Iran's Zarif Presses Efforts to Save 2015 Nuclear Accord

Iranian foreign minister blames international community of making statements instead of efforts to salvage the accord during China visit

File photo: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, talk during their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, February 19, 2019.
How Hwee Young / AP

Iran's top diplomat 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.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad 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.

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"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.

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 has seen America order nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq.

The UAE foreign ministry said 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 local newspaper linked to the Al Saud royal family called on Thursday for America to launch "surgical strikes" on Tehran.

This all takes root in President Donald 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 semi-official Mehr news agency.

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 USS 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 problem in energy supply," Gen. Saleh Jokar said, according to a report Friday by the semi-official Fars news agency.

He also said Iran's short-range missiles "can easily reach present warships in the Persian Gulf," while noting the 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) range of the Islamic Republic's ballistic missiles can reach across the wider Persian Gulf.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf from its base in Bahrain, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Benchmark Brent crude traded near $73 a barrel on Friday, up around half a percent.