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Iran is quiet, for now, in the face of fresh threats from Trump administration

Ramin Mostaghim and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

TEHRAN, Iran -- With Iran's presidential election weeks away and its beleaguered economy showing signs of improvement, the nation's ruling clerics seem uninterested in a new round of hostilities with the United States.

The Trump administration's escalating threats against the Islamic Republic have elicited muted responses from the theocracy and President Hassan Rouhani's government, signaling that the Tehran establishment may ride out the current wave of criticism from Washington.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week accused Iran of destabilizing the world, compared it to the largely isolated but aggressive North Korea, which has a nuclear arsenal, and said the Trump administration was reviewing the U.S. decision to lift economic sanctions as required under Iran's 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear program.

At the same time, the Trump administration certified that Iran was complying with the nuclear pact, allowing what he once called "the worst deal ever" to be extended.

The agreement has helped Iran resume oil sales and solicit foreign investment to jump-start its economy, which had been all but disconnected from the world under one of the toughest sanctions programs ever imposed.

At the same time, analysts say, Iranian hard-liners believe that the U.S. is unlikely to withdraw from the deal and risk a diplomatic crisis with the five other signatories -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

Abdullah Gangi, editor of the Javan daily newspaper, a mouthpiece of Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guard, dismissed Tillerson's remarks as contradictory.

"On one hand he and others in the U.S. administration confirm that Iran has abided by the terms of the nuclear agreement, and on the other hand they threaten Iran and draw parallels to North Korea," Gangi said.

"This is an absolute fallacy," he said. "The new U.S. administration tries to mask its own domestic problems and illegitimacy by accusing Iran of sponsoring terrorism or nuclear noncompliance from time to time. These are sheer lies and irrelevant."

Iran has long denied allegations that it supports an array of Shiite Muslim militant groups across the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Houthi rebels in Yemen -- all of which the U.S. opposes.

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