Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on June 10 indulged in some subtle sabre-rattling, warning the US that it “cannot expect to stay safe” having launched an “economic war” against Tehran.
Zarif was speaking alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who was visiting Tehran to urge the Iranians to stick with the nuclear deal which the US quit in May last year, despite the argument of Iran and the other major power signatories—the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China—that it was a sound accord that was working.
In his remarks, Zarif added that Iran would not start a war but “whoever starts a war with us will not be the one who finishes it”.
The nuclear deal was supposed to protect Iran’s economy from heavy sanctions in return for compliance with measures barring any path Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon, but the US sanctions assault introduced after it unilaterally pulled out of the multilateral agreement is the toughest attack the Iranians have ever experienced on their economy, and Tehran is angry that, in particular, Europe has done little to shield its trade. Zarif has lately stepped up his own criticisms on this point but at the press conference with Maas he also warned the Donald Trump administration that its request for talks with Tehran would go nowhere unless it ceased with its attempt at destroying Iran economically.
“President Trump himself has announced that the US has launched an economic war against Iran. The only solution for reducing tensions in this region is stopping that economic war,” Zarif said.
The bilateral talks with Maas were described as frank by Zarif, normally a euphemism for a failure to find common ground.
Maas said Germany and its European partners had “made the greatest effort to meet [their nuclear deal] commitments”, but given the threatened US secondary sanctions against European companies that trade with Iran, they could not perform miracles.
The economic benefits Tehran hoped for from the deal were now “more difficult to obtain”, Maas conceded. But he urged Iran not to move forward with planned graduated steps to reduce its commitments to the accord. It is in Iran’s “political and strategic interest to maintain this agreement and the dialogue with Europe”, he said.
Maas added: “The situation in the region here is highly explosive and extremely serious. A dangerous escalation of existing tensions can also lead to a military escalation.”
Tehran has said that by July 7 its level of uranium enrichment will move over limits agreed in the nuclear deal. That could be the moment when Iran takes a decision to resign from the pact.
Defending Iran’s regional foreign policy from claims that it has been disruptive in conflict zones, Zarif posed a series of questions largely aimed at Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. “Was it us that gave arms to Saddam Hussein? Did we support al-Qaida? Did we imprison the prime minister of Lebanon? Are we bombing Yemeni civilians every day? Did we support Isis and the Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, or were American weapons provided by Saudi Arabia?”
He then urged European countries to wean themselves off the dollar as the chief currency for international trade, a strategy Brussels is actually exploring given the unpredictability of Trump when it comes to his commitment as an ally to the EU. “America’s power rests on the dollar; a great part of America’s economic power will go away if countries eliminate the dollar from their economic systems,” he said.
Later this week, Japanese PM Shinzon Abe will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Iran. There is every possibility Abe might be a go-between for Tehran and Washington as he is close to Trump. However, he has not backed Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal, thus brokering talks might be a tall order for him.
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