Dubai (Reuters) – Iran condemned Donald Trump on Sunday as a “terrorist in a suit” after the U.S. president threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites hard if Tehran attacks Americans or U.S. assets in retaliation for the killing of military commander Qassem Soleimani.
As the two countries assailed each other in a war of words, the European Union, Britain and Oman urged both to make efforts to defuse the crisis.
Soleimani, Iran’s pre-eminent military commander, was killed on Friday in a U.S. drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport, an attack that took long-running hostilities between Washington and Tehran into uncharted territory and raised the spectre of wider conflict in the Middle East.
Heightened fears of war drove Gulf stocks sharply lower on Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of mourners, many chanting, beating their chests and wailing in grief, turned out across Iran to show their respects after Soleimani’s body was returned home.
“Like ISIS, Like Hitler, Like Genghis! They all hate cultures. Trump is a terrorist in a suit. He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat ‘the Great Iranian Nation & Culture’,” Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi tweeted.
Soleimani was the architect of Tehran’s clandestine and military operations abroad as head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised on Friday that Iran would seek harsh revenge for his death.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that if there were further Iranian attacks on U.S. targets, Washington would respond with lawful strikes against decision-makers orchestrating such attacks.
“The intelligence assessment made clear that no action – allowing Soleimani to continue his plotting and his planning, his terror campaign – created more risk than taking the action that we took last week,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week” show.
Democratic critics of the Republican president have said the strike that Trump authorised was reckless and risked more bloodshed in a dangerous region.
Trump tweeted on Saturday that Iran “is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets”.
He said the United States has “targeted 52 Iranian sites”, some “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD”.
The 52 targets represented the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran after being seized at the U.S. Embassy in 1979 during the country’s Islamic Revolution, Trump said.