Zarif: Talks with US not possible
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday urged China and Russia to take "concrete action" to safeguard the 2015 nuclear deal as he warned of a "dangerous" situation amid rising tensions with the US.
Tensions have ratcheted up with the US deploying an aircraft carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf, one of the world's most strategic waterways, last week over alleged threats from Iran.
Amid escalating tensions in the region, Zarif called on the international community to save the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
On a visit to Beijing, Zarif said he would talk with Chinese officials about "bilateral ties and the very dangerous issues that are ongoing in our region".
Iran signed the deal with China, Russia, Germany, Britain, France and the United States. International sanctions were eased in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.
But last year US President Donald Trump walked away from the accord. The US has since then slapped sweeping sanctions on Iran.
“So far, the international community has mainly made statements instead of saving the deal… Safeguarding the nuclear accord is possible through practical measures, and not only through supportive statements," Zarif said.
“The practical step is quite clear: Economic relations with Iran should be normalized. This is what the deal clearly addresses.”
On May 8, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would stop observing restrictions on stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water agreed under the nuclear deal in retaliation for the US withdrawal and the reimposition of sanctions.
In his announcement, Rouhani threatened to go further if the European members of the deal failed to start delivering on their promises to help Iran circumvent US sanctions within 60 days.
"If the international community and other JCPOA member countries and our friends in the JCPOA like China and Russia want to keep this achievement, it is required that they make sure the Iranian people enjoy the benefits of the JCPOA with concrete actions," he added.
Zarif said last week that only Russia and China had supported Iran and helped it keep the nuclear deal going, and accused other parties to the agreement of letting Tehran down.
China was one of the eight global buyers – India, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy and Greece – that was allowed to import Iranian crude oil before the US ended waivers in early May.
Zarif's China trip comes after visits to Turkmenistan, India and Japan in the past week.
Despite Washington's campaign of "maximum pressure" against Iran, the Islamic Republic has vowed to keep selling oil to its main customers, especially China, even if it requires using indirect means.
One European diplomat called on China to buy Iranian oil as it is less exposed to the United States.
"They are now very exposed to the dollar but it is also a question of political choice," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"The reality for the Chinese is that they are in a global trade war with the Americans, they are in the middle of negotiations and they are not quite so sure if they want to load the boat," the diplomat added.
US ‘unacceptable’ escalation
In Tokyo, Zarif slammed the United States Thursday for an "unacceptable" escalation of tensions and said Iran was showing "maximum restraint" despite Washington's withdrawal from a nuclear deal with world powers.
"The escalation by the United States is unacceptable," Zarif said.
"We exercise maximum restraint... in spite of the fact that the United States withdrew from JCPOA last May," Zarif said.
He added that Tehran remains "committed" to the deal, and said continuing assessments showed Iran was in compliance with the multilateral agreement.
Zarif told Japanese officials on Thursday in Tokyo that his country's response to the US actions is within the framework of the current nuclear deal and Iran's rights.
Later, Zarif told reporters there was "no possibility" of negotiations with the United States to reduce spiraling tensions, describing US pressure as an "act of suicide".
On Wednesday, Trump predicted Iran would "soon" want to negotiate.
"I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon," the president tweeted.
The deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group and the bombers was first announced on May 5 by White House National Security Advisor John Bolton.
The vocal hawk called the move "a clear and unmistakable message” to Iran that “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force."
But Iran's Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday insisted the showdown with the United States was a mere test of resolve.
"This face-off is not military because there is not going to be any war. Neither we nor them (the US) seek war," he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed that sentiment, saying in Sochi, Russia: "We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran." He said “if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion."
World powers have rushed to urge calm and US allies continued to show skepticism over Washington's alarm bells over alleged “imminent threats” from Iran.
AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this story.