US President Donald Trump was misled by “novice” advisers to bring his country and Iran to the brink of war in January, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Friday night.
In an interview with NBC News, Zarif said “Trump was misled to believe that the United States would get away with this, that this would augment US security. It worked the other way around, it’s the beginning of the end of the US in the region.”
He said the January 3 drone strike that killed top general Qassem Soleimani was a “cowardly” act. “They couldn’t confront Soleimani in the battlefield so they hit him during the dark of night.”
It brought the sides “very close to a war,” he stated.
Zarif said the Iranian response — a missile strike on US troops in Iraq that did not kill anyone but left over 100 soldiers with traumatic brain injury — was a “proportionate” response. “The intention was not to kill anybody. The intention was to send a message, a very clear message to the United States, that if they kill Iranians, we will hit back.”
He said the US killing of Soleimani, “based on misinformation, based on ignorance and arrogance… brought the region very close to the brink.
“It is important for President Trump to listen to advisers who have better knowledge of our region, rather than novices who know nothing about our region.”
Zarif also said that in the days following the US strike US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote an “extremely inappropriate letter to Iran” that contained “threats,” though he refused to divulge its details. “Let him say what he put in that letter.”
Soleimani, as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, ran Iran’s overseas military operations and was Tehran’s pointman on Iraqi affairs.
Soleimani and eight others were killed in the strike outside Baghdad’s International Airport that Iraq’s government slammed as a violation of its sovereignty.
Following the attack, which Iran has alleged also came from the US base in Iraq that it later attacked, Baghdad threatened to oust the roughly 5,200 US troops stationed in Iraq. Trump said he would to hit Iraq with severe sanctions if it expelled the American forces.
Iran enjoys tremendous political and military sway in Iraq, and is the country’s most important regional partner.
But losing access to American funds would have devastating ramifications for the country.
On Thursday the US Senate approved a bipartisan measure limiting Trump’s authority to launch military operations against Iran.
The measure, authored by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, says Trump must win approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. Eight Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the resolution by a 55-45 vote.
Kaine and other supporters said the resolution was not about Trump or even the presidency, but instead was an important reassertion of congressional power to declare war.
Trump argued in tweets Wednesday that “We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness. Americans overwhelmingly support our attack on terrorist Soleimani.
“If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party. Don’t let it happen!”
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Emirati and Iranian officials held secret talks in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi in September in an effort to cool Middle East tensions amid escalating violence between Tehran and Washington.
The meeting was held behind Washington’s back and alarmed the White House and American security officials, who worried that Washington’s regional effort to oppose Iran could be falling apart.
The UAE is a firm ally to the US in the region, and had encouraged Washington to take an assertive stance against Tehran.
The secret meeting came amid the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign of financial measures aimed at curbing Iranian aggression and nuclear ambitions. Instead of bowing to the pressure, Iran launched attacks in several countries on oil installations, fuel tankers, and US forces.
Washington’s failure to respond to those attacks prompted doubts about its commitment in its Middle East allies, including the Emiratis, especially after Trump’s firing in September of National Security Adviser John Bolton, who long advocated for a tough stance against Iran.