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Don't mistake cancelled strikes as weakness, Bolton warns Iran

In Jerusalem for a summit on Iranian influence in the Middle East, US national security adviser suggests fresh sanctions to hit on Monday
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with US National Security Advisor John Bolton as they deliver joint statements in Jerusalem (Reuters)

US National Security Advisor John Bolton warned Tehran on Sunday that President Donald Trump's apparent last-minute cancellation of air strikes on Iran should not be mistaken for weakness.

"Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness," Bolton said ahead of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

"No one has granted them a hunting licence in the Middle East," he added.

"Our military is rebuilt new and ready to go."

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Last week, Trump said he had called off a series of strikes on Iranian military targets while the warplanes were mid-flight, apparently on learning that 150 people could die in the attack.

The aborted strikes were the latest in a series of escalations in the Gulf region, where Washington has accused Iran of mining tankers in a strategic waterway and a US drone was shot down by Iranian forces on Thursday.

Relations between the US and Iran have soured considerably since Trump took the presidency and his administration pulled the United States out of a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement designed to curb Iran's weapons-making ambitions.

Washington has imposed a series of crippling sanctions on Iran, plunging its economy into decline in an act that Tehran has labelled "economic warfare".

Bolton said Iran should never be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, and standing alongside him Netanyahu slammed the 2015 pact, which was signed by several world powers.

Netanyahu said the sanctions relief Iran won as part of the deal allowed it to wage a "campaign of terror and aggression across the region" and to fund groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

Trump on Saturday tweeted that fresh sanctions would be placed on Tehran.

Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness

- John Bolton

On Sunday Bolton said: "We expect that the new sanctions President Trump referred to, in preparation for some weeks, will be announced publicly on Monday. Stay tuned."

Netanyahu added: "Thanks to crippling American sanctions, Iran is facing unprecedented economic pressure as a result of its aggression."

Bolton and Netanyahu were due to meet Russian security officer Nikolai Patrushev for talks on Iran's influence in Syria.

In a tweet on Sunday, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said de-escalation should be the priority.

Close US ally the United Arab Emirates, which would be on the front line of any conflict with Tehran, has been cautious in assigning blame for the tanker attacks off its coast on Iran, instead saying a "state actor" was responsible.

"Tensions in the Gulf can only be addressed politically. Crisis long in the making requires collective attention; primarily to de-escalate and to find political solutions through dialogue and negotiations," Gargash said in a tweet.