US ‘playing a very, very dangerous game’ in Gulf, Iran says

US ‘playing a very, very dangerous game’ in Gulf, Iran says

Foreign minister rejects Trump’s offer of talks as long as Washington does not show ‘respect,’ says there will be ‘painful consequences’ in the event of escalation

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (C) answers questions after a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono at the foreign ministry in Tokyo on May 16, 2019. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (C) answers questions after a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono at the foreign ministry in Tokyo on May 16, 2019. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

Iran’s foreign minister on Tuesday said the US was “playing a very, very dangerous game” by moving forces into the Persian Gulf, increasing risk of a conflict that will have “painful consequences.”

Speaking to CNN, Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “Iran is not interested in escalation. We have said very clearly that we will not be the party to begin escalation, but we will defend ourselves.”

Tensions have soared in recent days after the Trump administration sent an aircraft carrier and other military resources to the Persian Gulf region, and withdrew nonessential personnel from Iraq, raising alarms over the possibility of a confrontation with Iran.

Washington has said it seeks to counter unspecified threats from Iran.

“Having all these military assets in a small area is in and of itself prone to accidents,” Zarif said. “Extreme prudence is required and the United States is playing a very, very dangerous game.

“There will be painful consequences for everybody [if] there is an escalation against Iran, that’s for sure,” he said.

The crisis is rooted in Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear accord last year and impose sweeping sanctions on Iran. The Trump administration has criticized the 2015 accord for failing to rein in Tehran’s regional ambitions.

US President Donald Trump has expressed interest in renewed dialogue with Iran.

But Zarif said his country would not engage with the administration if it does not show Tehran “respect.”

He said: “We are not willing to talk to people who have broken their promises. We engaged, we acted in good faith, we negotiated, we reached a deal. What the United States is saying is that ‘We make a deal, whatever we can get [from] you in the negotiations to the deal is fine, whatever we can not get [from] you, we come back and try to get [from] you.’

US President Donald Trump speaks during a ‘Make America Great Again’ rally at Aaron Bessant Amphitheater in Panama City Beach, Florida on May 8, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

“This is not the way serious countries deal with each other,” he said.

Zarif also accused the US of “engaging in economic warfare against Iran. It has to stop. Economic war means targeting Iranian people. That has to stop.”

On Monday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said that while he favors talks and diplomacy, these are impossible in the current situation, thus his country has chosen a path of “resistance only.”

“I favor talks and diplomacy but under current conditions, I do not accept it, as today’s situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only,” the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted him as telling leading religious figures.

His comments came hours after Trump said that any provocations by Iran would be met with “great force,” while noting that he’s also willing to negotiate.

The flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, on May 19, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Garrett LaBarge/US Navy via AP)

According to state IRNA news agency, Rouhani told clerics that there was consensus among the leadership that Iran would stand up to the US and its sanctions.

However, he said Iran would not officially leave the nuclear deal because that would open it up to further sanctions.

“If we walked away from the JCPOA with the US provocative acts, then, in addition to the US, the UN and world would also impose sanctions on us,” he said, using an acronym for the official name of the deal.

“We have no indication that anything’s happened or will happen. But if it does, it will be met obviously with great force,” said Trump, speaking to reporters as he left the White House en route to a rally in Pennsylvania. “We’ll have no choice.”

Despite saying there was no indication of a belligerent act from Iran, the US president called the Islamic republic “very hostile” and the “No. 1 provocateur of terror in this country.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in Tehran, Iran, January 10, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Trump had been downplaying the chances of potential conflict in recent days and again said he was willing to talk to Tehran.

“If they call we would certainly negotiate, but that’s going to be up to them,” Trump said. “I’d only want them to call if they’re ready. If they’re not ready, they don’t have to bother.”

Overnight Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to warn that “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

But he also said he was not looking for a fight, while he could not let Iran get nuclear weapons.

On Monday, semi-official news agencies in Iran reported that the country has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium.

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