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Iran: US supports 'dictators, butchers and extremists' in the Middle East

Iran's foreign minister hits back in response to Trump's criticism of Tehran in his State of the Union speech
'US hostility has led it to support dictators, butchers and extremists, who've only brought ruin to our region,' said Zarif (AFP)

The United States supports "dictators, butchers and extremists" in the Middle East, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said in response to US President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech.

"US hostility has led it to support dictators, butchers & extremists, who've only brought ruin to our region," Zarif wrote in a Twitter post on Wednesday.

Trump called Iran "the world's leading state sponsor of terror" during his speech and said his administration had acted decisively to confront it, according to a video of the speech posted on the official White House website.

"It is a radical regime. They do bad, bad things," Trump said. "We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants 'death to America' and threatens genocide against the Jewish people."

Zarif responded by saying that Iran, including its Jewish community, was commemorating progress as it prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Monday.

'Hostile rhetoric'

Tensions between Iran and the US have escalated since Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal last May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

Top Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, have said that the Islamic Republic is facing its toughest economic situation in 40 years, at least partially due to the US sanctions.

'Trump is more likely than not to mishandle it and thus further destabilise the Middle East'

- Ali Vaez, Crisis Group

In a statement following Trump's State of the Union speech, Ali Vaez, Crisis Group's Iran Project Director, said: "The concern was never that the Trump administration would avert its eyes from Iran, but rather that it is inflicted by an unhealthy obsession with it. 

"In hyping the threat emanating from Iran, Trump is more likely than not to mishandle it and thus further destabilise the Middle East.

"Tough words and hostile rhetoric can't hide the fact that the administration's Iran policy is failing: there is no sign of Iran altering its regional policies or agreeing to renegotiations, as the US' close allies in Europe help Tehran to survive US sanctions."

'Intellectual bankruptcy'

Last week, Trump called US intelligence chiefs "extremely passive and naive" regarding Iran, a day after they contradicted his views during congressional testimony.

During a hearing on global threats on 29 January, the leaders of several US intelligence agencies told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran was not taking steps towards making a nuclear bomb, a conclusion that contrasts starkly with Trump's assessment.

Trump slams US intelligence chiefs as 'passive and naive' on Iran
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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, as well as the directors of the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies, spoke before the committee.

The following day, Trump responded on Twitter, saying: "The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!"

"Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!" he added.

Former CIA Director John Brennan retweeted the president’s remarks, calling Trump's refusal to accept the intelligence assessments a sign of "intellectual bankruptcy".