Iran’s foreign minister traveled Friday to China on his Asian tour aimed at keeping world markets open to Tehran amid an intense sanctions campaign from the U.S. as tensions across the Persian Gulf remain high.
Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran that also prompted the U.S. to order nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq.
Tensions have also ratcheted up after authorities alleged that a sabotage operation targeted four oil tankers on Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack Tuesday on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline.
Saudi Arabia directly blamed Iran for the drone assault, and a newspaper linked to the Al Saud royal family called Thursday for the U.S. to launch “surgical strikes” on Tehran.
This all takes root in President Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions. But Trump took a soft tone Thursday, a day after tweeting that he expected Iran to look for talks. Asked if the U.S. might be on a path to war with the Iranians, the president answered, “I hope not.”
Iranian officials remain skeptical.
Imposing sanctions while seeking talks is like “pointing a gun at someone and demanding friendship,” said Iranian Gen. Rasool Sanaeirad, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
That comment was echoed by Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations.
“They want to have the stick in their hands, trying to intimidate Iran at the same time calling for a dialogue,” Ravanchi told CBS. “What type of dialogue is this?”
Trump criticized the media in a tweet Friday about Iran and added: “At least Iran doesn’t know what to think, which at this point may very well be a good thing!” Since the White House’s decision May 5 to deploy the bombers and aircraft carrier, the U.S. government has declined repeated requests to publicly explain the new threat it perceives from Tehran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later responded to Trump on Twitter.
“We in Iran have actually known what to think for millennia — and about the U.S., since 1953,” the diplomat wrote, referring to the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow of Iran’s prime minister at the time. “At this point, that is certainly ‘a good thing!’”
Minutes later, Trump appeared to respond to Zarif’s tweet.
“With all of the Fake and Made Up News out there, Iran can have no idea what is actually going on!” the U.S. president wrote.
On Friday, Zarif arrived in Beijing to speak to his Chinese counterpart. China was one of the signatories on Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw it limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crushing economic sanctions.
“So far, the international community has mainly made statements instead of saving the deal,” Zarif said, according to a report by the state-run IRNA news agency. “The practical step is quite clear: economic relations with Iran should be normalized. This is what the deal clearly addresses.”
Zarif earlier visited Japan, a major importer of crude oil from the Persian Gulf.
Iran recently said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached with Europe by July 7. That would potentially bring it closer to being able to develop a nuclear weapon, something Iran insists it has never sought.
The U.S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and its carrier strike group have yet to reach the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes. A Revolutionary Guard deputy warned that any armed conflict would affect the global energy market. Iran long has threatened to be able to shut off the strait.
“If a war happens, the world will suffer” from an energy supply shortage, Gen. Saleh Jokar said, according to a report Friday by the semiofficial Fars news agency.