TEHRAN - Iran’s president has warned that it could restart its nuclear programme “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions.

In a speech to parliament, he also hit out at US counterpart Donald Trump saying that he had shown the world that Washington was “not a good partner”.

Rouhani’s comments come with the nuclear deal under mounting pressure after Tehran carried out missile tests and strikes, and Washington imposed new sanctions - with each accusing the other of violating the spirit of the agreement.

Rouhani warned that Iran was ready to walk out of the deal, which saw the lifting of most international sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme , if Washington persisted.

“Those who try to return to the language of threats and sanctions are prisoners of their past delusions,” he said in the televised address.

“If they want to go back to that experience, definitely in a short time - not weeks or months, but in the scale of hours and days - we will return to our previous situation very much stronger.”

He said Iran did prefer to stick with the nuclear deal, which he called “a model of victory for peace and diplomacy over war and unilateralism” but that this was not the “only option”. Rouhani said Trump had shown he was an unreliable partner not just for Iran but for US allies.

“In recent months, the world has witnessed that the US, in addition to its constant and repetitive breaking of its promises in the JCPOA (nuclear deal), has ignored several other global agreements and shown its allies that the US is neither a good partner nor a reliable negotiating party,” he said. He highlighted Trump’s decisions to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and international trade deals.

Iran’s parliament on Sunday approved more than half a billion dollars in funding for the country’s missile programme and foreign operations of the elite Revolutionary Guards in response to the new US sanctions.

Rouhani also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday night, vowing to build on their joint military efforts across the region.

“Tehran welcomes the active presence of Russia’s investors... in major infrastructure projects including in the fields of industry and energy,” his office said.

Rouhani was addressing lawmakers as deliberations start over his new ministerial line-up, which must be approved by lawmakers in the coming days.

The president started his second term a fortnight ago under fire from reformists over his elderly and all-male cabinet. “I wanted to nominate three women ministers but it did not happen,” he said, without explaining why.

“All ministers must use women in high-ranking positions... and especially female advisers and deputies,” he added. Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric, won a resounding re-election victory in May in large part due to the backing of reformists who supported his message of greater civil liberties and equality.

Many felt let down by the lack of women ministers, saying he had bowed to pressure from the conservative religious establishment, although he did appoint two female vice presidents and a senior aide - positions which do not require parliamentary approval.

He defended his cabinet selections on Tuesday, and pointed to his pick for telecoms minister, 35-year-old Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, as “our first experience in choosing from the youth, someone who has grown up after the revolution”.

Rouhani promised a more targeted approach to social welfare and job creation, responding to attacks during the campaign that his neoliberal agenda was mostly benefiting the rich.

He promised to eradicate absolute poverty and improve the conditions of the poorest “by five times” by the end of his term in 2021.

“The government is determined to carry out structural reforms. It sees the all-out fight against corruption as an absolute prerequisite for progress and social justice,” he said.

He also detailed a range of economic challenges, particularly the need to clean up the banking system, which is riven with toxic debt, and reform taxation to end the country’s reliance on unstable oil revenues. He courted controversy in his first term by demanding that powerful economic groups linked to religious and military institutions must be brought into the tax system.

“Reducing tax exemptions along with expanded tax coverage can boost justice,” he said.

He promised a new rating system for banks and an increase in their capital requirements “to reach global standards”.

 

Iran rejects US claims of unsafe drone flight in Gulf

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Tuesday rejected claims that one of its drones had flown close to an American aircraft without its lights on, blaming poor US identification systems.

It was the latest in a spate of close encounters between US and Iranian aircraft or warships in the waters of the Gulf in recent weeks that have sparked recriminations as relations sour.

“The Guards’ drone patrols... will continue in the Persian Gulf with precision, constantly and in the framework of protecting the borders of the Islamic republic of Iran and regardless of the psychological atmosphere created by alien forces,” the Guards drone unit said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency.

It added that the US claims of “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct were perhaps the result of “a weakness in their identification and recognition systems”.

The US Navy said on Monday that an Iranian QOM-1 drone had flown within 300 metres (1,000 feet) of an aircraft based on the carrier USS Nimitz operating in international waters in the Gulf the previous night.

“Despite repeated radio calls to establish communications and remain clear, the QOM-1’s controlling station was unresponsive and the (drone) did not use any aircraft navigation lights while it made several passes in close proximity to Nimitz and its escort ships during active flight operations, coming within 1,000 feet of US aircraft,” Navy spokesman Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey said.

The incident followed an August 8 encounter between an Iranian drone and an F/A-18E Super Hornet.

Washington said the US jet was forced to manoeuvre to avoid a collision, with the drone passing just 30 metres (100 feet) away at its closest point.

On July 28, the USS Nimitz was involved in an incident with Guards naval vessels that culminated in it scrambling a helicopter to fire warning flares.

On July 26, a US Navy patrol ship fired warning shorts at a Guards vessel after the two came within (137 metres) (150 yards) of each other in disputed circumstances.