Abolition of US Sanctions Can Pave Way for Diplomacy
EghtesadOnline: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday his country does not want a war, but said US President Donald Trump must lift harsh economic sanctions on Tehran to clear the way for negotiations.
In an interview with NBC, Zarif said the door is "wide open" to diplomacy if Trump removes the array of sanctions he has imposed since 2017, which have slashed Iran’s oil exports and damaged its economy.
"Once those sanctions are lifted, then ... the room for negotiation is wide open," Zarif said during a visit to New York for a UN conference.
Zarif said it was the United States, not Iran, that undermined diplomacy by walking away from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, according to Financial Tribune.
"It is the United States that left the bargaining table. And they're always welcome to return," Zarif said.
Trump last year pulled the US out of the agreement, which curtailed Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of US and international sanctions.
The US president blasted the accord as the "worst deal ever", saying it granted Iran too many concessions and failed to curb the country’s ballistic missile program.
As tensions have flared between Washington and Tehran in recent weeks, Trump has said he is open to talks with Iran without preconditions but that he was determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Zarif said Iran had no interest in securing a nuclear arsenal, though it could have built the bomb if it wanted to.
"Had we been interested in developing nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it long time ago," Zarif said.
The Trump administration tightened oil sanctions on Iran in April, drastically cutting the country’s oil exports, which are a crucial source of revenue.
Iran has responded by taking incremental steps to reduce compliance with provisions of the nuclear deal. Tehran has exceeded limits on uranium stockpiles and uranium enrichment, which it agreed to in the accord and has warned it will take additional steps if it does not get relief from the US economic sanctions.
Outbreak of War Unlikely
Since April, when Trump ratcheted up the pressure on Iran’s oil trade, tankers in the Persian Gulf have twice come under attack. The Trump administration blamed Iran for the incidents, which Tehran denies.
After Iran downed a US drone last month, the administration planned a retaliatory strike hours later but Trump called it off, saying he was concerned about potential casualties. Iran said the drone was in Iranian airspace, but Washington insists otherwise.
Zarif said he did not think the two countries were on the verge of war, saying neither his government nor Trump was seeking armed conflict.
"I do not believe that President Trump wants war. But I believe that people are around him who wouldn't mind," Zarif said.
"But I don't think they'll succeed because at the end of the day, I think prudence will prevail. People know that Iran is a big, proud country. And we will not take a military attack lightly."
Zarif's visit to New York came as European foreign ministers met in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss how to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran and to salvage the nuclear deal.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there was time to rescue the agreement, but the clock was ticking.
"There is still some closing, but small window to keep the deal alive," Hunt told reporters.
Trump's decision to reject a nuclear agreement that took years to negotiate has caused a deep rift with European allies.
The frustration in European capitals was underscored by the leak of a scathing diplomatic cable from Britain’s former ambassador, Kim Darroch.
In the May 2018 note published by The Mail on Sunday, Darroch called Trump’s decision to leave the deal "an act of diplomatic vandalism, seemingly for ideological and personality reasons" to spite former US president, Barack Obama.
Darroch also wrote that the White House had no strategy for what would come after rejecting the agreement and "no sort of plan for reaching out to partners and allies",
Zarif said Iran has acted with restraint and waited for about a year before it started to go over certain limits in the nuclear agreement, which he said was allowed under the terms of the deal. But he said the Trump administration had abruptly pulled out of a deal that the US had negotiated and signed.
"I think the United States is playing with fire," Zarif said.