TEHRAN: Tehran warned Washington on Saturday that any attack would see US interests across the Middle East go up in flames after President Donald Trump said he called off a strike at the 11th hour.
The aborted military action was to have been in response to Iran’s downing of a US reconnaissance drone, which has seen tensions between the two countries soar after a series of attacks on commercial vessels the US has blamed on Iran.
“Firing one bullet towards Iran will set fire to the interests of America and its allies” in the region, armed forces general staff spokesman Brig Gen Abolfazl Shekarchi told the Tasnim news agency.
“If the enemy— especially America and its allies in the region — make the military mistake of shooting the powder keg on which America’s interests lie, the region will be set on fire,” Shekarchi warned.
Following his comments, Iran said it had executed a man convicted of spying for the US.
“The execution sentence was carried out for Jalal Haji Zavar, a contractor for the defence ministry’s aerospace organisation who spied for the CIA and the American government,” semi-official ISNA news agency reported, quoting the Iranian military.
More than a year after Trump unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 multilateral nuclear accord with Tehran, the US president said on Saturday that Iran’s prospects would improve if it renounced nuclear weapons.
“When they agree to that, they’re going to have a wealthy country. They’re going to be so happy, and I’m going to be their best friend. I hope that happens,” he told reporters outside the White House.
Iran has denied seeking a nuclear weapon and says its programme is for civilian purposes.
`Trampling’ world law
After the downing on Thursday of the Global Hawk surveillance aircraft, Trump tweeted the United States had been “cocked & loaded” to strike Iran but he had pulled back at the last minute as it would not have been a “proportionate” response.
The US president subsequently said he did not want war with Iran, but if it came to pass, there would be “obliteration like you’ve never seen before”, according to excerpts of an NBC interview conducted on Friday morning.
Tehran insists that the drone violated its airspace — something Washington denies — but it was prepared to accept on Friday that it might have done so by accident.
The aircraft could have entered Iran’s airspace over a mistake by “a general or some operators,” the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace arm, Brig Gen Amir Ali Hajizadeh told state news agency IRNA on Saturday.
“Nonetheless, this was an act of trampling international aviation laws by a spy aircraft,” he added.
The Pentagon released a map of the drone’s flight path indicating it avoided Iranian waters, but Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday published maps showing the aircraft inside its territory when it was downed.
“There can be no doubt about where the vessel was when it was brought down,” he wrote on Twitter, providing coordinates.
The foreign ministry said it had summoned the charge d’affaires of the United Arab Emirates, from where the US drone launched, to protest against its decision to “put its installations at the disposal of foreign forces for aggression” against Iran.
Britain said its Minister of State for the Middle East Andrew Murrison would travel on Sunday to Tehran for talks.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has barred American civilian aircraft from the area “until further notice,” and major non-US airlines including British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, Emirates and Etihad said they too were altering flight paths to avoid the sensitive Strait of Hormuz.
The downing of the US drone came with Iran already accused by Washington of carrying out attacks on tankers in the congested shipping lanes out of the Gulf, charges Tehran denies.
Critics say Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” towards Iran — including abandonment of the nuclear deal with world powers, economic sanctions and deployment of extra troops to the region — make war ever more likely.