Iran says sanctions on Khamenei ‘outrageous’, Russia appeals to US for restraint towards Tehran

The rising tensions between the two foes escalated last year after Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 accord between Iran and world powers that curbed Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday said that the latest US sanctions against top Iranian officials indicated that Washington is ‘lying’ about the negotiation offer.

This comes after US President Donald Trump said Saturday that he would be Iran’s "best friend" if it renounced nuclear weapons. He was also quoted as saying, "Let’s make Iran great again."

Earlier, US National Security Advisor John Bolton said Washington had "held the door open to real negotiations" but that "in response, Iran’s silence has been deafening". He, later, added that Iran should not mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness."

Reacting to this, Rouhani said in a meeting with ministers broadcast live on TV, "At the same time as you call for negotiations, you seek to sanction the foreign minister? It’s obvious that you’re lying."

The rising tensions between the two foes escalated last year after Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 accord between Iran and world powers that curbed Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.

Tensions between US and Iran further spiked after an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down a US Global Hawk surveillance drone. Tehran maintained that the drone was shot down over its territory, whereas Washington claimed that it happened in international airspace.

After the downing of US drone, Trump had said that he aborted a military strike on Iran to avoid a disproportionate loss of life in response to Tehran s downing of the drone indicating that he was open to talks. He added that the military had been cocked and loaded for a strike against Iran, but called it off with 10 minutes to spare when a general told him that 150 people would probably die in the attack.

The US has since been mounting pressure on the Islamic Republic.

Pentagon announced that the US was sending about 1,000 troops to the Middle East to strengthen security in the region in face of what they called was a growing threat from Iran.

Russia told the United States on Tuesday to drop what it called provocative plans to deploy more troops to the Middle East and to cease actions that looked like a conscious attempt to provoke a war with Iran.

Countering to US pressure, Iran said it will respond firmly to any US threat against it. We will not allow any violation against Iran s borders. Iran will firmly confront any aggression or threat by America, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by news agency Reuters.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran will never pursue a nuclear weapon. Zarif pointed to the past use of nuclear weapons by the United States and to recent comments by US President Donald Trump that he had called off a military strike on Iran because it would have killed 150 people. "You were really worried about 150 people? How many people have you killed with a nuclear weapon? How many generations have you wiped out with these weapons?" Zarif said.

Iranian officials had earlier said that Iran will surpass the uranium-stockpile limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal in ten days, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Earlier this month, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman which further raised regional tensions. The attack came a month after a similar incident involving four tankers. The United States had accused Iran or its proxies of carrying out the attack on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates coast.

Post the tanker attack, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK was taking the matter extremely seriously and that if Iran was involved, it is a deeply unwise escalation which poses a real danger to the prospects of peace and stability in the region.

Amid all this, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tehran carrying a message for Iran from Trump. Abe, whose country was a big importer of Iranian oil until Trump ratcheted up sanctions, urged all sides not to let tensions increase.

Following attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, China had warned the US against opening a pandora s box asked not to use extreme pressure to resolve issues with Iran.

Tensions had increased further since Trump acted at the beginning of May to force Iran s oil customers to slash their imports to zero or face draconian US financial sanctions. Iran s oil exports have dropped to around 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May from 2.5 million bpd in April last year.