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May 13, 2019

Row with US: Situation harsher than Iraq war, says Rouhani

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May 13, 2019

TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for unity among Iran’s political factions to overcome conditions which he said may be harder than those during the 1980s war with Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on Sunday.

As Iran faces tightening US sanctions, Rouhani said that his country was under unprecedented pressure comparable to when Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Iran in 1980, which prompted eight years of intense fighting and economic problems.

"Today, it cannot be said whether conditions are better or worse than the (1980-88) war period, but during the war we did not have a problem with our banks, oil sales or imports and exports, and there were only sanctions on arms purchases," Iran's state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying.

"The pressures by enemies is a war unprecedented in the history of our Islamic revolution... but I do not despair and have great hope for the future and believe that we can move past these difficult conditions provided that we are united," Rouhani said.

Rouhani's comments came as the commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said in a parliamentary session on Sunday that the US has started a psychological war in the region, according to a parliamentary spokesperson.

"Commander Salami, with attention to the situation in the region, presented an analysis that the Americans have started a psychological war because the comings and goings of their military is a normal matter," the spokesperson for the parliamentary leadership,Behrouz Nemati, said.

Major General Hossein Salami was appointed as head of the guards last month. The US military has sent forces and military hardware to the Middle East to counter what US officials have said are "clear indications" of threats from Iran to its forces there.

Washington did not provide details on the nature of the threat from Tehran. Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards' aerospace division, said the US' military presence was an "opportunity", according to the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA).

"An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past but now ... the threats have switched to opportunities," he said, adding: "If [the Americans] make a move we will hit them in the head." On Friday, the Guards' rejected an invitation from Trump in which he urged Iran's leaders to talk with him about giving up their nuclear programme.

Trump made the offer while saying he could not rule out a military confrontation. But, Yadollah Javani, the Guards' deputy head for political affairs, said the US was "unreliable". On the same day, CNN reported that the White House had passed a telephone number to the Swiss for contacting Trump in case Iranian officials want to hold talks.

The Swiss embassy in Tehran represents US interests in the Islamic Republic. President Rouhani has personally come under pressure from hardliners in Iran after the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal his administration negotiated.

The Iranian president has also been abandoned by some of his moderate allies. Under the accord, Iran had agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for sanctions relief, a British media house reported.

US sanctions - particularly those on the energy, shipping and financial sectors - have hit oil exports and caused foreign investment to dry up. The sanctions prevent US companies from trading with Iran directly and also with any foreign firms or countries that are dealing with Iran.

The International Monetary Fund has said it expects the Iranian economy to shrink by 6% in 2019.

However, that projection preceded another move by the US to tighten sanctions: the end to exemptions enjoyed by China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey, all five of which have been buying Iranian oil.

Last month, the US also blacklisted Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps(RG), designating it as a foreign terrorist group. Iran has repeatedly threatened to retaliate to the US measures by blocking the Strait of Hormuz - through which about a fifth of all oil consumed globally pass.

The Trump administration hopes to compel Iran to negotiate a "new deal" that would cover not only its nuclear activities, but also its ballistic missile programme and what officials call its "malign behaviour" across the Middle East.

The US is sending a Patriot missile-defence system to the Middle East. A US warship, USS Arlington, with amphibious vehicles and aircraft on board, is also joining the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group in the Gulf.

US B-52 bombers have arrived at a base in Qatar. Meanwhile, Ilan Goldberg, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, urged the media to "stop overhyping possible war with Iran", saying the US "deployment is far from a massive game changer".

Goldberg, who previously worked for the Pentagon, added that the deployment was "still not close" to what the US had in the region at the peak of the campaign against the IS or Daesh.

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