Iran yesterday denied that it was hit by a US cyberattack and played down the threat of new US sanctions as Washington was expected to tighten punitive measures on Tehran in a standoff sparked by the US withdrawal from a nuclear deal.
Tensions have flared after Iranian forces shot down a US drone Thursday, the latest in a series of incidents including attacks on tankers in sensitive Gulf waters that have raised fears of an unintended slide towards conflict.
Both the US and Iran have repeatedly said they want to avoid going to war, but the spiralling tensions saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled yesterday to meet with Saudi leaders to build a “global coalition” against the Islamic republic.
Tehran says the drone violated Iranian airspace and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has backed the claim with maps and coordinates -- allegations dismissed by Washington.
US President Donald Trump claimed he called off a planned retaliatory military strike on Iran at the last minute, tweeting that Washington would instead place “major additional sanctions on Iran on Monday”.
“Are there really any sanctions left that the United States has not imposed on our country recently or in the past 40 years?” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said at a press conference in Tehran yesterday.
“We really do not know what (the new sanctions) are and what they want to target anymore, and also do not consider them to have any impact,” he added.
Trump, who has waged a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, has also said the US is prepared to negotiate with the Islamic republic with “no preconditions”.
He yesterday told other countries to protect their own Gulf oil shipments, declaring that the United States has only limited strategic interest in the “dangerous” region.
In a pair of tweets, Trump said US aims regarding Iran boil down to “No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror.”
Pompeo met Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Red Sea city of Jeddah and was later due to hold talks in the United Arab Emirates, US officials said.
Saudi and Emirati leaders both advocate a tough US approach against common foe Iran.
Pompeo described Saudi Arabia and the UAE as “two great allies in the challenge that Iran presents”.
“We’ll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition,” Pompeo said.
He said the US sought a coalition “not only throughout the Gulf states but in Asia and in Europe that understands this challenge and that is prepared to push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror”.
But yesterday Russia, one of the world powers that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran, denounced the planned new sanctions as “illegal”.
US media reports said Trump ordered a retaliatory cyberattack against Iranian missile control systems and a spy network after the drone was shot down.
Yesterday, Iranian Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said no cyberattack against his country had ever succeeded.
“The media are asking about the veracity of the alleged cyberattack against Iran. No successful attack has been carried out by them, although they are making a lot of effort,” he said on Twitter.
He acknowledged that Iran has “been facing cyber terrorism -- such as Stuxnet -- and unilateralism -- such as sanctions”, naming a virus believed to have been engineered by Israel and the US to damage nuclear facilities in Iran.
With the US out of the deal, Iran has said it would reduce some of its nuclear commitments unless the remaining partners -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- help it circumvent US sanctions and sell its oil.
Thierry Coville, an Iran expert at the French Institute of International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), also questioned whether there was room for further US action as previous sanctions have already severely hit Iranian crude exports.
“The Americans are asphyxiating Iran economically in order to force them to hold talks with them,” Coville said.
“What more can be done? They will no doubt tighten secondary sanctions... and most probably extend a list of Iranian firms banned from trade.”