US-Iran tensions flare up over ballistic missile row, sanctions threat


Months after the historic nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries, the agreement has run into a rough patch with Iran suspected of bending rules of the agreement and the US raising the heat on Tehran. Denouncing possible new US sanctions on his country which could jeopardise a hard-won nuclear deal due to be finally implemented within weeks, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has warned of the US planning to blacklist companies.

In a letter to his defence minister, Mr Rouhani said the US Treasury Department planned to blacklist companies and individuals with ties to Iran’s ballistic missile programme constituted “hostile and illegal interventions” that justified a response.

Mr Rouhani, who had said the military should intensify its development of missiles, seemed to cause ripples in Washington with reports that the White House had put the intended sanctions on hold indefinitely.

Ever since the nuclear deal was struck in July, US officials said Iran has conducted two missile tests, one of which state media reported at the time, on October 11. Iran also recently aired television footage of an underground missile base.  The actions have not gone down well with the US and a United Nations panel, which found earlier this month that the tests breached previous resolutions aimed at stopping the Islamic republic from developing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The threat of new sanctions is set to exacerbate Iran-US relations. The nuclear deal has helped lift past measures that froze Iran out of the global financial system and crippled its oil exports. 

US officials recently said an Iranian vessel had test-fired several rockets near three Western warships, including the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier.  The incident in the Strait of Hormuz on December 26 drew denials from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who are responsible for protecting Iranian interests in the strategic waterway where much of the world’s oil passes. The spokesman of Iran Revolutionary Guards, General Ramezan Sharif accused the US of fabricating the incident as part of a “psychological operation”.

The Wall Street Journal had first reported on December 30 that the US was preparing fresh sanctions against companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates over their alleged links to Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.

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