Iran lawmakers raise missile, Guard spending to challenge US

Chanting "Death to America," Iran's parliament voted unanimously Sunday to increase spending on its ballistic missile program and the foreign operations of its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, part of a sanctions bill mirroring a new U.S. law targeting the country.

While offering hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding, the lawmakers' bill offered a tactic as old as the slogan shouted since the 1979 Islamic Revolution — using America's own tactics against it.

The vote salves public anger in Iran over U.S. President Donald Trump's constant threats to renegotiate or abandon the nuclear deal struck by world powers under his predecessor. While lawmakers stressed the bill wouldn't violate that agreement, it ensures those both home and abroad know Iran will continue confronting America either in the Persian Gulf or legislatively, analysts say.

"They want to show that the pressure that the U.S. is exerting on Iran, they can respond with similar measures," said Adnan Tabatabai, an Iran analyst based in Germany who is the CEO of the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient. "It's not that important that those measures may not hurt the U.S. in the same way. ... They want to show they are not just standing still and watching this happening."

In the session Sunday, 240 lawmakers voted for the bill, with only one abstention from the 247 legislators on hand, Iran's state-run news agency IRNA reported. Parliament speaker Ali Larijani after the vote described the measure as just the first step the country could take.

The bill now heads to an oversight committee called the Guardian Council, which is expected to approve it. Abbas Araghchi, a deputy foreign minister and senior nuclear negotiator on hand for the vote, said moderate President Hassan Rouhani's government supported the bill.

"The bill has very wisely tried not to violate the (nuclear deal) and also gives no chance to the other party to manipulate it," he said in comments reported by IRNA. "This bill is an astute response to the enmity and wickedness of the United States against Iran."

Under terms of the bill, some $800 million will be put toward several projects, including the Defense Ministry and its intelligence agencies. Among the agencies receiving money would be the Revolutionary Guards' Quds force, an expeditionary force run by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who has been advising forces in Syria and Iraq.

The Guard, separate from Iran's conventional military forces, answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The bill also imposes financial sanctions, as well as a visa and travel ban, on U.S. military and security organizations and their commanders who have provided financial, intelligence, military, logistic and training support to terrorists in the region, naming the Islamic State group and the Syrian branch of al-Qaida. Lawmakers gave government authorities three months to give them names of people to put on a sanctions list, which will be updated every six months.

Iranian officials often accuse the U.S. of being involved with both extremist groups. The U.S. is actively involved in a massive military campaign against the Islamic State group and has struck the al-Qaida affiliate as well.

Perhaps more relevantly, the bill also includes banning visas for American officials involved with the Iranian exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. Prominent U.S. lawmakers and politicians have met with the group and spoken at its rallies. The MEK has paid one of Trump's Cabinet members and at least one adviser in the past for giving such speeches.

IRNA also said the bill referred to the money also being used to improve Iran's defense against a nuclear attack and develop nuclear propellers. In December, Rouhani ordered officials to draw up plans on building nuclear-powered ships, something that appears to be allowed under the nuclear deal, over an earlier dispute on U.S. sanctions under the Obama administration.

It's unclear what affect the additional money for Iran's missile program would have. In comments Sunday, Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami of the Revolutionary Guard boasted that "the rate of our missile production is so high that we are faced with the problem of space" to keep them in, state television reported.

The number of current or former U.S. officials traveling to Iran remains minuscule as well, while the number holding bank accounts or assets in the country is even smaller.

However, Trump signed a sanctions bill earlier this month that included new sanctions imposed on Iran that matched those lawmakers passed Sunday. Iran previously also has sanctioned a wide assortment of American companies when the U.S. targeted Iranian firms.

None of those new Iranian sanctions jeopardized the tens of billions of dollars in deals Iran has made with airplane manufacturers and others since the atomic accord. Rouhani himself warned Sunday in comments posted on his website that "if the U.S. intends to stand against the deal, the entire world will stand before the U.S."

"We need to really understand the importance for the Iranian government to send, internally and externally, the message they are able to respond," Tabatabai said.


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.