Less than six months after a landmark nuclear deal with the US and Iran, the two countries are sparring over a renewed threat of sanctions. Iran's ballistic missile program is at the center of the latest controversy.
The White House has delayed imposing new financial sanctions on Iran over its ballistic-missile program, according to reports on Thursday.
Only a day earlier, US officials had said that the Obama administration was preparing to sanction nearly a dozen companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates for their role in developing Iran's ballistic-missile program, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
The US sanctions were expected to be formally announced this week.
The Obama administration is committed to combating Iran's missile program, and the sanctions being developed by the US Treasury Department remain, according to US officials.
But US officials offered no definitive timeline for when the sanctions would be imposed. At one point, they were scheduled to be announced on Wednesday morning in Washington, according to a notification the White House sent to Congress.
In Washington's view, imposing such penalties would be legal under the landmark nuclear agreement forged between global powers and Iran in July. US officials have said the Treasury Department retains the right under the nuclear deal to blacklist Iranian entities suspected of involvement in missile development.
Iran has a different view
Iranian officials have said the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would view such penalties as violating the nuclear accord.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered his defense minister on Thursday to expand Iran's missile program, in defiance of the US threat to impose sanctions over a missile test Iran carried out in October.
Rouhani criticized Thursday the apparent US moves, saying Iran's domestic defense had never been within the remit of the nuclear talks.
"If US continues its illegitimate interference with Iran's right to defend itself a new program will be devised to enhance missile capabilities," the president wrote on Twitter.
In a series of three messages from his personal account, he said that "in response to new US sanctions planned against Iran's ballistic missile program," he had "ordered the Defense Minister to expedite the program."
He did not detail what such a measure would involve but added: "We have never negotiated regarding our defense capabilities including our missile program and will not accept any restrictions in this regard."
Foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari earlier said any interventionist measure by the US in respect of Iran's missile program would be "unilateral, arbitrary and illegal."
bik/rg (Reuters, AFP)