Iran is not ruling out negotiations with the United States even after an American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, the country’s foreign minister said in an interview released Sunday.
Mohammad Javad Zarif told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that he would “never rule out the possibility that people will change their approach and recognize the realities,” in an interview conducted Saturday in Tehran.
There has been growing tension between Washington and Tehran since 2018, when President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran. The US has since reimposed tough sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
But Zarif suggested Iran was still willing to talk, though he reiterated his country’s previous demand that first the US would have to lift sanctions.
“For us, it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the White House, what matters is how they behave,” he said, according to Der Spiegel. “The Trump administration can correct its past, lift the sanctions and come back to the negotiating table. We’re still at the negotiating table. They’re the ones who left.”
Trump has maintained that the 2015 nuclear deal needs to be renegotiated because it didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its involvement in regional conflicts. The other signatories to the nuclear deal — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — have been struggling to keep it alive.
Following the US drone strike on January 3 that killed Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, Iran announced it would no longer abide by any of the deal’s limitations to its enrichment activities. It then retaliated on January 8, launching ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing American troops, causing injuries but no fatalities among soldiers there.
Zarif did suggest Iran was also still prepared for conflict with the US, though he was not specific.
“The US has inflicted great harm on the Iranian people,” he said. “The day will come when they will have to compensate for that. We have a lot of patience.”
A warning from the US
Meanwhile, on Friday, America’s top Iran policy official warned of a repeat of its January 3 killing of Soleimani if the latter’s successor follows in his footsteps and kills Americans.
Esmail Ghaani, who took over command of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force the very day Soleimani was killed, has repeatedly promised to exact “revenge” on the US for the assassination, including in a Tuesday speech where he vowed to “hit his enemies in a manly fashion.”
“If he follows a similar path of killing Americans, he will meet the same fate,” Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, said of Ghaani in an interview published Thursday with the Asharq al-Awsat Arabic-language daily.
“The president has made clear for years that any attacks against American personnel or interests in the region will be met with a decisive response, and the President demonstrated that on January 2nd,” Hook said, according to an English transcript posted by the newspaper.
“So this is not a new threat. The president has always said that he will act decisively in defense of American interests. And I think the regime now understands that they cannot attack America at will and expect to get away with it. So we will hold the regime and its proxies accountable for any attacks on Americans, or on American interests in the region,” Hook said.
An Iranian spokesman responded to Hook’s warning by calling it “governmental terrorism.”
“These words are an official announcement and a clear unveiling of America’s targeted and governmental terrorism,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Thursday, according to Reuters, citing the official IRIB news agency.
Mousavi also urged the international community to condemn the American official’s comments.
In his interview, conducted at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Hook defended the killing of Soleimani and Trump’s combative policies toward the Islamic Republic.
“We took the world’s most dangerous terrorists off the battlefield… and as a consequence, the region is going to be safer because Soleimani was the glue that held together the proxies, and his death will create a void that the regime will not be able to fill,” he said.
He also insisted Iran had been weakened by US sanctions and pressure.
“Iran is not able to get away with the kind of terrorist attacks that they used to. That doesn’t mean that we’ve eliminated Iran’s ability to conduct asymmetric attacks, but our new policy is making a difference,” Hook said. “The regime has never been weaker financially in its 40-year history, and it has never been under more domestic political unrest than it is now. And this is a consequence of the president’s new approach to Iran.”
In his Monday speech, Ghaani lashed the US strike as a “cowardly act,” saying “there are freedom-seekers across the world who want revenge for him with God’s help, and God willing, we will hit his enemy chivalrously.
“Our enemy understands no language but force and therefore, we should stand against them strongly,” he added, according to the Fars news agency.
The Quds Force is part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization that answers only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program, has its naval forces shadow the US Navy in the Persian Gulf and includes an all-volunteer Basij force.
Trump ordered the drone strike in Iraq that killed Soleimani. At the time, Trump said the Quds Force head was planning attacks against US troops in the region, though he later stepped back from that assertion.
In response to the drone strike, Iran fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops. There were no reported casualties at the time but it has since been revealed that 34 US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries.