Foreign Minister: No Negotiations with U.S. Because Iran Will Not ‘Hold Talks with Terrorists’

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reacted with surprise and attempted satire Tuesday after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would stick by Saudi Arabia despite allegations over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
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“The U.S. hostile measures against Iran are economic terrorism and Tehran will in no way hold talks with terrorists,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif declared from Venezuela on Sunday.

“The U.S. measures constitute economic terrorism. Plain and simple. There is no ambiguity about this. Just search the word terrorism,” Zarif fulminated, encouraging his audience to look up the definition of “terrorism” on Google.

“Sanctions are designed to enforce laws. They are backed by the law, but the U.S. measures are economic terrorism,” he said, encouraging supporters of the Iranian regime to somehow boycott the use of the word “sanctions” and replace it with Iran’s preferred term of “economic terrorism.”

Zarif was in Venezuela to make common cause with the tyranny of socialist strongman Nicolás Maduro as a fellow victim of U.S. sanctions on oil sales. Zarif looped in U.S. sanctions and tariffs against China and Russia as additional examples of American “unilateralism” and denounced the Trump administration for threatening secondary sanctions against “those who try to abide” by former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Zarif’s belligerent refusal to consider negotiations with the U.S. until all sanctions against Iran are lifted was intended to squelch rumors that various Iranian officials have been quietly meeting with American representatives to set the stage for higher-level discussions. The latest such rumor holds that Zarif himself met with U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) last week in New York, with Paul serving as an envoy for the Trump administration.

The U.S. also disputed that rumor, with an unnamed American official taking a shot at Zarif in the process:

It’s unclear how productive a conversation with Zarif would be, given his limited role in making decisions on behalf of the Iranian regime. The president has said several times that he is willing to talk with Iran. However, the regime has shown no signs they’re ready to meet diplomacy with diplomacy.

Zarif has publicly proposed accepting a program of permanent inspections of Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions, a position very different from the intransigence he displayed in Venezuela, although he added the condition that sanctions would have to be lifted before Iran made any reciprocal gesture. 

Zarif was bellicose on Twitter over the weekend as well, warning the United Kingdom that it might be pressured into a disastrous military confrontation with Iran by the United States.

“Make no mistake,” he lectured the British. “Having failed to lure Donald Trump into a War of the Century, and fearing the collapse of his B Team, John Bolton is turning his venom against the U.K. in hopes of dragging it into a quagmire.”

John Bolton is President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor and one of the strongest critics of Iran in the administration. The “B Team” is Zarif’s derisive term for Bolton and everyone else he thinks led Trump astray by convincing him to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Zarif’s persistent failed efforts to get other people to use his “B Team” coinage are one of the few bits of levity in the tense standoff with Iran.

The U.K. on Sunday began drawing up plans for sanctions against Iran over the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker on Friday. The sanctions may include freezing Iranian assets.

“The ship was seized under false and illegal pretenses and the Iranians should release it and its crew immediately,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday. 

“We do not seek confrontation with Iran, but it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to seize a ship going about legitimate business through internationally recognized shipping lanes,” May said at a meeting of the British COBR emergency response committee.

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