The US defence secretary James Mattis on Saturday called Iran the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world after the White House announced new sanctions linked to Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.
Iran responded to the sanctions by ramping up its rhetoric of defiance and carrying out missile defence exercises on Saturday.
The Iranian foreign ministry said Tehran would impose its own “legal limitations” on Americans that it said supported terrorists in the region.
The administration of new US president Donald Trump was expected to take a harder line on Iran than Barack Obama, who sought to engage rather than contain the US adversary, but there has been a sharp escalation of rhetoric after a ballistic missile test and an attack by Iran-backed Yemeni rebels on a Saudi frigate last week.
“As far as Iran goes, this is the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” Mattis said in Tokyo.
Mattis said the US has no plans to send more troops to the Middle East in response to Iranian missile tests.
“It does no good to ignore it. It does no good to dismiss it and at the same time I don’t see any need to increase the number of forces we have in the Middle East at this time,” he said. “We always have the capability to do so but right now I don’t think it’s necessary.”