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Iranian lawmakers convene with chants of 'Death to America'

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In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks at a meeting with a group of  Revolutionary Guards and their families, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Khamenei praised Iran's Revolutionary Guard and said America's

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian lawmakers dressed in paramilitary uniforms chanted "Death to America" as they convened Tuesday for an open session of parliament after the White House designated Iran's Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization.

President Hassan Rouhani declared that the force's popularity would only surge in the wake of the designation, saying guard members would be dearer "than any other time in the hearts of Iranian nation."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the guard and said America's "evil designs would not harm" the force.

The move by Washington on Monday was an unprecedented declaration against a foreign government entity — one that could prompt retaliation and make it harder for Americans to work with allies in the region who have contact with members and affiliates of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.

It marks the first time the United States has designated an entire entity of another government as a terrorist organization, placing a powerful and expansive armed force with vast economic resources that answers only to Iran's supreme leader in the same category as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Iran's rival, Saudi Arabia, welcomed the U.S. decision, describing it as a "serious and practical step to combat terrorism." A Foreign Ministry official said the designation "translates Saudi Arabia's repeated demands for the international community to confront terrorism supported by Iran."

Within hours of the Trump administration's declaration, Iran's Supreme National Security Council responded by designating the U.S. Central Command, also known as CENTCOM, and all its forces as terrorist, and labeling the U.S. a "supporter of terrorism."

In Tehran on Tuesday, many of the lawmakers wore the uniform of the guard in a show of support as they convened for a parliament session marking the National Day of the Revolutionary Guard, which follows the lunar calendar. This year it coincides with the April 9 holiday known as Nuclear Day.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani denounced the U.S. decision as the "climax of stupidity and ignorance." The Supreme National Security Council's spokesman, Keivan Khosravi, said that going forward, "any unusual move by American forces in the region will be perceived as the behavior by a terrorist group." He did not elaborate.

Iranian newspapers carried reports of the U.S. move along with bellicose commentary on their front pages.

The Guard-affiliated Javan daily said any attack on Revolutionary Guard bases and facilities will be "recognized as a right" for Iran to respond. The hard-line Kayhan newspaper said it gave Iranians "permission" to kill American military personnel.

State-owned IRAN daily went a step further, saying the U.S. move was a "designation of the entire Iranian nation" as terrorist.

The pro-reform Shargh daily described it as "the last card" of President Donald Trump against Iran. Trump last year pulled America out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and re-imposed sanctions on the country, mainly targeting Iran's vital oil sector.

Marking Nuclear Day, Rouhani unveiled dozens of "achievements" in nuclear technology, something he does every year. This time he touted the beginning of an installation of a chain of advanced centrifuges at the uranium enrichment facility in the central town of Natanz as well as an addition at the Fordo underground facility.

He called the Revolutionary Guard a "devoted" force that fought militant groups in Iran as well as in Iraq and Syria. The guard has fought Islamic State group's militants, who view Shiites as heretics, in Syria and has assisted Syrian President Bashar Assad's government forces.

The U.S., Rouhani said, is the "head of global terrorism" and Trump's sanctions have only inspired Iran to make more strides in new missiles and weapons technology. America will not be able to "block Iran's progress," he said.

Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, met with the Guard on Tuesday, telling them that "Americans imagine they are designing and making trouble against the guard, in fact against the revolution and Iran, but their evil designs will not harm" the force.

China urged countries outside of the Mideast to "promote peace and stability ... and avoid actions that may lead to further escalation of the situation." Beijing is a close economic partner of Tehran and has sided with Russia and its regional ally Iran in the conflict in Syria.

"We oppose power politics and bullying by any countries," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said when asked about the U.S. designation.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the designation of the Revolutionary Guard is intended to increase pressure on Iran, isolating it further and diverting some of the financial resources it uses to fund terrorism and militant activity in the Middle East and beyond.

But, in addition to the potential for Iranian retaliation, it complicates a delicate balance for U.S. personnel in at least two key countries- Iraq and Lebanon. Iraq has prominent Iranian-affiliated Shiite militias and its government has strong ties to Iran. In Lebanon, the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group is in parliament and the government.

___

Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

Wearing the uniform of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, lawmakers chant slogans during an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Chanting
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a ceremony commemorating
Wearing the uniform of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, lawmakers chant slogan during an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Chanting
Wearing the uniform of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, lawmakers chant slogan during an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Chanting
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2019 file photo, an Iranian clergyman looks at domestically built surface to surface missiles displayed by the Revolutionary Guard in a military show marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran. On Monday, April 8, 2019, the Trump administration designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization” in an unprecedented move against a national armed force. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps went from being a domestic security force with origins in the 1979 Islamic Revolution to a transnational fighting force. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2017 file photo, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani poses during the inauguration a newly built extension of the port of Chabahar, constructed by Revolutionary Guard-affiliated company, Khatam al-Anbia, the largest Iranian contractor of government construction projects, near the Pakistani border, on the Gulf of Oman, southeastern Iran. On Monday, April 8, 2019, the Trump administration designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization” in an unprecedented move against a national armed force. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File )
Wearing the uniform of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, lawmakers chant slogan during an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Chanting
Wearing the uniform of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, lawmakers chant slogan during an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Chanting "Death to America," Iranian lawmakers convened an open session of parliament Tuesday following the White House's decision to designate Iran's elite paramilitary Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization. (AP Photo/Hamidreza Rahel/ICANA)
In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks at a meeting with a group of  Revolutionary Guards and their families, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Khamenei praised Iran's Revolutionary Guard and said America's
In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks at a meeting with a group of Revolutionary Guards and their families, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Khamenei praised Iran's Revolutionary Guard and said America's "evil designs would not harm" the force after the White House designated the guard a foreign terrorist organization. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2017 file photo, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani poses during the inauguration a newly built extension of the port of Chabahar, constructed by Revolutionary Guard-affiliated company, Khatam al-Anbia, the largest Iranian contractor of government construction projects, near the Pakistani border, on the Gulf of Oman, southeastern Iran. On Monday, April 8, 2019, the Trump administration designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization” in an unprecedented move against a national armed force. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File )
FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2017 file photo, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani poses during the inauguration a newly built extension of the port of Chabahar, constructed by Revolutionary Guard-affiliated company, Khatam al-Anbia, the largest Iranian contractor of government construction projects, near the Pakistani border, on the Gulf of Oman, southeastern Iran. On Monday, April 8, 2019, the Trump administration designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization” in an unprecedented move against a national armed force. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File )
Wearing the uniform of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, lawmakers chant slogans during an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Chanting
Wearing the uniform of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, lawmakers chant slogans during an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Chanting "Death to America," Iranian lawmakers convened an open session of parliament Tuesday following the White House's decision to designate Iran's elite paramilitary Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization. (AP Photo/Hamidreza Rahel/ICANA)
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a ceremony commemorating
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a ceremony commemorating "National Day of Nuclear Technology" in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Rouhani declared that Iran's elite paramilitary Revolutionary Guard's popularity would only surge in the wake of the designation, saying guard members would be dearer "than any other time in the hearts of Iranian nation" following the White House's decision to designate the force a foreign terrorist organization. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Wearing the uniform of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, lawmakers chant slogan during an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Chanting
Wearing the uniform of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, lawmakers chant slogan during an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Chanting "Death to America," Iranian lawmakers convened an open session of parliament Tuesday following the White House's decision to designate Iran's elite paramilitary Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization. (Hamidreza Rahel/ICANA via AP)
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2019 file photo, an Iranian clergyman looks at domestically built surface to surface missiles displayed by the Revolutionary Guard in a military show marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran. On Monday, April 8, 2019, the Trump administration designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization” in an unprecedented move against a national armed force. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps went from being a domestic security force with origins in the 1979 Islamic Revolution to a transnational fighting force. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2019 file photo, an Iranian clergyman looks at domestically built surface to surface missiles displayed by the Revolutionary Guard in a military show marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran. On Monday, April 8, 2019, the Trump administration designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization” in an unprecedented move against a national armed force. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps went from being a domestic security force with origins in the 1979 Islamic Revolution to a transnational fighting force. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)