Iran is considering turning to Russia and China following Donald Trump’s decision to appoint “super hawks” John Bolton and Mike Pompeo as his national security adviser and secretary of state.
A senior Iranian politician said the Islamic Republic should strengthen its ties with the two global powers because of the harder line expected from the US administration.
Both Mr Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations and Fox News contributor, and CIA Director Mr Pompeo have criticised the nuclear deal with Iran and are viewed as pro-Israel. Mr Bolton has supported taking military action.
“Americans are pushing for harder policies towards the Islamic Republic of Iran and we need to strengthen our view towards the East, especially China and Russia,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.
Iran also condemned the “provocative” decision by the US to charge nine of its citizens with hacking into government agencies.
The suspects are accused of stealing sensitive information from hundreds of universities and private companies, the US Department of Labour, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and even the United Nations.
More than 31 terabytes of data was stolen during the “coordinated campaign of cyber intrusions” by staff at the Mabna Institute, an Iran-based company working on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to the US Department of Justice.
“Today, in one of the largest state-sponsored hacking campaigns ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice, we have unmasked criminals who normally hide behind the ones and zeros of computer code,” said US Attorney Geoffrey Berman on Friday.
“The hackers targeted innovations and intellectual property from our country’s greatest minds. These defendants are now fugitives from American justice, no longer free to travel outside Iran without risk of arrest. The only way they will see the outside world is through their computer screens, but stripped of their greatest asset – anonymity.”
Although a trial is unlikely because there is no extradition treaty with Iran, the grand jury indictment is part of the US government’s strategy to publicly identify foreign hackers and block them from travelling.
The US Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on the suspects and the Mabna Institute.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said the move was “provocative, illegitimate, and without any justifiable reason and another sign of the hostility of the [US] ruling circles towards the Iranian nation”.
“America will certainly fail in preventing the scientific development of the Iranian people through sanctions,” he added.
Iran was branded “the greatest challenge in the Middle East” by the US President when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month.
Concerns about Iranian influence in the area are also said to lie behind the decision of Saudi Arabia – which is also hostile to Iran – to open its airspace to a commercial flight to Israel for the first time on Wednesday.
However a more hardline US approach is expected to raise tensions ahead of the proposed meeting of Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
South Korea is said to be concerned about the replacement of HR McMaster by Mr Bolton as it prepares to hold high level talks with its neighbour on 29 March.
Mr Bolton has also advocated using military force to stop North Korea gaining deliverable nuclear weapons and described the plan for a US-North Korea summit as “diplomatic shock and awe”.
Also on Friday, the US Military showed off its stealth aircraft force at sea for the first time during exercises in the seas around Okinawa.
“This is a historic deployment. For the first time we take a marine stealth fighter F-35B. We pair it with a navy amphibious ship,” said Brad Cooper, commander of the US Navy’s Expeditionary Strike Group 7.
“This represents what I believe is the most significant leap in war fighting capability of our lifetime. It gives us more ability to underscore peace, security and stability in this region.”
Mr Bolton is expected to take up his post as National Security Advisor on 9 April while Mike Pompeo is expected to be confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of State sometime during the same month.