Iran's Zarif Pushes Back at Trump's anti-Semitism Charge, Invoking 'Jewish Compatriots'

Iranian officials say 'Americans must leave Syria' ■ Iranian army commanders says, Iran plans to extend the range of its land-to-sea missiles

File photo: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends India-Iran business forum in New Delhi, India, January 8, 2019.
Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Iran's foreign minister is pushing back after President Donald Trump said the country does "bad, bad things" and appeared to link it to the deadly attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue last year by an American anti-Semite.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Wednesday that "Iranians — including our Jewish compatriots — are commemorating 40 yrs of progress despite U.S. pressure, just as @realDonaldTrump again makes accusations against us," referring to the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

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In his State of the Union address, Trump said Iran "chants death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people. We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism or those who spread its venomous creed."

"We will not avert our eyes from" the Iranian regime, Trump added. "With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs."

He then spoke about the synagogue shooting, in which 11 people were killed, without directly implicating Iran.

Zarif tweeted earlier on Wednesday that the United States supports "dictators, butchers and extremists" in the Middle East, as tensions ramp up since Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal last May and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic. 

"U.S. hostility has led it to support dictators, butchers & extremists, who've only brought ruin to our region," Zarif wrote in the Twitter post. 

his isn't Zarif's first statement celebrating Iran's Jewish community and the country's part in the history of the Jewish people. In September he tweeted Jewish New Year greetings to Jews in Iran and around the world: "As the sun gives way to the moon, I wish all my Jewish compatriots and Jews worldwide a very Happy New Year filled with peace and harmony. Happy Rosh Hashanah."

Iran's ancient Jewish community has slumped to an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 from 85,000 at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but is believed to be the biggest in the Middle East outside Israel.

Trump devoted a number of passages in his speech to issues related to Israel and the Middle East. He stated that his administration’s approach "is based on principled realism, not discredited theories that have failed for decades to yield progress."

"For this reason, my Administration recognized the true capital of Israel and proudly opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem,” he added

'Americans must leave Syria'

Also on Wednesday, Senior Iranian figures said that Syria was a top foreign policy priority and American troops should withdraw, as planned by U.S. President Donald Trump. 

"Whether they want to or not, the Americans must leave Syria," Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was reported as saying. 

There are fears in the West that Trump's plan to extricate about 2,000 soldiers from Syria will cede influence to Tehran, which has backed President Bashar al-Assad in the nearly eight-year war, and also allow Islamic State militants to regroup. 

"Now 90 percent of Syrian soil is under the control of the government and the rest will soon be freed by the Syrian army," Velayati added during a meeting with Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Tehran, according to the Tasnim news agency. 

Separately, Rear-Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi, a deputy commander of the regular armed forces, said on Wednesday that Iran plans to extend the range of its land-to-sea missiles beyond 300 kilometers (186 miles), according to the Fars news agency.

Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles, in defiance of opposition from the United States and expressions of concern by European countries. 

Tehran says the programme is purely defensive. 

The European Union said on Monday it was gravely concerned by Iran's ballistic missile launches and tests, and urged it to stop activity that deepens mistrust and destabilises the region.