■ CON­FLICT:

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Amir Vahdat and Joseph Krauss

Iran sends mixed sig­nals a day af­ter ten­sions with U.S. ap­peared to ease. Both sides seem to step back af­ter Iran launches a se­ries of mis­siles into Iraq with­out caus­ing any ca­su­al­ties in re­sponse to the U.S. killing of a top Ira­nian gen­eral.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran sent mixed sig­nals Thurs­day as ten­sions with the U.S. ap­peared to ease, with Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani warn­ing of a “very dan­ger­ous re­sponse” if the U.S. makes “an­other mis­take” and a se­nior com­man­der vow­ing “harsher re­venge” for the killing of a top Ira­nian gen­eral.

Both sides ap­peared to step back Wed­nes­day af­ter Iran launched a se­ries of bal­lis­tic mis­siles at two mil­i­tary bases hous­ing Amer­i­can troops in Iraq with­out caus­ing any ca­su­al­ties. Iran said the at­tack was re­tal­i­a­tion for the U.S. strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the ar­chi­tect of its re­gional se­cu­rity strat­egy, in Iraq ear­lier this week.

Rouhani said the mis­sile at­tack was a le­git­i­mate act of self-de­fense un­der the U.N. Charter, but he warned that “if the U.S. makes an­other mis­take, it will re­ceive a very dan­ger­ous re­sponse.”

In ad­di­tion to launch­ing the mis­sile at­tack, Iran also aban­doned its re­main­ing com­mit­ments un­der the 2015 nu­clear deal, which Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had walked away from in May 2018.

But Rouhani said Thurs­day that Iran would con­tinue to co­op­er­ate with U.N. in­spec­tors.

Se­nior Ira­nian mil­i­tary com­man­ders struck a more de­fi­ant tone.

Ab­dol­lah Araghi, a mem­ber of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard “will im­pose a harsher re­venge on the en­emy in the near fu­ture,” ac­cord­ing to the semiof­fi­cial Tasnim news agency.

Tasnim also quoted Gen. Ali Fa­davi, the act­ing com­man­der of the Guard, as say­ing the mis­sile at­tack was “just one of the man­i­fes­ta­tions of our abil­i­ties.”

“We sent dozens of mis­siles into the heart of the U.S. bases in Iraq and they couldn’t do a damned thing,“he was quoted as say­ing.

Gen. Amir Ali Ha­jizadeh, who leads the coun­try’s aerospace pro­gram, said that while Iran only fired 13 mis­siles at the two bases, “we were pre­pared to launch hun­dreds.”

He said Iran had si­mul­ta­ne­ously car­ried out a cy­ber­at­tack against U.S. mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems.

He also re­peated un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims that dozens of Amer­i­cans were killed or wounded in the strikes.

But he said the goal of the op­er­a­tion was not to kill any­one, but to “strike the en­emy’s mil­i­tary ma­chine.”

On Wed­nes­day, Trump sig­naled that he would not re­tal­i­ate mil­i­tar­ily for the strike on the bases. That raised hopes that the cur­rent stand­off, which brought the two coun­tries to the brink of an all-out war, may be wind­ing down.

The strike that killed Soleimani also killed a high­rank­ing com­man­der of the Iran­backed mili­tias in Iraq known as the Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Forces, which had also vowed to take re­venge.

But Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence said the mili­tias also ap­peared to be stand­ing down.

“We are hear­ing some in­tel­li­gence to sug­gest that Iran is send­ing a mes­sage to the mili­tias not to move for­ward,” he told Fox News, with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

With­out of­fer­ing any ev­i­dence, Trump as­serted Thurs­day that Soleimani was plot­ting to blow up a U.S. Em­bassy be­fore he was killed.

“We did it be­cause they were look­ing to blow up our em­bassy,” Trump said in re­marks to re­porters dur­ing an un­re­lated event at the White House.

It was un­clear whether Trump might have been dis­clos­ing new de­tails about what the ad­min­is­tra­tion has called an “im­mi­nent” Ira­nian plot against Amer­i­can in­ter­ests in the re­gion or whether he was re­fer­ring to the pro-Ira­nian pro­test­ers who stormed the U.S. Em­bassy in Bagh­dad last week.

Rouhani, mean­while, spoke by phone Thurs­day with Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son, urg­ing Bri­tain to de­nounce the killing of Soleimani.

As head of Iran’s elite Quds force, Soleimani had mo­bi­lized pow­er­ful mili­tias across the re­gion and was blamed for deadly at­tacks against Amer­i­cans go­ing back to the 2003 U.S.-led in­va­sion of Iraq. In Iran, he is seen by many as a na­tional hero who played a key role in de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State group and re­sist­ing Western hege­mony.

With­out Soleimani’s ef­forts lead­ing forces in Syria and Iraq against IS, “you would not have peace and se­cu­rity in London to­day,” Rouhani was quoted as say­ing by Vice Pres­i­dent Alireza Moezi, who tweeted about the call with John­son.

Down­ing Street con­firmed the call, say­ing John­son called for “an end to hos­til­i­ties.” It said the U.K. stands by the nu­clear deal and is urg­ing Iran to re­turn to full com­pli­ance.

Pence said the United States would call on its Euro­pean al­lies to aban­don the “dis­as­trous” nu­clear deal and de­mand greater con­ces­sions from Iran.

Bri­tain, France, Ger­many, China, Rus­sia and the Euro­pean Union, the other sig­na­to­ries to the agree­ment, have con­tin­ued to ad­here to it, view­ing it as the best hope of pre­vent­ing Iran from de­vel­op­ing the abil­ity to quickly build a nu­clear weapon.

The Euro­peans have sought ways to con­tinue trad­ing with Iran but have been largely un­able to cir­cum­vent the crip­pling sanc­tions im­posed by Trump.

The sanc­tions have dev­as­tated Iran’s econ­omy and have been a key fac­tor in the month­s­long es­ca­la­tion.

VAHID SALEMI/AP

Women walk past a ban­ner Thurs­day in Tehran of Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone at­tack Jan. 3.

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