Zarif diatribe follows German FM's stated support for Israel

Iran’s foreign minister: Netanyahu wants to destroy us, and we will respond

Zarif hosts German counterpart Heiko Maas in Tehran, calls for end to US ‘economic war’ on his country; says Trump peace plan is ‘crime against Middle East’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his German counterpart Heiko Maas shake hands for the media prior to their meeting, in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his German counterpart Heiko Maas shake hands for the media prior to their meeting, in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that Tehran will not remain passive in response to what it says are threats from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to destroy Iran.

“You should ask a regime possessing nuclear weapons about how Netanyahu stands next to the Dimona (reactor), a nuclear weapons site, and says Iran should be destroyed,” Zarif said at a press conference in Tehran alongside visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Israel has long maintained an official position of ambiguity with regards to its nuclear capabilities.

According to Iran’s Tasnim news agency, which provided an English translation of his remarks, Zarif was referring to comments Netanyahu made in August 2018 during a visit to Israel’s secretive nuclear site in Dimona.

At the time Netanyahu warned that those who seek to destroy Israel put themselves in danger of suffering the same fate instead.

The Iranian regime routinely threatens and anticipates the destruction of Israel, and funds and arms anti-Israel terrorist groups in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, frequently refers to Israel as a cancer that must be eradicated, and has set out detailed plans for its elimination.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is seeking a nuclear arsenal in order to destroy it, and Netanyahu has led international opposition to the 2015 P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a ceremony renaming the nuclear reactor in Dimona to the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center after the late Israeli statesman, on August 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“Of course, no one can act against our people without receiving a decisive response,” Zarif said.

“Iran has never waged a war against any country and will not do so in future,” Zarif said, but warned that “if any country starts a war on Iran, it would definitely not be the one that ends it.”

Though Zarif made a point to shake Maas’s hands in front of the cameras, his comments marked a sharp departure for the US-educated diplomat who helped secure the nuclear deal. They came after Maas spoke in support of Israel.

“Israel’s right to exist is part of Germany’s founding principle and is completely non-negotiable,” Maas said. “It is a result of our history and it’s irrevocable and doesn’t just change because I am currently in Tehran.”

Zarif then grew visibly angry, offering a list of Mideast problems ranging from al-Qaida to the bombing of Yemeni civilians he blamed on the US and its allies, including Saudi Arabia.

“If one seeks to talk about instability in this region, those are the other parties who should be held responsible,” Zarif said.

Zarif also offered a series of threats over the ongoing tensions gripping the Persian Gulf. The crisis, he said, stems from US President Donald Trump’s decision over a year ago to withdraw America from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“Mr. Trump himself has announced that the US has launched an economic war against Iran,” Zarif said. “The only solution for reducing tensions in this region is stopping that economic war.”

In other comments, Zarif said the US and Israel are the root cause of problems in the Middle East and called Washington’s much-delayed peace plan, which the US has yet to unveil, a “crime against the Middle East.”

For his part, Germany’s Maas insisted his country and other European nations want to find a way to salvage the nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Iran’s uranium conversion facility near Isfahan, which reprocesses uranium ore concentrate into uranium hexafluoride gas, which is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment, March 30, 2005. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Maas said his visit was aimed at getting Iran to agree to stay in the deal. Germany is a signatory to the accord. Iranian state TV also reported that Maas would hold talks with President Hassan Rouhani during his visit.

Earlier Monday Iran said that it has given up hope of Europe finding a way to bypass the severe US sanctions in order to maintain enough trade to keep the nuclear treaty in place.

Meanwhile, a July 7 deadline looms for Europe to find a way to save the unraveling deal. Otherwise, Iran has warned it will resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.

Abbas Mousavi, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, gives a press conference in the capital Tehran on May 28, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

“We no longer have any hope to see the INSTEX [Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges] in action,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.

As the US has increased sanctions and companies have been pulling business out of Iran, the Europeans have been developing INSTEX, a complicated barter-type system to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and so evade possible US sanctions.

“If the mechanism was ever going to work, it would have done so by now,” Mousavi told a press conference according to a translation of his remarks provided by Iran’s Mehr news agency.

“We expected the Europeans to fulfill their obligations to the JCPOA after the US’ withdrawal from the pact,” he said. “However, they either were not able to, or did not want to do so.”

According Mehr, he was referring to a recent visit to Tehran by the German banker Per Fischer, who heads INSTEX.

Mousavi added that in the 60 days since Iran laid down the deadline for increased uranium enrichment there has been no significant change.

“We have not seen any practical move by the Europeans in the past days, and we hope that they will take effective actions in the remaining days,” Mousavi said.

“Otherwise, we will take the second step,” he warned.

“JCPOA is the base of our talks, and we will not discuss anything beyond that,” he said of the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We strongly believe that the important matter here is the commitment of all the parties to the deal,” he added.

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