Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif takes part in the panel discussion ‘A conversation with Iran’ during the 56th Munich Security Conference in Munich on February 15, 2020.
Thomas Kienzle | AFP | via Getty Images
MUNICH — Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that when it comes to the rising tensions in the Gulf, the United States and Saudi Arabia are to blame.
“I believe our neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, do not want to (de-escalate),” Zarif said Saturday when asked about the status of the relationship at the Munich Security Conference. He added that he suspected Riyadh was operating under the influence of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran.
Zarif also accused his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who attended the Munich Security Conference as well, of reshuffling the security forum’s agenda so that the two of them wouldn’t have to meet.
Prince Faisal reaffirmed, less than an hour after Zarif spoke, that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not hold meetings with Iran until the regime takes responsibility for its malign activities in the region.
“Our message to Iran is to change its behavior first before anything is to be discussed,” the Saudi prince said during a discussion at the conference. “Until we can talk about the real sources of that instability, talk is going to be unproductive,” he added.
Tensions in the Gulf took an anxious turn last month when the U.S. conducted a deadly strike on Iran’s top military leader. The Jan. 2 strike that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a key military figure of Iranian and Middle East politics, followed a string of attacks on locations that hosted U.S. and coalition forces, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
On the heels of Soleimani’s death, Iran launched at least a dozen missiles from its territory on Jan. 7 at two military bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops and coalition forces.
A day later from the White House, Trump said that Iran appeared “to be standing down” and warned Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
“As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said speaking from the grand foyer of the White House.
But he suggested that the U.S. is open to negotiations with Tehran. “We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place,” he said on Jan. 8. He then urged other world powers to break away from the Obama-era nuclear agreement with Iran and work out a new deal.
The tit-for-tat strikes follow what the U.S. called an Iranian attack on the world’s largest crude-processing plant and oil field.
Last summer, the U.S. blamed Iran for the predawn strikes in Saudi Arabia that forced the kingdom to shut down half its production operations. The event triggered the largest spike in crude prices in decades and renewed concerns of a budding conflict in the Middle East. Iran maintains that it was not behind the attacks.
In September, Saudi Arabia’s defense ministry said drone and missile debris recovered by investigators shows Iranian culpability. Saudi coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said during a press briefing in Riyadh that all military components retrieved from the oil facilities “point to Iran.”
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have soared following Trump’s withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration.
The 2015 nuclear agreement lifted sanctions on Iran that crippled its economy and cut its oil exports roughly in half. In exchange for sanctions relief, Iran accepted limits on its nuclear program and allowed international inspectors into its facilities.
And while Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy has crippled Iran’s economy, slashing its oil exports, Tehran has said it will not negotiate with Washington while sanctions are in place.