Iran world’s ‘biggest state sponsor of terrorism,’ Mattis says

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US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Iran was “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” making his first comments on the country a day after the Trump administration imposed fresh sanctions over a ballistic missile test.

Iran and the United States have been in a tit-for-tat exchange since US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 27 to temporarily ban nationals of seven Muslim-majority nations, including Iran, from entering the United States.

Iran fired a ballistic missile two days after the announcement and vowed to implement reciprocal measures to the ban.

Mattis said that Iran’s “misconduct and misbehavior,” would have to be addressed.

“We have a responsibility with the rest of the nations to be absolutely clear with Iran in this regard. It does no good to ignore it. It does no good to dismiss it,” Mattis said in Tokyo, where he met with his Japanese counterpart to discuss several security issues.

But he said that the recent tensions with Iran did not warrant an increase in the number of US forces in the Middle East.

“We always have the capability to do so, but at this time I don’t think it’s necessary.”

The US administration’s Treasury Department on Friday said it was applying sanctions on 25 individuals and companies connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program and those providing support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force. That included three separate networks linked to supporting the missile program, which the US opposes.

Trump on Friday posted a message on Twitter, saying Iran was “playing with fire” and that he would not be as “kind” to Tehran as President Barack Obama was.

Iran promises US ‘restrictions’

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Friday it too would ensure “legal restrictions” were imposed on the “American individuals and companies which have a role in aiding extremist and terrorist groups or contribute to the suppression and murder of the defenseless people in the region,” state-run Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

The two countries have exchanged explosive language, with the Trump administration putting the country “on notice” before applying the sanctions, with Tehran criticizing Trump’s “baseless ranting.”

Iran’s air force was on Saturday conducting military drills, including missile systems, radar, and electronic warfare command and control exercises in the northern Semnan province, the semi-official Fars-news agency reported.

These drills are aimed at “showing strength, intelligence and readiness for all-round defense against any threat” and are being done “in contempt of sanctions and threats,” the report said.

Nuclear deal’s future

The sudden escalations of US-Iranian tensions have raised concerns about the future of the nuclear accord with Iran, which put stringent limits on the country’s nuclear program. It allowed sanctions to be eased and business with Iran to recommence.

Trump has been a longtime critic of the accord, which was brokered after two years of talks with the five members of the Security Council and Germany in 2015.

Nasser Hadian, a professor of international relations at Tehran University, told CNN on Thursday that it was unlikely the Trump administration would tear up the agreement, but it was possible it would impose fresh sanctions on the country.

Abandoning the accord “would serve hard-line interests in Iran,” he said.

CNN’s Shirzad Bozorgmehr reported from Tehran, Sara Mazloumsaki and Jennifer Deaton reported from Atlanta and Angela Dewan reported from London.