Iran is getting "contradictory signals" from U.S. President Donald Trump's administration about the fate of its landmark nuclear deal with world powers, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on July 17.
Hours after he spoke, the U.S. State Department for the second time since Trump took office certified that Iran is in compliance with the deal. But at the same time Trump continues to denounce it as a "bad deal" and has been ratcheting up sanctions on Iran over other matters.
"We receive contradictory signals, so we don't know how to interpret it," Zarif told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, adding that "Iran is serious about the nuclear deal" and will continue to comply with its restrictions on nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.
Zarif said he has not as yet spoken with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is reviewing U.S. policy toward Iran, but he is open to doing so.
"There are no communications between myself and Secretary Tillerson," he said. "It doesn't mean there can't be. The possibilities for engagement...have always been open."
By contrast, Zarif said during his years of negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal, he and former Secretary of State John Kerry "probably" spent more time with each other "than with anybody else."
Representatives of the five nuclear powers -- China, Russia, France, Britain, the United States -- plus Germany are to meet in Vienna on July 21 to take stock of the deal.
Zarif said they would discuss Iran's complaint that the United States has not been complying with its part of the deal by failing to lift all sanctions against Iran.
In fact, the Trump administration's moves to ratchet up non-nuclear sanctions on Iran since taking office -- along with legislation that recently passed the U.S. Senate to increase non-nuclear sanctions on Iran -- "creates the impression in Iran that the United States' hostility toward Iran will never end," Zarif said.
The United States maintains sanctions on Iran because of its testing of ballistic missiles that Washington says have the capacity to carry nuclear warheads and can reach Israel, Tehran's implacable foe. Iran denies that.
But UN Security Council’s resolution 2231 which after the 2015 nuclear deal replaced previous UNSC’s sanctions, calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
It is unclear what kind of warhead capability the Iranian missiles have, since they have not been subjected to any inspections, but warhead technology can allow design modifications to fit nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.
But the U.S. and its allies believe Iranian missile tests defy the U.N. resolution.
Zarif insisted that Iran's missiles are only intended for self-defense and he sarcastically compared Iran's home-made missiles with the expensive arms that the United States is supplying its main rival in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, under a recently announced $110 billion arms deal.
But other Iranian officials have on many occasions glorified Iran's missile capabilities and claimed that all U.S. bases allies in the region can be subjected to crippling blows by Iran.
Noting that Iran fought an eight-year war against Iraq in the 1980s during which it endured chemical weapons attacks with little sympathy from the rest of the world, Zarif said that "we need [the missiles] to make sure that another Saddam Hussein around the corner will not come and hit us again."
Asked repeatedly about U.S. citizens detained in Iran, the foreign minister offered to do "all it takes from my side" to ensure they have access to legal help and are treated humanely. But he said Iran's courts are "independent" and "we in the government do not have any control over the decisions of the judiciary."
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters