Iran will not tolerate ‘maritime offences’ in Persian Gulf
Zarif: US sanctions against him 'failure' for diplomacy
The US is acting alone against Iran and its allies are too "ashamed" to join its forces in the Persian Gulf, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday, dismissing America’s calls for talks as a sham.
"Today the United States is alone in the world and cannot create a coalition. Countries that are its friends are too ashamed of being in a coalition with them," Zarif told a news conference in Tehran.
"They brought this situation upon themselves, with lawbreaking, by creating tensions and crises."
Tehran and Washington have been locked in a battle of nerves since last year when President Donald Trump withdrew the US from a landmark 2015 deal placing curbs on Iran's nuclear program and began reimposing sanctions as part of his administration’s campaign of "maximum pressure" against the Islamic Republic.
Tensions in the region escalated recently, with the United States boosting its military presence and six oil tankers targeted in the Gulf of Oman in unclaimed acts of sabotage that the US blames on Iran. Iran has denied any involvement in those attacks.
In June, Iran shot down an American spy drone which it says was flying in its airspace. Trump came close to retaliating, but called off an airstrike at the last moment. Washington has since claimed that a US warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran denies losing any aircraft in the area.
In July, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps seized a United Arab Emirates-based oil tanker, the Panamanian-flagged MT Riah, for smuggling fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers as well as the British-flagged Stena Impero for breaking "international maritime rules".
The seizure of the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz came after Britain detained a supertanker carrying Iranian oil off Gibraltar.
Iran also said on Sunday its forces seized a "foreign" tanker carrying smuggled fuel in.
Zarif said Iran runs security in the Strait of Hormuz and will no longer tolerate "maritime offences" there.
"Iran used to forgo some maritime offences in the Persian Gulf but will never close (its) eyes anymore," he said.
"Iran is responsible for the security and safety of the Strait of Hormuz and the region."
'Arsonist cannot be fireman'
The US has been seeking to form a coalition whose mission – dubbed Operation Sentinel – it says is to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.
But it has been struggling to find partners, with European countries reticent and believed to be concerned about being dragged into a conflict.
The US plan suffered another blow on Monday when Germany said it was currently "not in favor" of joining an American-led coalition and insisted “to continue to follow the path of diplomacy”
Zarif blasted the idea of a US-led coalition.
"Why form a global coalition? America is responsible for tensions in the Persian Gulf, in the world," he said.
"An arsonist cannot be a fireman."
The veteran diplomat also slammed Britain over its July 4 seizure of the Grace 1.
He accused London of "piracy" because the sanctions the vessel was accused of breaking – on fuel deliveries to Syria – only applied to EU members.
"Britain has been complicit in the US economic terrorism against Iran" by impounding the Grace 1, Zarif said.
He rejected claims the Stena Impero had been seized in retaliation, saying that the vessel's case "must be investigated in Iranian courts".
'Failure' for diplomacy
Asked about reports he had been invited to meet Trump, Zarif said he had turned it down despite the threat of sanctions against him.
"I was told in New York I would be sanctioned in two weeks unless I accepted that offer, which fortunately I did not," Iran's top diplomat said.
The New Yorker magazine reported on Friday that Senator Rand Paul met Zarif in the US on July 15 and had Trump's blessing when he invited the Iranian minister to go to the White House.
The United States imposed sanctions against Zarif on Wednesday, targeting any assets he has in America and squeezing his ability to function as a globetrotting diplomat.
The designation of Zarif under the same sanctions already applied to Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei is the latest in a series of US moves against Iran.
Zarif lambasted US sanctions against him, calling the move a "failure" for diplomacy.
He dismissed as disingenuous US "claims" it wants dialogue over the 2015 nuclear deal.
"They were the ones who left the table, sanctioned the foreign minister of Iran, sanctioned the highest authority of the Islamic Republic. Who do they want to negotiate with?" he said.
But Zarif did not rule out talks in the future, saying: "Even in times of war negotiations will exist."
Angered by intensified US sanctions designed to strangle its vital oil trade and the failure of European parties to agree on a way of salvaging the nuclear agreement, Iran has scaled back its commitments under the pact.
"Iran will leave its 2015 nuclear deal with powers if necessary," Zarif said, adding that all measures taken by Iran were however "reversible if its interests under the deal are secured."
'Trump doesn't seek war'
Zarif said he did not believe Trump would go to war with Iran unless hawks around him like his national security adviser John Bolton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had their way.
"I believe Mr. Trump does not seek war. But Mr. Bolton and Netanyahu have always sought war," he said.
"They're willing to fight their wars till the last American soldier."
He stressed that while there are no problems between the American and the Iranian people, Washington's policy of threatening war and "talking about war as an option that remains on the table cannot stand."
AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this story.