Iran Against Confrontation, Ready for Prisoner Swap
EghtesadOnline: Iran favors peace and is not seeking confrontation but will exercise its right to defense, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said in New York, while proposing "a serious dialogue" with the United States on a possible prisoner swap.
"Iran has long advocated multilateralism and diplomacy for peace," Zarif said at a high-level meeting of the United Nations to commemorate and promote the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace on April 24, the Foreign Ministry's website reported.
“To defend multilateralism, it is imperative to deny the US any perceived benefit from its unlawful actions and to forcefully reject its calls to violate international law and UN Security Council resolutions.”
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since the administration of US President Donald Trump withdrew last year from an international nuclear deal with Iran, which is enshrined in a Security Council resolution and began ratcheting up sanctions, Financial Tribune reported.
Earlier this month, the United States blacklisted the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and demanded buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May or face sanctions.
The US blacklisting of IRGC was the first time any nation has labeled another country's military a terrorist organization.
Lured Into War
In an interview with Reuters at Iran's UN mission, Zarif stated that he does not believe US President Donald Trump wants war with Iran, but that he could be lured into a conflict.
"I don't think he wants war," he said. "But that doesn't exclude him being basically lured into one."
The foreign minister said a "B-team", including Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could goad Trump into a conflict with Tehran.
"Those who have designed the policies that are being pursued do not simply want a negotiated solution. But let me make it clear that Iran is not seeking confrontation, but will not escape defending itself."
Zarif called the decision on IRGC "absurd" but suggested that Iran did not plan to respond militarily unless the United States changed the rules of engagement guiding how it interacts with Iran's forces. The US military has not suggested it would change its behavior after the blacklisting.
"We will exercise prudence but it doesn't mean that if the United States changed the rules of the game, or changed the rules of engagement, it would be able to get away with that," he said.
Strait of Hormuz
When asked if US warships could still pass through the Strait of Hormuz, Zarif—a veteran diplomat who has been foreign minister for more than six years—said, "Ships can go through the Strait of Hormuz."
"If the United States wanted to continue to observe the rules of engagement, the rules of the game, the channels of communication, the prevailing protocols, then in spite of the fact that we consider US presence in the Persian Gulf as inherently destabilizing, we're not going to take any action."
Carrying one-third of the world's seaborne oil every day, the Strait of Hormuz links Middle East crude producers to markets in Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond.
Zarif, the US-educated architect of the 2015 nuclear deal, signaled Tehran would be resilient in the face of US sanctions.
"I mean there are always ways of going around the sanctions. We have a PhD in that area," he added.
At an event at the Asia Society in New York on the same day, the top diplomat said he believes Iran will continue to sell its oil, Reuters reported.
"We will continue to find buyers for our oil and we will continue to use the Strait of Hormuz as a safe transit passage for the sale of our oil," he said, warning the US of unspecified consequences if it tries to stop Iran from selling oil and using the vital waterway.
Zarif said Iran proposed a possible prisoner swap deal to the US administration six months ago, but had not yet received a response from Washington.
"All these people that are in prison inside the United States, on extradition requests from the United States, we believe their charges are phony. The United States believes the charges against these people in Iran are phony. Let's not discuss that."
"Let's have an exchange. I'm ready to do it and I have authority to do it," the foreign minister added.
In his interview with Reuters, Zarif said he was proposing "a serious dialogue" with the United States on a possible prisoner swap.
At the Asia Society, he suggested possible cooperation with the United States to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, a priority for both Tehran and Washington.