AFP/ PTI

Iran president says US 'leader of world terrorism'

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Tehran, Apr 9 :  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that the United States was the real "leader of world terrorism" after Washington blacklisted Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a "foreign terrorist organisation".

"Who are you to label revolutionary institutions as terrorists?" Rouhani asked in a speech broadcast live by state television.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark Iran's national nuclear technology day in Tehran, Rouhani defended the Revolutionary Guards as a force that has fought terrorism ever since its creation in 1979.

In contrast, the Islamic republic's president accused US forces of having always been directly or indirectly involved with terrorist groups or acts of terrorism.

"You want to use terrorist groups as tools against the nations of the region... you are the leader of world terrorism.

"Who is propagating and encouraging terrorism in today's world? Who wanted to use ISIS (the Islamic State group) as a tool?" Rouhani asked, saying that the US is harbouring the leaders of the jihadist organisation.

"Even now America is hiding the heads of ISIS, even now they are not prepared to tell the regional governments where the heads of ISIS are hiding." Iran swiftly retaliated against the US move on Monday by calling US troops "terrorists".

To support his accusations, Rouhani cited the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 in July 1988 by missiles fired from the US naval ship the USS Vincennes.

"You have done everything imaginable. Which force was it that shot down our civil airliner in the waters of the Persian Gulf?" he said, adding that it was aimed at intimidating Iran.

"You wanted to tell the Iranian nation that we do not have any red lines, you wanted to say that we also kill children, you wanted to say that we also kill women," Rouhani said, concluding that the US was transmitting "a message of terrorism in the whole world."

Meanwhile, the Iranian lawmakers dressed in paramilitary uniforms chanted "Death to America" as they convened Tuesday for an open session of parliament after the White House designated Iran's Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization.

President Rouhani declared that the force's popularity would only surge in the wake of the designation, saying guard members would be dearer "than any other time in the hearts of Iranian nation." Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the guard and said America's "evil designs would not harm" the force.

The move by Washington on Monday was an unprecedented declaration against a foreign government entity — one that could prompt retaliation and make it harder for Americans to work with allies in the region who have contact with members and affiliates of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.

It marks the first time the United States has designated an entire entity of another government as a terrorist organization, placing a powerful and expansive armed force with vast economic resources that answers only to Iran's supreme leader in the same category as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Iran's rival, Saudi Arabia, welcomed the U.S. decision, describing it as a "serious and practical step to combat terrorism." A Foreign Ministry official said the designation "translates Saudi Arabia's repeated demands for the international community to confront terrorism supported by Iran."

Within hours of the Trump administration's declaration, Iran's Supreme National Security Council responded by designating the U.S. Central Command, also known as CENTCOM, and all its forces as terrorist, and labeling the U.S. a "supporter of terrorism."

In Tehran on Tuesday, many of the lawmakers wore the uniform of the guard in a show of support as they convened for a parliament session marking the National Day of the Revolutionary Guard, which follows the lunar calendar. This year it coincides with the April 9 holiday known as Nuclear Day.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani denounced the U.S. decision as the "climax of stupidity and ignorance." The Supreme National Security Council's spokesman, Keivan Khosravi, said that going forward, "any unusual move by American forces in the region will be perceived as the behaviour by a terrorist group."

He did not elaborate. Iranian newspapers carried reports of the U.S. move along with bellicose commentary on their front pages.

The Guard-affiliated Javan daily said any attack on Revolutionary Guard bases and facilities will be "recognized as a right" for Iran to respond. The hard-line Kayhan newspaper said it gave Iranians "permission" to kill American military personnel.

State-owned IRAN daily went a step further, saying the U.S. move was a "designation of the entire Iranian nation" as terrorist.

The pro-reform Shargh daily described it as "the last card" of President Donald Trump against Iran. Trump last year pulled America out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and re-imposed sanctions on the country, mainly targeting Iran's vital oil sector.

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