Iran Claims It Is ‘Safest Country in Region’ Despite U.S. Sanctions, Terrorism and Protests

Iran’s top diplomat bragged about his country’s security situation, claiming that Tehran has withstood U.S. sanctions and other problems plaguing the Middle East.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comments Monday during a visit to Serbia on the first leg of his tour of the Balkans, where Tehran has sought to forge new ties in Europe. Iran has grown increasingly influential across the Middle East, while President Donald Trump has routinely named the country as one of the U.S.’s leading foes.

Trump has targeted the country with new economic sanctions despite his predecessor’s 2015 nuclear deal, which sought to unravel decades of international sanctions on the Iranian economy.

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“We all owe Iran’s people. It was the people who made the Islamic Republic of Iran so powerful,” Zarif said, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

“Despite all the shortcomings and problems, it is the calmest and safest country in the region,” Zarif added. “We need to know why we were able to reach that great amount of power and security despite all the oppression and sanctions over the past 40 years.”

GettyImages-904411976 Iranian motorists drive in Sadeghieh Square in Tehran, Iran, on January 13. While Iran has been hit by U.S. sanctions, attacks by militant groups and economic protests, the country claims to have maintained a level of stability rarely seen in the Middle East. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Iran’s distrust of the U.S. had its origins in a CIA-backed 1953 coup that ousted democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstalled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, an absolute monarch who supported the West’s oil interests in Iran. The Shah’s rule came to an end after a 1979 Shiite Muslim revolution forced him to flee and placed the current theocracy in control. Relations between the U.S. and the new Islamic Republic of Iran were poisoned from the start, as revolutionaries held U.S. hostages for 444 days demanding the Shah be extradited to face trial at home.

The current rivalry between the U.S. and Iran has been linked to Washington’s allegations of Tehran’s support for groups the State Department referred to as “terrorist organizations,” as well as the ballistic missile development that the U.S. considered being in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. The Trump administration has also decertified and threatened to scrap the 2015 nuclear deal, despite pleas from its other signatories and the U.N. finding Iran to be in compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Regardless of their diverging views, both the U.S. and Iran have made significant contributions to the fight against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. Victories over the group were particularly fortuitous for Iran, which has backed mostly Shiite Muslim militias that have become influential in all three countries, but the war also brought rare unrest back home.

In June, ISIS claimed twin gun attacks that killed up to 18 people at Iran’s parliament building and a shrine to the Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Iranian security forces have also dealt with attacks by Kurdish and Arab separatists. The Mohiuddin Nasser Brigades, the military wing of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, claimed Monday bombings at oil fields in eastern Iran.

RTX43VE2 A chart shows youth unemployment and population growth in Iran since 1956. Iranian authorities have struggled to address economic difficulties that spawned recent protests. Iranian Ministry of the Interior/Statistical Center of Iran/Reuters

Such anti-government groups have joined other Iranians in a wave of protests that peaked at the turn of 2018, early last month. The demonstrations began as Iranians from mostly rural areas protested the government’s new budget that gave kickbacks to religious and military institutions, but came with cuts for welfare. As instances of violence broke out, Iranian officials blamed the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, for instigating the unrest using local left-wing militant group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, also called Mojahedin-e Khalq.

The safety of Iran’s aviation industry has also come under scrutiny, after a passenger plane crashed over the Zagros Mountains, killing all 65 people on board. Since Iran agreed to cut nuclear production as part of the 2015 agreement, the U.S. and European countries have sought to capitalize on the newly opened market to invest in Iran’s aging fleet of aircraft.

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