Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneni said Thursday that while Tehran doesn’t want an atomic bomb, “America could not do anything” to stop it if it did, just days after the UN’s nuclear watchdog did not explicitly report that Iran was implementing its nuclear-related commitments and said that its rate of uranium enrichment was increasing.
Khamenei made the comment during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came to Tehran as an interlocutor for US President Donald Trump to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran.
His visit may not have succeeded, however. Khamenei earlier was quoted as saying Iran “will in no way repeat” negotiations with the US amid tensions over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
Khamenei’s official website quoted him as telling Abe: “I don’t regard Trump as deserving any exchange of messages and have no response for him and will give no response.”
Abe is the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Tehran since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Earlier Thursday, Japan’s top government spokesman said Abe’s high-stakes trip was intended to help de-escalate tensions in the region — and not specifically mediate between Tehran and Washington. The remarks by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to reporters were apparently meant to lower expectations amid uncertain prospects for Abe’s mission.
On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe warned of the possibility of “accidental conflict” that could be sparked amid heightened US-Iran tensions.
Iran has been locked in a bitter standoff with the United States since Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.
Washington has since reimposed crippling sanctions — which have forced Tokyo to halt its once-substantial purchases of Iranian oil — and launched a military buildup in the Gulf amid reports that Iran was planning attacks on US forces in the region.
The Trump administration said its sanctions came over Iran’s ballistic missile program, support for Hezbollah and other activities.
The Abe-Khamenei meeting came amid reports Thursday that two oil tankers were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz.
No one has claimed responsibility or explained how the tankers were attacked. However, the US previously blamed Iran for an attack last month on four oil tankers close to the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah.
A day earlier, Abe called for Iran to play a “constructive role” in bringing peace to the region.
“It is essential that Iran plays a constructive role in building solid peace and stability in the Middle East,” Abe told a joint news conference in Tehran with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.
“Today, tension is rising in the Middle East. Some experts point out that the conflict might be triggered accidentally,” said Abe. An armed clash “must be avoided by all means,” the premier stressed.
He added that Japan “wishes to play an utmost role in its capacity to ease the tension. This is the one single thought that brought me to Iran.”
Addressing the same news conference, Rouhani said if the US stopped pressuring Iran through sanctions, it would bring a “very positive change” to the Middle East and the world.
“If there are some tensions, (their) roots stem from America’s economic war against Iran. Whenever it stops we will witness a very positive change in the region and the world,” Rouhani said. “We will not initiate a conflict in the region, even against the US, but if a war starts against us we will then give a crushing response,” the Iranian president added.
The Iranian president also underlined a convergence of views with his visitor on the issue of nuclear weapons, which he said “both of us are against.”
Abe, for his part, expressed his “deep respect to the fact that the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei reiterates the fatwa which says ‘nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are against Islam.'”
Abe discussed “the situation in Iran” in a telephone call with Trump on Tuesday, a Japanese government spokesman said. The Japanese prime minister won Trump’s blessing for the mediation mission when the US president visited Tokyo last month.
“We believe it is extremely important that, at the leadership level, we call on Iran as a major regional power to ease tension, to adhere to the nuclear agreement and to play a constructive role for the region’s stability,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga said.