Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday the Islamic Republic does not seek war with the US, but will give “a crushing response” if it is attacked, as Japan’s premier visited Tehran in a bid to ease tensions between the rivals.
Rouhani made the comment as he stood alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who called for “more patience” between Iran and the US.
“There is possibility of an accidental conflict and a military conflict should be prevented at all costs,” Abe said.
He said he and the Iranian president had “bluntly discussed” the crisis.
“It is essential that Iran plays a constructive role in building solid peace and stability in the Middle East,” Abe told the joint news conference in Tehran with the Iranian leader, hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people.
Abe’s trip to Tehran represents the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate tensions between the US and Iran as the country appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers that America earlier abandoned.
Iran is threatening to resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade level on July 7 if European allies fail to offer it new terms. While US President Donald Trump says he wants to talk to Tehran, the US has piled on sanctions that have seen Iran’s rial currency plummet along with its crucial oil exports.
The US also has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region, along with hundreds more troops to back up the tens of thousands already deployed across the Middle East. The US blames Iran for a mysterious attack on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, while Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen continue to launch coordinated drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.
Rouhani said an end to the “economic war” would result in “a very positive development in the region and the world.”
Abe’s plane landed at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport on Wednesday afternoon where he was greeted by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. He immediately met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and will see Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini on Thursday.
Iran’s semi-official news agency reported that dozens of hard-line students gathered outside of the airport to protest Abe’s efforts to calm tensions.
Protesters said “the efforts by Japan’s prime minister for mediating between Iran and the US is useless, and if this is the goal of the trip, it will have no achievement,” the Fars news agency reported.
Students held placards, written in Farsi and Japanese, mocking Abe as “Japan’s representative or America’s ambassador.”
A hard-line newspaper also criticized Abe’s visit by printing an image showing the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast on its front page: “How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?” This appeared to refer to America dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
Abe landed just hours after the attack in Abha. The Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, said they launched a cruise missile at the Saudi airport while the kingdom said 26 people were hurt.
Though there were no fatalities, it was the largest number of civilians to be injured in Saudi Arabia as a result of an attack by the rebels since the start of the Saudi-led war in Yemen more than four years ago.
The rebels’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel said the missile hit its intended target, halting air traffic at the airport in the town of Abha in the kingdom’s southwest, some 165 kilometers (100 miles) from the Saudi-Yemen border.
The war in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has killed tens of thousands of civilians, with most of the deaths blamed on Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, and has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.