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New Iran threat to ‘set region on fire’

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani (right) during the trilateral meeting of the heads of states, guarantors of the Astana process for facilitating the Syrian peace settlement on Feb. 14, 2019. (Kremlin/Released)

Iran threatened on Saturday to set the Middle East on fire — while US President Donald Trump offered talks to boost the country’s struggling economy and “make Iran great again.”

The conflicting messages came amid escalating tension after Iran shot down a US drone over the Strait of Hormuz, and the US came within minutes of launching a retaliatory strike before Trump canceled it because too many Iranians would have been killed.

Iran warned of a “crushing” response to any attack. “If the enemy, especially America and its allies, make the military mistake of shooting the powder keg on which America’s interests lie, the region will be set on fire,” said armed forces spokesman Abolfazl Shekarchi. “Firing one bullet toward Iran will set fire to the interests of America and its allies.”

Meanwhile Trump said he could be Iran’s “best friend” if it renounced nuclear weapons. “When they agree to that, they’re going to have a wealthy country,” he said. “They’re going to be so happy, and I hope that happens. Let’s make Iran great again.”

Trump said he called off a military strike on Iran at the last minute because it would have been a disproportionate response to the downing of the US drone. “Everyone was saying I’m a warmonger, and now they say I’m a dove,” he said. “I think I am neither, if you want to know the truth. I’m a man with common sense, and that’s what we need.

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“If the leadership of Iran behaves badly, then it’s going to be a very bad day for them. But hopefully they’re smart and they really care for their people and not themselves, and we can get Iran back on to an economic track that’s fantastic, where they’re a really wealthy nation, which would be a wonderful thing.”

Despite the conciliatory words, Trump said military action was “always on the table,” along with sanctions.

“We are putting additional sanctions on Iran,” he said. “In some cases we are going slowly, but in other cases we are moving rapidly.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned a UAE envoy to protest over the launch of the US drone from Emirati territory. The US banned its airlines from flying in Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman, and other international airlines followed suit.

Britain said Foreign Office minister Andrew Murrison would raise “Iran’s regional conduct and its threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal” during a visit to Tehran on Sunday.

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© 2019 the Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

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