DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday to develop more advanced and modern weapons, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, amid rising regional tensions.
“The Guards should have advanced and modern weapons … Your weapons should be modern and updated. It should be developed at home. You need to develop and produce your weapons,” Khamenei said in a speech at Imam Hussein Military University in Tehran.
Tensions in the Gulf have spiked since the United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany publicly blamed Iran for Sept. 14 attacks on the world’s biggest crude oil-processing facility in Saudi Arabia.
“Today the Guards have a powerful presence inside and outside Iran…America’s hostile approach has increased the Guards’ greatness,” Khamenei said.
Iran has denied involvement in the Saudi attacks, which were claimed by Iran-aligned Houthi forces in Yemen.
The United States plans to deploy about 3,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, including fighter squadrons, an air expeditionary wing and air defense personnel, amid heightened tensions with the Saudis’ arch-rival Iran.
An already-tense relationship between Iran and the United States has worsened over the past year since President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers, saying it did not go far enough, and reimposed sanctions on Iran as part of a “maximum pressure” policy.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Tehran on Sunday said Islamabad will continue its efforts to defuse Iranian-Saudi tensions. The two adversaries are locked in several proxy wars in the Middle East.
Khan’s visit, during which he will meet Khamenei, unfolded weeks after Khan said Trump had asked him for help in reducing tensions with Iran.
After meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Khan said he will travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
“Pakistan does not want conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia … I am happy to facilitate talks between Tehran and Riyadh … I am very hopeful as I had constructive talks with the (Iranian) president,” Khan told a joint news conference with Rouhani, broadcast live on state TV.
Ahead of Khan’s visit, Iran’s foreign ministry said Tehran was prepared to hold talks with Saudi Arabia with or without the help of a mediator.
“Any effort based on goodwill is welcomed … during the meeting, we agreed that the regional issues can be resolved through diplomacy and through dialogue between countries,” Rouhani said.
In response to Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has gradually reduced its commitments under the nuclear pact and plans further breaches if European parties fail to keep their promises to shield Iran’s economy from US penalties.
By Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Raissa Kasolowsky
Image: FILE PHOTO: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gives a speech to a group of scholars and seminary students of religious sciences in Tehran, Iran September 17, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS