoking an angry response from Tehran in what is an increasingly tense stand-off.

Officials said the new measures were in response to Iran's recent ballistic missile test and its support for the Huthi rebels in Yemen, who recently targeted a Saudi warship.

The new sanctions do not yet mean that the US has abandoned commitments it made under the deal to lift measures aimed at Iran's nuclear program, officials said.

But Trump has made no secret of his contempt for that accord, which his predecessor Barack Obama approved in July 2015, and officials said Friday's measures would not be the last.

"Iran is playing with fire - they don't appreciate how 'kind' President Obama was to them. Not me!" Trump tweeted.

During a visit to Tokyo on Saturday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis called Iran "the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world."

"It does no good to ignore it. It does no good to dismiss it," he said, but added that there are no plans to increase US troops in the Middle East.

Hardline US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn also drew a stark line in the sand.

"The days of turning a blind eye to Iran's hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over," he said.

"This behavior seems continuous despite the very favorable deal given to Iran by the Obama Administration. These sanctions target these behaviors."

Iran on Saturday was set to stage a show of defiance by deploying missiles for a Revolutionary Guards exercise.

The Guards' Sepahnews website said the maneuvers were aimed at demonstrating their "complete preparedness to deal with the threats" and "humiliating sanctions" from Washington.

A list of missiles to be deployed, published on the site, showed they were of very short range -- up to 47 miles (75 kilometers).

- 'Strategic review' -

US intelligence and Treasury officials are constantly scrutinizing Iran's networks, looking for evidence of extremist funding and advanced weapons procurement.

The immediate trigger for the sanctions was Iran's test, last Sunday, of a ballistic missile that US officials judge to have been capable of one day carrying a nuclear warhead.

But the latest detailed list of designations has clearly been in preparation for some time, and the White House says "nothing is off the table" -- even military action.

"We are undertaking a larger strategic review," a senior US administration official told reporters. "The launch of the missile was the triggering event."

Washington is also concerned about attacks by Huthi rebels, a powerful faction in Yemen's civil war which US intelligence believes is armed and supported by Iran.

This week Huthi forces attacked a Saudi warship operating off Yemen.

The senior official said Iran was "not necessarily responsible for every tactical decision" made by Huthi forces, but that it will be made to bear responsibility for its "proxies."

- Angry taunts -

But Russia, which is allied with Iranian forces in its defense of Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime, is unlikely to allow new international sanctions to target Tehran.

US Treasury officials hope that preventing Iran's networks in Lebanon and China from buying US goods or using the US financial system will curtail their activity.

Nevertheless, Trump's pronouncements on the 2015 nuclear deal, and Iran's angry response that his taunts are "baseless" and "provocative," have raised fears of an imminent showdown.

The nuclear deal obliged Iran to curtail its nuclear program and halt any nuclear weapons research in exchange for relief from US and international sanctions targeting the sector.

It was agreed between Tehran and six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US -- and Obama's White House hailed it as a blow against nuclear proliferation.

Trump, Israel and many US foreign policy hawks argue that the deal was too soft and that the windfall Iran won with sanctions relief will be funneled to terror networks.

If the deal collapses, however, some observers fear a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. US officials insist the new sanctions have no bearing on the deal -- for now.

"Iran has to determine its response to our actions," a senior administration official said.

"We are going to continue to respond to their behavior in an ongoing way and at an appropriate level to continue to pressure them to change their behavior."

Hawks in Congress have been calling for broad measures to target entire sectors of Iran's fragile economy.

- Severe price -

"Unless the Iranian regime pays a severe price for its malign activities, they are unlikely to stop," said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Think tank the Eurasia Group said the fate of the nuclear deal itself is in US hands and will be decided by "the harshness of the sanctions Trump puts in place."

If he sticks to designating new individuals for existing sanctions, the deal will probably hold -- "but it is a close call" -- the group said in a briefing note.

If he aims for broader sanctions designed to hobble the Iranian economy, it may fall apart.

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Previous Report
Trump on Iran: 'Nothing is off the table'
Washington (AFP) Feb 2, 2017
/> US President Donald Trump said Thursday he is not ruling out any options in response to Iran's recent missile test, further raising tensions after saying he was putting the country "on notice." When asked by a journalist whether military action is off the table against Iran, Trump replied, "Nothing is off the table." The comment came hours after Trump had tweeted that Iran was "forma ... read more

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