“Mutual trust is not a requirement to start negotiations – mutual respect is a requirement,” Zarif said in a wide-ranging, 45-minute interview with USA TODAY.
The Trump “administration does not believe in diplomacy. It believes in imposition,” Zarif said in the interview, just before the White House on Monday reimposed economic sanctions on Iran’s energy and banking sectors.
While the US government insists the sanctions do not target humanitarian goods, amid a currency crash and international companies pulling out of Iran, basic goods have become more expensive and some life-saving medicines unavailable.
“Mutual respect starts with respecting yourself, with respecting your signature, respecting your own word,” Zarif said, a reference to various international agreements Trump has abandoned or renegotiated since taking office.
Iran’s foreign minister spoke to USA TODAY in Antalya, a resort town on Turkey's southwestern Mediterranean coast, where he was attending an economic conference. He addressed how Iran’s already-crippled economy will cope with the sanctions and attempts by European leaders to salvage the accord without Washington.
“The current US administration is essentially asking all members of the international community to violate international law” by forcing them to break a deal that was enshrined in a United Nations Security Council resolution, Zarif said, later adding: “Iran is used to US sanctions. We’ve had them for almost 39 years.”
Zarif also spoke about Iran’s role in the Middle East region and Tehran’s ties with Riyadh.
The Saudis have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks following the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi state operatives in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Unfortunately, a person has been murdered in a very brutal way,” Zarif said, referring to Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi Consulate. “Who created the Taliban? Whose citizens were involved in the September 11 attacks? Who supported the Islamic State group [Daesh] in Syria? Who is bombing Yemeni civilians? Who abducted [Lebanon’s prime minister] and kept him in captivity for three weeks? … Look at all these realities,” he added, saying Saudi involvement in these episodes, not all of which have been conclusively proven.
“The United States has been not only making the wrong choice [by being a Saudi ally] but the West has been sending the wrong signal. Basically, literally, telling the Saudi royal family that you can get away with murder.”
Zarif noted that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear accord came over the objections of the USA’s closest allies – and despite repeated confirmation from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has been complying with the accord’s terms.
“For somebody to simply say, “I don’t like it. I want to walk away from it because I believe I am powerful enough to do it.’ What is the guarantee that they won’t do that again in the next agreement?” Zarif said in the interview.
“It doesn’t have to be a different administration, but it does require a different approach,” Zarif stressed, referring to what it would take for Iran to join US talks.
Trump has said in recent weeks that he is open to the idea of holding talks with Iran’s leadership, without preconditions, about the prospect of a new nuclear deal – an offer that Iran has rejected.
“We reached an agreement with the United States, not a two-page agreement, but a 150-page agreement. And the United States decided to walk away from it,” Zarif said.
He then rattled off a litany of agreements the Trump administration has either withdrawn from or demanded that they be renegotiated, from the Paris climate accords to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to a landmark arms control agreement with Russia dating to the Reagan administration in the 1980s.
“It wasn’t our fault that the United States is not a reliable negotiating partner,” Zarif said in the interview. “It’s a problem that the international community is facing.”