TEHERAN • Iran's President has denounced the United States for suggesting the possibility of new sanctions over Iranian missiles, and ordered his Defence Ministry to respond by swiftly building more.
Hours after circulating a draft of proposed sanctions on Wednesday, however, the White House did not provide a timetable or even say that they would be implemented.
Still, the action by President Hassan Rouhani came against a backdrop of increased frictions between the US and Iran. Those frictions appear to have doused any hopes of reconciliation in the near future despite the international agreement restricting Iran's nuclear activities reached last year, which required close collaboration by diplomats from the two countries.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency said Mr Rouhani, responding to the US government's "illegal intervention in Teheran's right to boost its defensive power", had instructed the Defence Minister, Brigadier-General Hossein Dehghan, to "quickly and firmly continue with plans to produce different missiles needed by the country's armed forces".
The news agency also quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari as warning the US against what he called actions that are "unilateral, arbitrary and illegal".
Speaking later on state television's nightly news programme, Brig-Gen Dehghan said he intended to make Iran's missiles more powerful.
"Given the current circumstances in the region and the world, we believe peace and security can only be achieved through strength," he said. "Therefore, we are going to expand our missiles in terms of range and accuracy."
The response was notable in part because it appeared to reflect internal political pressure on Mr Rouhani to show some defiance in the face of what are seen among Iran's hardline conservatives as American threats. Mr Rouhani, who had pushed for the nuclear agreement, has been widely perceived as wanting improved relations with the US, a position that has angered some domestic adversaries.
Mr Rouhani has been less confrontational compared with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who endorsed the nuclear accord, but warned that the US could never be trusted and that new sanctions would be regarded as a violation.
Whether the missile dispute will have an adverse effect on the nuclear deal remains unclear. Under the agreement, many economic sanctions on Iran will be relaxed in exchange for Iran's verifiable guarantees of peaceful nuclear work. A major step was taken by Iran when it relinquished a stockpile of enriched uranium to Russia.
Mr Rouhani's action yesterday came a day after US administration officials sent to Congress a list of potential new sanctions against Iran over recent missile tests, which appeared to have violated a United Nations Security Council prohibition. Although no sanctions seemed imminent, the White House said yesterday they remained an option.
The US also has accused Iran's Revolutionary Guards of recklessly and provocatively firing rockets earlier this week in the vicinity of US warships in the heavily used Strait of Hormuz, a vital international waterway bordering southern Iran that connects with the Persian Gulf. Revolutionary Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif was quoted by Iranian news media yesterday as denying the accusations.
A new US anti-terrorism measure President Barack Obama signed into law on Dec 18 restricts visa-free travel for anyone who has visited Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan within the past five years. Iran has strongly objected to the measure.
Analysts said the recent flare-up would not necessarily disrupt the nuclear deal. But some expressed concern that other issues which would benefit from collaboration between the two countries - fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria extremist group, for example - could now become more troublesome to resolve.
NEW YORK TIMES