Top Iran diplomat warns US it cannot 'expect to stay safe'
A stern-faced Mohammad Javad Zarif offered a series of threats over the ongoing tensions gripping the Gulf region, taking a hard-line stance amid a visit by Germany's top diplomat seeking to defuse tensions.
The crisis takes root in President Donald Trump's decision over a year ago to withdraw the US from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Trump also reinstated tough sanctions on Iran, targeting its oil sector.
"Mr Trump himself has announced that the US has launched an economic war against Iran," Zarif said. "The only solution for reducing tensions in this region is stopping that economic war."
Zarif also warned: "Whoever starts a war with us will not be the one who finishes it."
For his part, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas insisted his country and other European nations want to find a way to salvage the nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But he acknowledged there were limits.
"We won't be able to do miracles, but we are trying as best as we can to do prevent its failure," Maas said.
However, Europe has yet to be able to offer Iran a way to get around the newly imposed US sanctions. Meanwhile, a 7 July deadline - imposed by Iran - looms for Europe to find a way to save the unraveling deal.
Otherwise, Iran has warned it will resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.
Though Zarif made a point to shake Maas' hands before the cameras, his comments marked a sharp departure for the US-educated diplomat who helped secure the nuclear deal, alongside the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani. They came after Maas spoke about Israel, an archenemy of Iran's government.
"Israel's right to exist is part of Germany's founding principle and is completely non-negotiable," Maas said. "It is a result of our history and it's irrevocable and doesn't just change because I am currently in Tehran."
Zarif then grew visibly angry, offering a list of Middle East problems ranging from Al-Qaida to the bombing of Yemeni civilians he blamed on the US and its allies, namely Saudi Arabia.
"If one seeks to talk about instability in this region, those are the other parties who should be held responsible," Zarif said.
Zarif's sharp tone likely comes from Iran's growing frustration with Europe, as well as the ever-tightening US sanctions targeting the country.
Iran's national currency, the rial, is currently trading at nearly 130,000 to $1. It had been 32,000 to the dollar at the time of the 2015 deal. That has wiped away many people's earnings and driven up prices on nearly every good in the country.
European nations had pledged to create a mechanism called INSTEX, which would allow Iran to continue to trade for humanitarian goods despite US sanctions. However, that programme has yet to really take off, something Iran's foreign ministry spokesman noted before Zarif and Maas spoke to reporters.
"We haven't put much hope in INSTEX," spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, according to Iranian state television. "If INSTEX was going to help us, it would have done so already."