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Iran, US trade barbs ahead of new sanctions

TEHRAN, June 23 (AFP/WNP): Iran and the United States, locked in a tense standoff after the US withdrew from a nuclear deal, traded barbs Sunday the day before the US tightens sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Both sides say they want to avoid going to war, but tensions have spiralled as a series 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 said 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 made 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 headed 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 a planned retaliatory military strike Friday, saying the response would not have been “proportionate”, as Tehran warned any attack would see Washington’s interests across the Middle East go up in flames.

On Sunday US national security 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 said in Jerusalem.

With the strike called off, Washington secretly launched cyber-attacks against Iranian missile control systems and a spy network in response to the downed drone, according to US media reports.

US media said the attack crippled computers used to control missile launchers and a spying group tracking ships in the Gulf.

Iran is yet to officially react to the claim, but Fars news agency called the move a “bluff” and said it was meant to repair the White House’s “lost reputation” following the downing of its drone.

The downing of the US drone came after a series of attacks on tankers in the congested shipping lanes of the Gulf, which Washington has blamed on Tehran.

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