Iran Blasts 'Bully' Trump, Says America's Actions Are 'Classical Definition of Terrorism'

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has once again hit out at President Donald Trump's foreign policy. Zarif was in the U.S. to attend a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Zarif's freedom has been significantly curtailed while in the U.S., and the minister and his delegation have received special visas restricting them to just six New York City blocks.

But Zarif was still able to give an interview to the BBC, in which he repeated previous assertions that Iran does not desire a war with the U.S. and delivered a scathing assessment of the Trump administration's foreign policy strategy.

Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—colloquially known as the Iran nuclear deal—in May 2018, having been consistently critical of the Obama-era accord during his campaign for the presidency.

Trump and his senior advisers wish to renegotiate the deal to include harsher restrictions on Tehran's nuclear program, limits of its regional influence and curbs on its ballistic missile program.

The U.S. withdrawal was accompanied by a reimposition of crippling economic sanctions on Iran. In May, the White House began withdrawing waivers that had allowed nations to keep doing business in Iran without the risk of sanctions. The stated goal of this move was to cut Iranian oil exports—vital for the country's economy—to zero.

The JCPOA now looks at risk of total collapse. Iran has called on the European co-signatories to the deal—the U.K., France, Germany and the European Union—to do more to alleviate the pressure of U.S. sanctions, but their success has been limited.

Asked by interviewer Zeinab Badawi whether Iran would be willing to renegotiate the agreement to meet U.S. demands, Zarif suggested the onus was not on Tehran as it was not the party that walked away from the JCPOA.

"If you allow a bully to bully you into accepting one thing, you'll encourage him to bully you into accepting other things," Zarif said.

The foreign minister has regularly characterized the sanctions campaign as an "economic war" against Iran. He told the BBC that such a strategy disproportionately affects civilians and is tantamount to engaging in terrorism, a charge often leveled at Tehran by the White House.

"Economic war targets civilians. Military war targets military personnel, civilians are sometimes collateral damage," he told Badawi. "But an economic war, targets civilians.

"The United States—Secretary Pompeo has said—'we want the Iranian people to change their government.' Putting these two together, that means the United States is terrorizing the Iranian people in order to achieve political objectives. That's the classical definition of terrorism," Zarif said.

Tensions over the JCPOA and Iran's nuclear program almost led to war in recent weeks, following a series of escalations on both sides. The U.S. and some of its allies have accused Iran of directing a sabotage campaign against commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf, a charge denied by Iran.

Last month, Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone that Washington said was flying in international airspace. Iranian officials claimed it was actually in Iranian territory. Trump ordered a series of airstrikes against Iranian targets in retaliation, but called the operation off after being told it could inflict up to 150 Iranian casualties.

Though war was averted, tensions remain high. One miscalculation could still be enough to unleash a costly conflict, even if such a confrontation remains limited.

Meanwhile, Iran has announced it is now in breach of JCPOA limitations on production and storage of enriched uranium, used to power civilian nuclear plants and to build nuclear weapons.

Both sides have stressed that they do not want war, though Zarif suggested not everyone in Washington agrees.

"I believe President Trump is being advised by people who are not interested in promoting peace, but interested in advancing an agenda that they have had," he told the BBC. "I know they are people in his administration who are crazy for war. Who thirst for war."

Though he did not name them specifically, he has previously singled out National Security Advisor John Bolton as the most hawkish influence in the White House. Zarif even included Bolton in his belligerent "B-team," who he claims are pushing the president towards war.

Other members of the group include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Zarif acknowledged "the possibility of an accident" that could lead to war, but stressed that Iran must ensure its sovereignty in the Persian Gulf. "It's not the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "We are there, we are protecting our territorial waters."

"We cannot leave our own neighborhood," he added. "Those who have come from outside have to decide why are they in that neighborhood, and whether their presence in that neighborhood is helping stability and security."

Zarif said he hoped the current diplomatic crisis could be resolved soon. "We don't need to have a deadlock. We don't want to embarrass anybody. We believe all we want is what we negotiated and implemented, and then we can go even further," he explained. "We will continue to sell our oil, but we will not sell our dignity," he concluded.

Iran, US, Donald Trump, bully, terrorism
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gives a joint press conference with his German counterpart in Tehran, Iran, on June 10, 2019. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty