TEHRAN - Growing hostility from US President Donald Trump means Iran must strengthen its ties with Russia and China, a top official said on Saturday.

“The use of radical elements hostile to the Islamic Republic shows that the Americans are trying to increase the pressure against Iran,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

His comments, carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency, were the first reaction by a senior Iranian official to Trump’s appointment of conservative firebrand John Bolton as his national security chief. That came days after Trump picked hardliner Mike Pompeo as his top diplomat.

The appointments raised fears of US military action against Iran. Bolton, a former UN ambassador and outspoken supporter of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, opposes a historic 2015 Iran nuclear deal which Trump has threatened to scrap.

Bolton has also championed regime change in Tehran, writing in a 2015 op-ed that “only military action ... can accomplish what is required”.

Boroujerdi said that Trump was working “to reassure the Zionists (Israel) and Saudi Arabia”.

“We need to strengthen our relations with important countries like China and Russia, which are also subject to US sanctions and face significant challenges from that country,” he said.

Boroujerdi said boosting ties with China and Russia, permanent members of the UN Security Council, would “help reduce the impact of US pressure”.

Iran has in recent years developed its relations with China and Russia.

Tehran and Moscow are key backers of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, while China is Iran’s top trading partner.

 Iran slams US sanctions over hacking scheme

Iran on Saturday slammed new US sanctions against 10 of its citizens and an Iranian company over their alleged involvement in a massive state-sponsored hacking and intellectual property theft scheme.

The US Treasury Department unveiled charges on Friday against nine Iranians along with sanctions against 10 individuals and the Mabna Institute, which it accused of hacking hundreds of universities on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi called the accusations “false”.

“Iran condemns the United States’ provocative, illegal and unjustified actions, which are a major new sign of the hostility and animosity of US leaders towards the Iranian people,” he said in a statement on the ministry’s website.

“They will not prevent the scientific development of the Iranian people.”

The two founders of the Mabna Institute, Gholamreza Rafatnejad, 38, and Ehsan Mohammadi, 37, were among the nine Iranians indicted in New York and whose assets are subject to US seizure.

Since 2013, the Mabna Institute carried out cyber intrusions into the computer systems of 144 US universities, the Treasury Department said, and 176 universities in 21 foreign countries.

Mabna Institute employees and contractors “engaged in the theft of valuable intellectual property and data from hundreds of US and third-country universities... for private financial gain,” it said.

“For many of these intrusions, the defendants acted at the behest of the Iranian government and, specifically, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said.

The US Department of Labour, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, dozens of private firms and non-governmental organisations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund were also allegedly targeted.

Geoffrey Berman, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the Iranians conducted “spearphishing” attacks designed to steal passwords from email accounts in what he called one of the largest state-sponsored hacking schemes ever uncovered.

Since taking office in January 2017, US President Donald Trump has adopted a tough stance against Iran and repeatedly denounced a landmark deal that Tehran reached with world powers to curb its nuclear programme.

Trump said in January that the 2015 deal must be “fixed” by May 12 or the United States will walk away.