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Iranian lawmakers shout ‘Death to America,’ pledge to boost defense spending

Iranian lawmakers on Sunday voted overwhelmingly Sunday to increase spending on its ballistic missile program and the foreign operations of its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Vahid Salemi/Associated Press

Iranian lawmakers on Sunday voted overwhelmingly to increase spending on the country’s ballistic missile program and the foreign operations of its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

TEHRAN — Iranian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Sunday to increase the country’s budget for its ballistic missile program and foreign operations by the Revolutionary Guards, a direct challenge to new US sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Some lawmakers shouted “Death to America” after the outlines of the bill “to counter America’s terrorist and adventurist actions” were passed by an overwhelming number of votes in Parliament, state television reported.

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The increase in the defense budget and other measures came in retaliation to legislation passed by Congress and reluctantly signed by President Trump this month to impose new sanctions on Iran over its missile program.

Trump has repeatedly threatened to renegotiate or abandon the nuclear agreement that was struck by the United States, Iran, and other world powers in 2016. The agreement halted development of nuclear weapons in Iran but did not directly address missile testing.

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Trump’s lack of commitment to the nuclear accord has led to rising frustration in Iran, where the plan was hailed by ordinary citizens as a fresh start after years of sanctions. It was also seen as a counterweight to hard-line forces in the country.

The Parliament bill obliged the new government of President Hassan Rouhani to prepare a strategic plan for confronting the “threats, malicious, hegemonic, and divisive activities of America in the region.”

It also seeks to sanction the entire US administration and all CIA personnel.

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Rouhani has been seeking détente with the United States since his first term. The bill proposed by Parliament needs the approval of an oversight watchdog, but that seems like a technicality, experts say.

Iran’s total defense budget increase is less than $800 million, a fraction of the cost of the latest arms purchase by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional nemesis, from US defense companies. The Saudis ordered $110 billion worth of US arms in May.

Iran will spend $260 million on its ballistic missile program and around $300 million on activities by the Quds brigade, the international arm of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is advising Iraq and Syria. The rest of the money will go to other defense and intelligence projects, state media reported.

The Guard, run by General Qassem Soleimani, is separate from Iran’s conventional military forces and answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Trump administration has long connected Iran’s missile program to the nuclear agreement.

A UN resolution calls for Iran not to undertake activity related to ballistic missiles designed to have a nuclear warhead.

Although the resolution does not directly prohibit such missile tests, Iran says it does not want to make nuclear warheads, something the International Atomic Energy Agency verified during continuing inspections.

The Iranian establishment, even hard-liners who have criticized the agreement, say they want the agreement to stay in place. And they certainly do not want to be blamed for its failure, politicians say.

Responding to the vote, the deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, told members of Parliament that the government backed the bill, which he said “was designed wisely” so that it did not violate the nuclear deal and “provide excuses for opposing sides,” state news agency IRNA reported.

Iran’s armed forces, controlled by hard-liners, have been responding to US pressures with more, not fewer, missile tests — just as North Korea has.

The top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, accused the United States on Sunday of actively seeking to weaken Iran’s armed forces, ever since the nuclear agreement was signed.

Speaking at a ceremony for an Iranian soldier executed by the Islamic State in Syria, Jafari said that enemies had been “recently seeking to undermine these capabilities, and since the deal, they have been imposing defensive and missile sanctions to weaken the country’s armed forces.”

Analysts said that although Iran is standing by the nuclear agreement, it will continue to confront America in the Persian Gulf and legislatively.

‘‘They want to show that the pressure that the US is exerting on Iran, they can respond with similar measures,’’ Adnan Tabatabai, an Iran analyst based in Germany, told the Associated Press.

‘‘It’s not that important that those measures may not hurt the US in the same way. . . . They want to show they are not just standing still and watching this happening,’’ said Tabatabai, who heads the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient.

In the session Sunday, 240 lawmakers voted for the bill, with only one abstention from the 247 legislators on hand, Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA reported. Some lawmakers shouted ‘‘Death to America,’’ the slogan that has been used by anti-American protesters in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

After the vote, Parliament speaker Ali Larijani described the measure as just the first step the country could take.

The bill now heads to an oversight committee called the Guardian Council, which is expected to approve it.

Araghchi said Rouhani’s government supported the bill. ‘‘This bill is an astute response to the enmity and wickedness of the United States against Iran,’’ he said.

The bill also imposes financial sanctions, as well as a visa and travel ban, on US military and security organizations and their commanders who have provided financial, intelligence, military, logistic and training support to terrorists in the region, naming the Islamic State and the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda.

Lawmakers gave government authorities three months to give them names of people to put on a sanctions list, which will be updated every six months.

Iranian officials often accuse the United States of being involved with both extremist groups. Washington is actively involved in a massive military campaign against the Islamic State and has struck the Al Qaeda affiliate as well.

The bill also includes banning visas for American officials involved with the Iranian exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. Prominent US lawmakers and politicians have met with the group and spoken at its rallies. The MEK has paid one of Trump’s Cabinet members in the past for giving such speeches.

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