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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Iranian president warns of ‘war situation’ as US reimposes sanctions

Iran ran televised air defence drills showing soldiers cheering the downing of a drone.

Hassan Rouhani (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Hassan Rouhani (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

By Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell, Associated Press

The US has reimposed all sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, grinding further down on the Islamic Republic’s already ailing economy.

President Hassan Rouhani said a “war situation” was facing Tehran as the country ran televised air defence drills showing soldiers cheering the downing of a drone, but otherwise held back from any military response over US efforts to curtail “malign activities” across the Middle East.

While previously warning it could ramp up its nuclear programme, Iran still honours the atomic accord now limiting its enrichment of uranium, according to the United Nations.

The US Treasury Department imposed penalties on more than 700 Iranian and Iranian-linked individuals, entities, aircraft and vessels in the new sanctions, including 50 banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 people and ships, Iran’s state-run airline Iran Air and more than 65 of its planes.

The new sanctions particularly hurt Iran’s vital oil industry, which provides a crucial source of hard currency. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo told journalists in Washington the sanctions has already cost Iran the sale of more than a million barrels of crude oil a day.

“Our objective is to starve the Iranian regime of the revenue it uses to fund violent and destabilising activities throughout the Middle East and, indeed, around the world,” Mr Pompeo said.

“The Iranian regime has a choice: It can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlawed course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble.”

The administration of Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise of tearing up the nuclear deal, insists it does not seek “regime change” in Iran through the sanctions.

It says it wants Tehran to radically change its policies, including support for regional militant groups and its development of long-range ballistic missiles.

Donald Trump (Evan Vucci/AP)

However, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his national security adviser John Bolton have both given speeches advocating overthrowing Iran’s theocratic government.

Analysts feared in the run-up to the sanctions that global oil prices could spike on tight supply and increasing demand. However, the Trump administration allowed some of its allies — Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey — as well as rival China to continue to purchase Iranian oil as long as they work to reduce imports to zero.

That caused prices of benchmark Brent crude to dip down from over 80 dollars a barrel in recent days. It traded up over 73 dollars a barrel on Monday after the sanctions took effect.

“We have the toughest sanctions ever imposed but on oil we want to go a little bit slower because I don’t want to drive the oil prices in the world,” Mr Trump said on Thursday.

“I could get the Iran oil down to zero immediately, but it would cause a shock to the market.”

Mr Rouhani, whose signature achievement was the nuclear deal, promised that Iran would still be able to sell its oil on the international market. Its national oil company has started selling crude oil to private companies who can sell to anonymous buyers abroad as a means to get around the sanctions.

“We are in an economic war situation. We are standing up to a bullying enemy,” he told government officials in televised remarks, invoking Iran’s ruinous 1980s war with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“Yesterday, Saddam was in front us; today Trump is front of us. There is no difference. We must resist and win.”

Iranian state television broadcast video of air defence systems and anti-aircraft batteries in two-day military manoeuvres under way across a vast stretch of the country’s north. It included surface-to-air missiles shooting down a drone.

Iran is already in the grip of an economic crisis. Its national currency, the rial, now trades at 150,000 to one US dollar. A year ago, it was about 40,500.

The economic chaos sparked mass anti-government protests at the end of last year, resulting in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and at least 25 people being killed. Sporadic demonstrations still continue.

Gholamali Khoshroo, Iran’s UN ambassador, accused the US of “brazenly and boldly” violating a UN Security Council resolution that unanimously endorsed the nuclear deal by reimposing sanctions, and he called for “a collective response by the international community”.

PA Media

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