US eyes new sanctions
Iran denied on Thursday that its Revolutionary Guards launched rockets near a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf on Saturday and condemned U.S. plans for new sanctions over its ballistic missile programme.
The dispute comes after Iran and six world powers, including the United States, reached a deal in July that will remove certain US, European Union and US sanctions on Tehran in exchange for Iran accepting curbs on its nuclear programme.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari yesterday condemned as "arbitrary and illegal" US plans for new sanctions on international companies and individuals over Iran's ballistic missile programme.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said such new penalties would nullify the nuclear accord.
In Washington, sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday the US government was preparing the sanctions, which the Wall Street Journal said would target about 12 companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates for their suspected role in developing Iran's missile programme.
A team of UN sanctions monitors said in a confidential report seen by Reuters on Dec 15 that Iran tested a rocket on Oct 10 capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, which Iran maintains was a convention missile.
On the missile fire near the US aircraft-carrier Harry S Truman, the Revolutionary Guards website claimed Iran had not had any exercises in the Strait of Hormuz during the past.
NBC News, citing unnamed US military officials, said the Guards were conducting a live-fire exercise and the US aircraft-carrier Harry S Truman came within about 1,500 yards (metres) of a rocket as it entered the Gulf with other warships.
In Washington, Commander Kyle Raines said the action was "highly provocative, unsafe and unprofessional."
Iranian and US forces have clashed in the Gulf in the past, especially during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Diplomats have held out hope that the deal over Iran's disputed nuclear programme could ease decades of mistrust and reduce tensions in the Middle East.
The West has long suspected the programme was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb, something denied by Iran, which sent a shipment of low-enriched uranium materials to Russia this month as part of the deal.
But ahead of the formal easing of international sanctions on Tehran set for the beginning of 2016, tensions have mounted.