DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Friday Tehran would not negotiate with the United States and a senior cleric warned that a U.S. Navy fleet could be “destroyed with one missile”, as a U.S aircraft carrier headed toward the Gulf.
The comments by hardliners appeared partly aimed at discouraging President Hassan Rouhani and his moderate allies in Tehran from taking up an offer of talks from Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran’s leaders to sit down and talk with him about giving up their nuclear program, and said he could not rule out a military confrontation, given the heightened tensions.
The carrier Abraham Lincoln, deployed as a warning to Iran, passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal on Thursday.
American B-52 bombers have also arrived at a U.S. base in Qatar, U.S. Central Command said.
Iran has dismissed both moves as “psychological warfare” designed to intimidate it.
The semi-official ISNA news agency quoted hardliner Ayatollah Tabatabai-Nejad in the city of Isfahan as saying: “Their billion(-dollar) fleet can be destroyed with one missile.
“If they attempt any move, they will … (face) dozens of missiles because at that time (government) officials won’t be in charge to act cautiously, but instead things will be in the hands of our beloved leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei),” he said.
Tabatabai-Nejad represents Supreme Leader Khamenei, widely seen to be closer to hardliners than to Rouhani, in Isfahan.
Separately, Yadollah Javani, the elite Revolutionary Guards’ deputy head for political affairs, said: “No talks will be held with the Americans, and the Americans will not dare take military action against us.”
“Our nation … sees America as unreliable,” he said, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
“SANCTIONS HAVE NO EFFECT!”
Thousands of Iranians took part in state-sponsored marches on Friday to show support for the government’s decision to scale back curbs on its nuclear program agreed under a 2015 deal with world powers. Iran has threatened to go further if other signatories fail to shield it from U.S. economic sanctions.
State TV showed protesters marching after Friday prayers in Tehran and said similar marches had been held across Iran.
“America should know, sanctions have no effect!” chanted the protesters.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told Richard Moore, a visiting British Foreign Office official, that “Europe should not underestimate Iran’s determination to scale back its commitments (under the 2015 deal) phase-by-phase”, according to the state news agency IRNA.
Trump, who last year pulled Washington out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, has expressed a willingness to meet Iranian leaders in the past, and renewed it on Thursday.
Asked about Trump’s comments, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said Tehran had been talking with the six powers, including the United States, within the framework of the nuclear deal.
“All of a sudden he (Trump) decided to leave the negotiating table … What is the guarantee that he will not renege again?”, Takht Ravanchi said in a U.S. television interview.
He dismissed U.S. allegations of an Iranian threat as “fake intelligence”.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the pieces of intelligence that were causing concern included information that Iran had installed missiles on boats. One of the officials said the particular missile observed was perhaps capable of being launched from a small ship.
The media officer at Al Udaid air base, near Doha, Qatar, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the arrival of the B-52 bombers.
U.S. Central Command is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey)