Iran's foreign minister warned the US "can not hope to remain safe" after launching what it described as an economic war against Tehran, taking a tough stance amid a visit by the German diplomat to try to ease tensions.
Mohammad Javad Zarif offered a series of threats on the current tensions in the Persian Gulf. The crisis is rooted in President Donald Trump's decision more than a year ago to pull America out of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers. Trump also reinstated harsh sanctions against Iran for its oil sector.
"Mr. Trump himself has announced that the US has launched an economic war against Iran," Zarif said. "The only solution to reduce tensions in this region is to stop this economic war."
Zarif also warned: "Whoever starts a war with us will not be the one that ends."
Zarif's accelerated rhetoric marked an abrupt departure for the US-educated diplomat and signals that Iran is taking a tougher line toward the West. His public threats, which occurred during a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, were impressive because Zarif was the one who helped secure the nuclear deal, alongside the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani. However, he does not make the decision to go to war. This is left to the supreme leader.
For his part, Maas insisted that his country and other European countries want to find a way to salvage the deal, which has seen Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. But he recognized that there were limits.
"We will not be able to work miracles, but we are trying our best to prevent their failure," Maas said.
However, Europe still has to offer Iran a way to circumvent the new sanctions imposed by the United States. Meanwhile, a July 7 deadline - imposed by Iran - is approaching Europe to find a way to salvage the deal. Otherwise, Iran has warned that it will resume uranium enrichment closer to its weapons levels.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus dismissed the Foreign Ministry's comments as "typical behavior" by the Iranian government as it faced a trump government campaign of increasing economic and diplomatic pressure.
"We're not impressed," she told reporters. "Iran faces a simple choice: it can behave like a normal nation or see its economy crumble."
Zarif's comments came after Maas spoke about Israel, an arch-enemy of the Iranian government.
"Israel's right to existence is part of Germany's founding principle and is completely non-negotiable," Maas said. "It is a result of our history and it is irrevocable and does not change just because I am currently in Tehran."
Zarif became visibly furious, offering a list of Middle East problems ranging from al-Qaida to the bombing of Yemeni civilians he blamed in the US and his allies, Saudi Arabia.
"If anyone tries to talk about instability in this region, these are the other parties that should be held accountable," Zarif said.
Zarif's keen tone probably comes from Iran's growing frustration with Europe, as well as increasingly rigid US sanctions against the country. Iran's national currency, the rial, is trading at about 130.000 to 1 dollar. It had been 32.000 for the dollar at the time of the 2015 agreement. This has eliminated people's gains, as well as raising prices on virtually every asset in the country.
European nations pledged to create a mechanism called INSTEX, which would allow Iran to continue to market humanitarian goods despite US sanctions. However, that program has not yet taken off, something the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman noted before Zarif and Maas told reporters.
"We do not put much hope in INSTEX," said spokesman Abbas Mousavi, according to Iranian state television. "If INSTEX helped us, I would have done it already."
Maas later met Rouhani as well.
"We expect Europe to address US economic terrorism against the Iranian nation by honoring its commitments to the agreement," Rouhani said in a statement.
Trump, in withdrawing from the agreement, pointed out that the agreement did not limit Iran's ballistic missile program, or addressed what US officials describe as Tehran's malign influence throughout the Middle East.
When the deal was closed at 2015, it was described as a building block for future negotiations with Iran, whose Islamic government has a tense relationship with the US since the US embassy in Tehran took over 1979 and the subsequent hostage crisis.
Some members of Trump's government, particularly National Security Adviser John Bolton, previously supported the overthrow of the Iranian government. Trump, however, stressed that he wants to talk to Iran's rulers.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will arrive in Tehran on Wednesday as Trump's interlocutor.
Japan bought Iranian oil once, but now it has suspended US sanctions. However, Middle East oil remains crucial to Japan and recent threats by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of one-third of all oil marketed by the sea, have raised concerns.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported that Ali Asghar Zarean, deputy chief of Iran's nuclear department, said Tehran has increased the number of its centrifuges to 1.044 at the Fordo underground facility. This is the maximum allowed by the agreement.
Meanwhile, the head of the UN nuclear agency said on Monday that Iran has already increased its uranium enrichment activities. Iran has previously announced that it would quadruple its low-enriched uranium production.
"I am concerned about heightened tensions over the Iranian nuclear issue," said Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Agency. "As I have consistently emphasized, the nuclear commitments made by Iran under the agreement represent a significant gain for nuclear verification - I therefore hope that ways can be found to reduce the current tensions through dialogue."
Source: The Associated Press