The president says he will hold Iran responsible if any Americans are killed as the USS Georgia passes through the Strait of Hormuz; Lucas Tomlinson reports. TEHRAN, Iran – The top commander of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said Friday that his country was fully prepared to respond to any U.S. military pressure as tensions between Tehran and Washington remain high in the waning days of President Donald Trump's administration. Gen. Hossein Salami spoke at a ceremony at Tehran University commemorating the upcoming one-year anniversary of the U.S. drone strike in Baghdad that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who headed the expeditionary Quds force, on Jan. 3, 2020. At the time, Iran retaliated by launching a ballistic missile strike on a military base in Iraq that caused brain concussion injuries to about 100 U.S. troops. Washington and Tehran came dangerously close to war as the crisis escalated.
Two American B-52 bombers flew another show-of-force mission in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, a week after President Trump warned Iran that he would hold it accountable "if one American is killed" in rocket attacks in Iraq that the administration and military officials blamed on Tehran. The warplanes' 36-hour round-trip mission from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota was the third time in six weeks that Air Force bombers had conducted long-range flights about 60 miles off the Iranian coast, moves that military officials said were intended to deter Iran from attacking American troops in the region. The United States periodically conducts such quick demonstration missions to the Middle East and Asia to showcase American air power to allies and adversaries. But tensions have been rising in advance of the Jan. 3 anniversary of the American drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Iraqi leader of an Iranian-backed militia -- deaths that Iranian leaders repeatedly insist they have not yet avenged.
Iran's supreme leader and the country's president both warned America on Wednesday that the departure of President Donald Trump does not immediately mean better relations between the two nations. The remarks come as Iran approaches the first anniversary of the U.S. drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, an attack that nearly plunged Washington and Tehran into an open war after months of tensions. In recent weeks, a scientist who founded Iran's military nuclear program two decades ago was gunned down in an attack in a rural area outside of Tehran that The Associated Press accessed for the first time Wednesday. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke in Tehran at the Imam Khomeini Hosseinieh, or congregation hall, where he attended a meeting with Soleimani's family and top military leaders. They all sat some 16 feet away from the 81-year-old Khamenei, who wore a face mask due to the coronavirus pandemic still raging in Iran.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's supreme leader on Saturday demanded the "definitive punishment" of those behind the killing of a scientist who led Tehran's disbanded military nuclear program, as the Islamic Republic blamed Israel for a slaying that has raised fears of reignited tensions across the Middle East. After years of being in the shadows, the image of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh suddenly was to be seen everywhere in Iranian media, as his widow spoke on state television and officials publicly demanded revenge on Israel for the scientist's slaying. Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian scientists a decade ago amid earlier tensions over Tehran's nuclear program, has yet to comment on Fakhrizadeh's killing Friday. However, the attack bore the hallmarks of a carefully planned, military-style ambush, the likes of which Israel has been accused of conducting before. The attack has renewed fears of Iran striking back against the U.S., Israel's closest ally in the region, as it did earlier this year when a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general.
The E.U. supports the Iranian nuclear deal as the Trump administration announces new sanctions. Iran's Revolutionary Guard on Saturday threatened to avenge the killing of its top general, saying it would go after everyone responsible for the January U.S. drone strike in Iraq. The guard's website quoted Gen. Hossein Salami as saying, "Mr. Our revenge for martyrdom of our great general is obvious, serious and real." FILE: Chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami speaks at a pro-government rally, in Tehran, Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seized on a U.N. report confirming Iranian weapons were used to attack Saudi Arabia in September and were part of an arms shipment seized months ago off Yemen's coast; State Department correspondent Rich Edson reports. A fire and an explosion struck a centrifuge production plant above Iran's underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility early Thursday, analysts said, one of the most-tightly guarded sites in all of the Islamic Republic after earlier acts of sabotage there. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to downplay the fire, calling it an "incident" that only affected an under-construction "industrial shed," spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. However, both Kamalvandi and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed after the fire to Natanz, a facility earlier targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus and built underground to withstand enemy airstrikes. The fire threatened to rekindle wider tensions across the Middle East, similar to the escalation in January after a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad and Tehran launched a retaliatory ballistic missile attack targeting American forces in Iraq. While offering no cause for Thursday's blaze, Iran's state-run IRNA news agency published a commentary addressing the possibility of sabotage by enemy nations such as Israel and the U.S. following other recent explosions in the country.
KYIV – A leaked recording of an exchange between an Iranian air-traffic controller and an Iranian pilot purports to show that authorities immediately knew a missile had downed a Ukrainian jetliner after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, despite days of denials by the Islamic Republic. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy acknowledged the recording's authenticity in a report aired by a Ukrainian television channel Sunday night. In Tehran on Monday, the head of the Iranian investigation team, Hassan Rezaeifar, acknowledged the recording was legitimate and said it was handed over to Ukrainian officials. After the Jan. 8 disaster, Iran's civilian government maintained for days that it didn't know the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had shot down the aircraft. The downing of the jetliner came just hours after the Guard launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for an earlier American drone strike that killed the Guard's top general, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad.
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Iran is not ruling out negotiations with the United States even after an American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, the country's foreign minister said in an interview released Saturday. Mohammed Javad Zarif told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that he would "never rule out the possibility that people will change their approach and recognize the realities," in an interview conducted Friday in Tehran. There has been growing tension between Washington and Tehran since in 2018, when President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran. The U.S. has since reimposed tough sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy. But Zarif suggested Iran was still willing to talk, though reiterated his country's previous demand that first the U.S. would have to lift sanctions.
WASHINGTON – With presidential tweets in Persian and stern warnings to the regime, Donald Trump's administration is rallying behind the latest protests in Iran -- and renewing suspicions that his real goal is regime change. Just a week ago, massive crowds took to the streets in Iran to mourn powerful Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad, and Tehran fired retaliatory missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq without inflicting casualties. Trump's response was, briefly, unusually conciliatory -- seeking a de-escalation with Iran and noting that they shared common interests, including fighting the Islamic State group. But all has changed since Saturday, when Iran admitted that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing 176 people, setting off a new round of protests by Iranians furious at the deaths and the regime's initial denial. The tragedy has "turned the tide against the Iranian leadership again," said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, which promotes conflict resolution.
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – A flurry of diplomatic visits and meetings crisscrossing the Persian Gulf have driven urgent efforts in recent days to defuse the possibility of all-out war after the U.S. killed Iran's top military commander. Global leaders and top diplomats are repeating the mantra of "de-escalation" and "dialog," yet none has publicly laid out a path to achieving either. The United States and Iran have said they do not want war, but fears have grown that the crisis could spin out of Tehran's or Washington's control. Tensions have careened from one crisis to another since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers. The U.S. drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad on Jan. 3 was seen as a major provocation.