Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said U.S. efforts to push Iranian military advisers and fighters out of Syria as part of a deal to end the war-torn country’s six-year civil war will not succeed.
“The aim of the U.S. administration is to get Iran out of Syria,” Zarif said on November 30 at a conference in Rome.
“The U.S. and Russia cannot decide for Iran. We are there at the request of the Syrian government,” Zarif said. “It’s our region. It’s the Persian Gulf, not the Gulf of Mexico. We are going nowhere.”
The U.S. push for Iran’s withdrawal from Syria, which U.S. officials have stated as one of their goals in backing Syrian peace negotiations sponsored by the United Nations, has gathered support from key U.S. allies in the region, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Russia is also Syria’s ally and has strongly supported Iran’s presence there. But U.S. officials may hope to win Russian support for an Iranian troop withdrawal as part of any universally agreed settlement in Syria.
Zarif said at the Rome conference that the policies against Iran put in place by U.S. President Donald Trump do not take into account what he called “reality” in the region, and thus are “extremely dangerous.”
“We have problems with the policies that are coming from Washington, and I believe those policies are extremely dangerous, impulsive, not grounded in reality,” he said.
“Generally, a revision, or a reorientation, or a cognitive adjustment to our region is highly necessary in Washington,” he said.
Zarif cited as an example Trump’s hopes of renegotiating Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers to secure more concessions from Iran on ballistic missile development.
“The deal is a balance. It’s not what we want. It’s not what the U.S. wants or what Europe wants. It’s what we could achieve. That’s the beauty of it,” said Zarif, who led Iran’s nuclear negotiating team.
“There are others who think they can come in and negotiate something far better… We’re talking about open arm-twisting by the U.S.,” he said. “I can assure you it’s the best deal we could have reached or will be able to reach.”
The nuclear deal provided Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activities aimed at lengthening the time it would take Tehran to develop a nuclear bomb.
“The nuclear deal was focused on a specific deal. Now people are telling us that in order to have the benefits of the deal, we have to make concessions on other questions,” Zarif said. “It sends a signal to others that this deal-making is not reliable.”
Zarif asserted that, despite the deal’s sanction relief, Trump officials have been trying to prevent European companies from re-engaging in business with Iran.
“In spite of the arm twisting, more and more European companies have been coming in,” he said.
He said one ironic result from Trump’s adamant opposition to the deal has been the consolidation of support for it in Iran among hard-line factions that previously criticized the deal.
“The United States’ pressure has in fact created more solidarity inside Iran. I am being attacked much less in Iran today than I was before Trump was elected. So I thank him for that,” Zarif said.
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