President Hassan Rouhani has called on Iran's armed forces to seek regional stability while maintaining vigilance against "provocations."
The comments on April 24 came after days of rising tensions between Iran and the United States centered on threats involving the two countries’ ships in the Persian Gulf.
Rouhani was quoted by state television as telling his defense minister that the country must “carefully follow strategies ensuring the sustainable stability of the region while maintaining vigilance and authoritative presence in the area."
State television reported that Rouhani also spoke with the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Major General Hossein Salami, referring to "provocative actions by foreigners in the region and the need to maintain vigilance against these moves."
Salami said on April 23 he had ordered his forces to target U.S. Navy ships if they “jeopardize our commercial vessels,” warning that they "will answer any action by a decisive, effective, and quick counteraction.”
Early in his second term in 2017 Rouhani criticized the Revolutionary Guard for its interference in the country's politics and its extensive economic activities. However, under constant attacks by hardliners, Rouhani abandoned his criticism, showing more support for the hardliner military force.
President Donald Trump tweeted the day before that he had instructed the U.S. Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass its ships at sea.
Earlier this month, the U.S. military said 11 Revolutionary Guards naval vessels came close to U.S. ships in the Gulf, calling the moves “dangerous and provocative.” Tehran blamed the United States for the incident.
The reason for IRGC's naval moves is not clear, but the in recent months its image was tarnished among Iranians for the deaths of hundreds of protesters last November and the downing of a Ukrainian airliner after takeoff near Tehran in January.
On April 23, Iran summoned the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, who represents U.S. interests in the Middle Eastern country, to complain about Trump's threat.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that the Swiss envoy was given a message to pass on to Washington that Iran will strongly defend its maritime rights in the Gulf and respond to any threats, according to the IRIB news agency.
Antagonism between Iran and the United States has sharpened since 2018, when Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed crippling sanctions.
In January top IRCG commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, and Iran retaliated by firing missiles at bases in Iraq where U.S. troops were stationed.
The IRGC further stoked tensions on April 22 with the announcement of the launch of the country's first military satellite into orbit. The announcement drew protests from Washington, London, and Paris.