Iran's top leader picks new Revolutionary Guard chief

AMIR VAHDAT
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In this undated photo released by Sepahnews, the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran. Iran's supreme leader has appointed Salami to head to the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard, just after the U.S. designated the paramilitary force a terrorist group. (Sepahnews via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's supreme leader on Sunday appointed a new chief of the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard, picking a general with a history of threatening the U.S. just days after America designated the paramilitary force a terrorist organization.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's decision replaces the commander of a force that controls the Islamic Republic's ballistic missile program and has had tense encounters at sea with American warships. The decision comes as Iran's nuclear deal with world powers is in tatters following President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the accord and restore crippling sanctions, which has sparked outrage in Iran.

Taking over will be Gen. Hossein Salami, a 59-year-old who had been serving as a deputy commander in the Guard. Salami joined the Guard at the outbreak of the bloody 1980s Iran-Iraq war, later rising in the ranks to head of its air forces.

He replaces Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, who had been in charge of the Guard for over 11 years. Leaders of the force have typically served for around 10 years.

A statement from Khamenei's office praised Jafari and said he picked Salami based on the outgoing commander's advice.

The Revolutionary Guard is separate from Iran's standing military and runs its own intelligence operations.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration designated the Guard a terrorist organization. Iran responded by designating the U.S. military's Central Command as a terrorist organization.

The Guard long has been a bastion for hard-liners and is believed by analysts to hold a significant portion of Iran's economy through its many enterprises. Salami, like other Guard leaders, routinely delivers speeches laced with harsh rhetoric toward Israel, Tehran's main regional rival.

"Today, more than ever, there is fertile ground - with the grace of God - for the annihilation, the wiping out, and the collapse of the Zionist regime," he said in a July 2016 speech, claiming some 100,000 missiles were aimed at Israel from neighboring Lebanon. "They are just waiting for the command, so that when the trigger is pulled, the accursed black dot will be wiped off the geopolitical map of the world, once and for all."

More recently, Salami threatened what he called the "triangle" of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States over a September attack on a military parade that killed 25.

"You are responsible for these actions; you will face the repercussions," the general said. "We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge."

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.