August 21, 2019 By RFE/RL
Iran says it remains committed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) but that the “unpredictable” policies of U.S. President Donald Trump may prompt similar responses from Tehran.
Speaking at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on August 21, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also warned his neighbors that a spending spree on Western weapons will do little to bring about stability for the Persian Gulf region.
“Mutual unpredictability will lead to chaos. President Trump cannot expect to be unpredictable and expect others to be predictable,” Zarif said.
“Gulf Arabs cannot achieve security [in the region] by spending billions of dollars on purchasing Western weapons…. No amount of foreign military presence [in the Gulf] can prevent insecurity.”
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated since Trump withdrew from a 2015 international accord to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions and instead reimposed sanctions on the country that target the country’s oil and financial sectors.
Zarif’s comments come a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Tehran and its proxies of fomenting “terror and unrest” in conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen “with devastating humanitarian consequences.”
Pompeo also warned in a speech at a UN Security Council session on the Middle East against ending an arms embargo on Iran, likening every day until the deal’s October 2020 expiration as a “countdown to terror.”
“Time is drawing short to continue this activity of restricting Iran’s capacity to foment its terror regime,” Pompeo said.
“The international community will have plenty of time to see how long it has until Iran is unshackled to create new turmoil and figure out what it must do to prevent this from happening,” he added.
Despite an increase in rhetoric that has raised fears of conflict between Iran and the United States, Tehran has maintained that it does not seek confrontation with Washington and that U.S. moves against it are tantamount to bullying.
Trump, too, has said publicly several times that he is willing to hold talks with the Iranians even as he implements his campaign of “maximum pressure.”
Much of that pressure is focused on cutting off Iranian exports of crude oil, a major financial lifeline for the country’s struggling economy.
The latest clash has come over an Iranian supertanker that left Gibraltar on August 19 after being held for 45 days under suspicion that it was heading to Syria to deliver oil, a violation of U.S. and EU sanctions.
A series of recent attacks on international ships, which the United States has blamed on Iran, and the seizure of a British tanker, have added to volatility in the region and on the global shipping industry.
While Tehran has denied the accusations, Washington has asked its allies to come together in an operation to guard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital gateway for the world’s oil industry.
On August 21, Australia said it was joining the U.S.-led security mission because “this destabilizing behavior is a threat to Australia’s interests in the region.”
But Iranian President Hassan Rohani warned later in the day that if the country’s oil exports are choked off completely, international waterways such as the Strait of Hormuz will be less secure.
“So unilateral pressure against Iran can’t be to their advantage and won’t guarantee their security in the region and the world,” Rohani said while meeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to Khamenei’s official website.
Zarif, meanwhile, reiterated in Stockholm that Tehran continues to believe the nonproliferation treaty “is a cornerstone of international legality and we will continue to be committed to nonproliferation.”
In announcing the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal, Trump said the terms were not tough enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and did not address Iran’s missile program or Tehran’s support for militants in the region.
Iran has denied it supports insurgent activity and said its nuclear program was strictly for civilian energy purposes.