Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

US-Iran: Let's all try to avoid a war, says Javad Zarif

Iran’s Foreign Minister said Gulf countries are taking part in Washington’s economic war on Tehran, but that his country does not need conflict

If war were to erupt in the Gulf region, no country would be safe, Iran’s Foreign Minister said on Tuesday, insisting the country does not “need” conflict.

In an appearance on British TV programme Hard Talk, Javad Zarif was asked about previous statements from Iranian officials who said there would be attacks on allies of the United States, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, if military action were taken against Tehran.

Mr Zarif said Iran did not take “blind action” and that the Gulf countries were taking part in Washington’s economic war on Tehran, but urged for the avoidance of military escalation.

“If there is a war then I do not think anybody will be safe in our region. But let us all try to avoid one,” he told BBC presenter Zeinab Badawi. “We don’t need a war,” he added.

US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday a lot of progress had been made with Iran and that he was not looking for regime change.

Mr Trump, who made the remarks at a Cabinet meeting in the White House, did not give details about the progress, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the meeting Iran had said it was prepared to negotiate about its missile programme.

Late last month, Washington threatened to blacklist Mr Zarif, a move that could impede efforts to use diplomacy to resolve disagreements with Tehran.

Although Mr approved a visit by Mr Zarif to New York this week amid heightened tensions between the two countries, travel constraints were applied.

Mr Zarif has been allowed to move only between the United Nations headquarters, the Iranian UN mission, the home of Iran’s UN ambassador and New York’s John F Kennedy airport.

The UN told Washington it was concerned about the tight travel restrictions.

On Monday evening, Boris Johnson, the leading candidate to become the UK’s next prime minister, said he would not back the US if it took military action against Tehran.

“Were I to be prime minister now, would I be supporting military action against Iran? Then the answer is no,” Mr Johnson said during a leadership debate with rival candidate Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Hunt previously said the US and Iran were not looking for war.

Britain will send a third warship to the Gulf, the Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday. The move is not related to the current Iran crisis, it added.

The ministry said HMS Duncan, a type 45 frigate, is transiting to the region to ensure Britain maintains a continuous maritime security presence while HMS Montrose, a type 23 frigate, undertakes planned maintenance.

"These long-planned movements do not reflect an escalation in the UK posture in the region and are routine," the ministry said.

European Union nations tried to bolster the unravelling Iran deal on Monday, fearing its collapse under US pressure.

The landmark deal is at risk of collapsing after US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out unilaterally, leading Iran to violate safeguards that limited its stockpiling and enrichment of uranium.

Foreign ministers from the 28 EU countries insisted that Iran’s recent actions in surpassing the uranium enrichment thresholds set out in the 2015 nuclear pact did not necessarily condemn the whole agreement.

But French President Emmanuel Macron called on Tehran to explain why a Franco-Iranian academic based at a Paris university has been arrested, expressing concern for the woman’s welfare.

Iran’s judiciary confirmed the arrest on Tuesday, which risks increasing tension between Paris and Tehran at a critical moment in crisis talks.

Fariba Adelkhah, a well-known expert on Iran and Shiite Islam at the prestigious Sciences Po university, has been denied contact with consular staff, the French foreign ministry said.

“France calls on the Iranian authorities to shed full light on Mrs Adelkhah’s situation and repeats its demands, particularly with regard to an immediate authorisation for consular access,” the ministry said in a statement.

“What has happened worries me a great deal,” Mr Macron told reporters at a news conference in Belgrade. “We have been aware of this for some days.

“I have expressed my disagreement and asked President [Hassan] Rouhani for clarification.”

Ms Adelkhah, 60, is the latest Iranian national with a Western passport to be arrested in Iran.

British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has been jailed in Tehran since 2016 on sedition charges, a detention that has caused major tensions with Britain.

The arrest of Ms Adelkhah could jeopardise French efforts to uphold the nuclear deal. Mr Macron has sent an envoy to Tehran twice in the last month and was even rumoured to be considering becoming the first French president in more than 40 years to travel to the Iranian capital.

Updated: July 16, 2019 10:54 PM