Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

US ‘shot itself in the foot’ by quitting Iran deal, Javad Zarif says

Mr Zarif is in the US to address the United Nations

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif prepares to address the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. AP
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif prepares to address the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. AP

The US “shot itself in the foot” by pulling out of the nuclear accord with Iran, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, offering a grim outlook for the chance of opening talks with President Donald Trump.

Mr Zarif also accused European countries that are part of the agreement of failing to carry out their own commitments under the 2015 deal and after the US withdrawal. In the televised interview with Bloomberg, he said promises to allow Iran to sell oil and repatriate money have failed to materialise.

Addressing US allegations that Iran has never given up its goal of building nuclear weapons, Mr Zarif said Iran has the technical ability to pursue them but “we’re not going to” because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a “religious commitment” that they are forbidden, Mr Zarif said.

“If we wanted to build nuclear weapons, we could have built it a long time ago,” said Mr Zarif, who was in New York to address a United Nations meeting.

Nevertheless, Mr Zarif signalled that Iran will continue to pursue what he called the Islamic Republic’s rights under the accord to respond to the US withdrawal and failed European efforts to deliver promised benefits to the Iranian economy.

Tensions have soared in the Arab Gulf region since the Trump administration stopped issuing sanctions waivers for buyers of Iranian oil and reimposed crippling economic measures against Tehran. In response, Iran has started gradually breaching parts of the nuclear accord, confirming in July that it had surpassed agreed caps on its stockpiles of enriched uranium and exceeded the allowable level of enrichment.

“Yeah, we will continue with the steps, and these steps are legal, in line with the agreement,” Mr Zarif said, when asked about the likelihood of continuing uranium enrichment.

The threat of conflict appeared to climb even higher following a spate of attacks on ships in the Arab Gulf region in May and June, the downing of an American drone last month and the recent British seizure of a tanker carrying Iranian crude, which UK officials said was violating sanctions by heading toward Syria. Last month Trump said he called off retaliatory strikes on Iran over the drone, which US officials claim was over international waters and Iran says was over their territory.

Mr Zarif, who has been Iran’s foreign minister since 2013, was the lead negotiator in the multi-party nuclear accord reached in 2015 during the Obama administration that Mr Trump has repeatedly called the “worst deal ever.”

Pressed on how to engage with the US in a way that eases tensions, Mr Zarif suggested that the burden falls on the US president. He also expressed scepticism of renegotiating the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to include talks on Iran’s missile program.

“You don’t buy a horse twice,” he said.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the US “maximum pressure” campaign is working and that the Trump administration is open to talks with Tehran without preconditions. But Mr Pompeo has also laid out a series of 12 conditions for the easing of American sanctions. Iran wants sanctions eased before any talks.

Pressed on whether there’s a diplomatic solution to U.S.-Iran tensions, Mr Zarif suggested that President Hassan Rouhani’s government is drawing lessons from Trump’s threats against Mexico over trade and immigration, and that it was clear to Tehran that Washington would keep asking for more even if the two parties were to eventually strike a new deal.

“After renegotiating NAFTA he raised a new demand and he tried to push Mexicans into giving in a bit more,” Mr Zarif said. “So he always believes, it seems, that ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”’

Mr Zarif rejected the idea that Iran is waiting for next year’s US election to put a Democratic president in office who might be open to reentering the nuclear deal.

“No country in their right mind would make their foreign policy based on results they don’t have any control over,” he said. He went on to give Mr Trump a “better than 50% chance” of winning reelection.

Updated: July 18, 2019 02:10 AM

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