TEHRAN: Iran's president Hassan Rouhani called on the country's armed forces on Friday to maintain vigilance against “provocative actions by foreigners in the region,” state TV reported, as a war of words with the US escalated.
The comment came after the head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday Tehran would destroy US warships if its security is threatened in the Arabian Gulf.
On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump warned Tehran over "harassment" of US vessels. Trump said he had instructed the US Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea, though said later he was not changing the military’s rules of engagement.
"We must carefully follow strategies ensuring the sustainable stability of the region while maintaining vigilance and authoritative presence in the area," state TV quoted Rouhani as telling Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami by telephone.
In a phone call to Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami, Rouhani "referred to provocative actions by foreigners in the region and the need to maintain vigilance against these moves", state television reported.
Earlier this month, the US military said 11 Revolutionary Guards naval vessels came close to US Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Gulf, calling the moves “dangerous and provocative”.
Tehran blamed its longtime adversary for the incident. On Thursday, Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who represents US interests in the country, over the recent tensions between Tehran and Washington.
Antagonism between Iran and the United States has sharpened since 2018, when Trump withdrew from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed crippling sanctions.
Animosities spiked in early January when top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad. Iran retaliated on Jan. 9 by firing missiles at bases in Iraq where US troops were stationed.
Stoking tension over Tehran's nuclear and missile programmes, Iran's Guards said on Wednesday they had successfully launched the country's first military satellite into orbit. The announcement drew protests from Washington, London and Paris.