DUBAI, April 9 (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday defended the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as protectors of Iran a day after the United States labeled the group as a foreign terrorist organisation.
“The Guards have sacrificed their lives to protect our people, our (1979 Islamic) revolution … today America that holds a grudge against the Guards, blacklists the Guards,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. U.S. President Donald Trump designated Iran‘s Guards a foreign terrorist organisation on Monday — an unprecedented step that will raise tensions in the Middle East.
Tehran took retaliatory action by naming the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) as a terrorist organisation and the U.S. government as a sponsor of terror.
Rouhani called the U.S. decision a mistake and other Iranian officials have warned that it will endanger U.S. interests in the region, where Iran is involved in proxy wars from Syria to Lebanon.
“This mistake will unite Iranians and the Guards will grow more popular in Iran … America has used terrorists as a tool in the region while the Guards have fought against them from Iraq to Syria,” he said.
Relations between Tehran and Washington took a turn for the worse last May when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, and reimposed sanctions on the country.
Iran has threatened to exit the deal and to resume its suspended nuclear work if other signatories of the pact fail to protect Tehran’s interest.
“I am telling you (American leaders), if you pressure us, we will mass produce IR8 advanced centrifuges,” Rouhani said in the speech marking Iran‘s National Nuclear Day.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders have repeatedly said that U.S. bases in the Middle East and U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within range of Iranian missiles.
Tehran has also threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if the United States tries to strangle Tehran’s economy by halting its oil exports.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)