EghtesadOnline: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that any US or Saudi military strike on Iran would lead to a devastating war, saying that Tehran hopes to avoid such a conflict.
In an interview with CNN aired on Thursday, Zarif also said Iran is willing to talk to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to help ease tensions.
On the standoff between Tehran and Washington, the top diplomat said the possibility of a return to negotiations with the US would not happen unless Washington provided full sanctions relief as promised under the 2015 nuclear deal.
He again denied Tehran's involvement in last week’s attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities, which dramatically ratcheted up tensions in the region, Financial Tribune reported.
Zarif said Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi fighters, who claimed responsibility for the attack, have stepped up their military capabilities and are capable of conducting a sophisticated operation such as the one that knocked out half of the kingdom's energy production.
American and Saudi officials have repeatedly dismissed Houthi claims of responsibility for the attacks. Instead, they have highlighted Iran's alleged involvement in the incident.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Saudi Defense Ministry Spokesman Turki al-Malki claimed weapons that missed their targets were found to be Iranian-made. He also said investigations revealed that the drones and missiles were likely launched from the north of the kingdom and not from the direction of Yemen, which lies southwest of the country.
Zarif said Tehran would not start discussions with the Trump administration before full sanctions relief.
War drums have become louder since the attack. US President Donald Trump has called on Pentagon officials to plan potential responses. He tweeted that the US was "locked and loaded", but was waiting for Saudi rulers to decide on a path forward.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was the first official to name Iran as the culprit, is in the Persian Gulf visiting Saudi and Emirati leaders.
Asked what the consequence of a US or Saudi military strike on Iran would be, Zarif said: "All-out war".
"I make a very serious statement about defending our country. I am making a very serious statement that we don't want to engage in a military confrontation," he said.
The foreign minister added that a military response based on "deception" about the attacks on Saudi oil plants would cause "a lot of casualties".
"But we won't blink to defend our territory," he said.
In the interview, Zarif dismissed the possibility of negotiating with the Trump administration, unless the US were to give Iran the full sanctions relief promised under the nuclear deal.
Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in May 2018. He has since imposed more than 1,000 individual sanctions on Tehran, which culminated with an oil embargo this May. Zarif himself is also sanctioned.
"[The JCPOA] is an agreement that we reached with the United States. Why should we renegotiate? Why should we start something else which may again be invalid in a year and a half," said Zarif.
Sanctions relief, however, could change Tehran's calculations, opening the possibility for talks.
"If they lift the sanctions that they reimposed illegally then that's a different situation," Zarif said. "Then we would consider [talks]."
US sanctions have negatively affected Iran's economy, causing the currency to slide and prices to soar. The economy has contracted and medical shortages are rampant.
"They've done whatever they could and they haven't been able to bring us to our knees," Zarif said.
The top diplomat, who spent several years in the United States as a student and later as UN ambassador, said he misses little about the country that now has him on its sanctions list. But he says he longs for the days of "rational" policymaking.
"What I miss is rationality. What I miss is prudence. I think the US deserves to be more rational," Zarif said.