Iran and the US, closed in a tense standoff after the US withdrew from a nuclear contract, traded barbs Sunday the day before the US tightens sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Each side says they want to avoid going to war, but tensions have spiraled as a number of incidents, including attacks on tankers and the shooting down of a US drone by Iran in the Gulf, raised fears of an unintended slide towards conflict.
On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated a US-made MQ9 Reaper “spy drone” — also widely used for carrying out military strikes — had encroached his country’s airspace on May 26.
He created the allegation in a tweet that included a map purporting to show the drone had violated Iranian airspace.
It was dismissed as “child-like” by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he going to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for Iran talks with the two US allies.
Zarif’s statement came after Iran said it had shot down a US Global Hawk drone on Thursday for violating its airspace near the strategic Strait of Hormuz — a claim the United States denies.
US President Donald Trump called off an organized retaliatory military strike Friday, saying the reaction would not have been “proportionate”, as Tehran warned any assault would see Washington’s interests across the Middle East go up in flames.
On Sunday US national safety adviser John Bolton cautioned Iran against misinterpreting the last-minute cancellation.
“Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness,” Bolton stated in Jerusalem.
With the strike called off, Washington secretly released cyber-attacks against Iranian missile control systems and a spy network in response to the downed drone, based on US media reports.
US media said the attack crippled computers used to manage missile launchers and a spying group tracking ships in the Gulf.
Iran is yet to formally react to the claim, but Fars news agency called the move a “bluff” and said it was meant to fix the White House’s “lost reputation” following the downing of its drone.
The downing of the US drone came after a number of attacks on tankers in the congested shipping lanes of the Gulf, which Washington has blamed on Tehran.
Iran has denied duty for those attacks.
US ‘cyber attacks’
Trump, who invested Saturday huddling with his advisers, stated he was ready to reach out to Iran if the nation agreed to renounce nuclear weapons.
“When they accept that, they’re going to have a wealthy nation. They’re going to be so happy, and I’m going to be their best friend,” he told reporters.
Iran has denied seeking a nuclear weapon and says its program is for civilian reasons.
A multinational accord reached by Tehran and world powers in 2015 sought to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.
But Trump left that contract more than a year ago and has imposed a robust slate of punitive economic sanctions designed to choke off Iranian oil sales and cripple its economy — which he now plans to enlarge.
“We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday,” tweeted Trump, who has also deployed extra troops to the Middle East.
“I anticipate the day that Sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again – The sooner the better!”
Pompeo added: “When the Iranian regime decides to forgo violence and meet our diplomacy with diplomacy, it understands how to reach us. Until then, our diplomatic isolation and economic pressure campaign against the regime will intensify.”
A minister from Britain’s Foreign Office was in Tehran on Sunday to meet top Iranian diplomats for “urgent de-escalation” of tensions, yet the Iranian party declared the talks were “repetitive.”
Minister of State for the Middle East Andrew Murrison had the “usual talking points”, stated Kamal Kharazi, the head of the Strategic Council of Foreign Relations at Iran’s foreign ministry.
With the US out of the contract, Iran has said it would reduce a few of its nuclear commitments unless the remaining partners — Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia — help it circumvent US sanctions and sell its oil. A top Iranian army official warned Washington against any strikes.