State Department Responds to Zarif’s Threat: ‘We Aren’t Impressed’

By Patrick Goodenough | June 11, 2019 | 4:48am EDT
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Javad Zarif. (Photo by Michael Gruber/Getty Images)

( – Following a blustery statement from Iran’s foreign minister warning that the U.S. cannot expect to “be safe” if it continues with its sanctions and isolation campaign, the State Department responded bluntly on Monday: “We aren’t impressed.”

Javad Zarif told reporters in Tehran that the only way to ease current tensions in the Persian Gulf region would be for the U.S. to end its “economic war” against Iran.

“One cannot expect that those who have launched economic war and those who support it can be safe when there is an economic war against the Iranian ordinary people,” he said alongside his visiting German counterpart, Heiko Maas.

“Mr. Trump himself has announced that the U.S. has launched an economic war against Iran,” Zarif said. “The only solution for reducing tensions in this region is stopping that economic war.”

Iran would not start a war, he added, but “whoever starts a war with us will not be the one who finishes it.”

Since withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal 13 months ago, the Trump administration has restored sanctions that had been lifted under that agreement, and has taken further steps to pressurize the regime, including designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

Most recently, the U.S. Treasury Department on Friday designated Iran’s largest petrochemical company and its subsidiaries for supporting the IRGC, a move the State Department said was designed to “deprive the IRGC of critical revenue.”

Zarif, who was then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s main interlocutor during the marathon talks that produced the JCPOA in 2015, is often viewed as a “moderate” in the context of the Iranian regime.

That’s an assessment not shared by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in a speech last July called Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani – also purportedly a moderate – “polished front men for the ayatollah’s international con-artistry.”

Pompeo’s State Department hit back at Zarif Monday with a hard-hitting statement that was also mildly mocking.

“Making threats, using nuclear blackmail, and terrorizing other nations is typical behavior for the revolutionary regime in Tehran,” said department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus. “Tomorrow they will probably threaten once again to close the Strait of Hormuz. We aren’t impressed.”

“Iran faces a simple choice,” Ortagus continued. “It can either behave like a normal nation or watch its economy crumble.”

She also warned – not the first time the administration has done so over the past five weeks – that the U.S. “will hold the Islamic Republic of Iran accountable for any actions against our people and our interests, regardless of whether they come from Iran or from its proxies.”

The administration says the aim of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran is not to bring about regime change, but to bring about a change in the regime’s behavior.

In a policy speech in May last year, Pompeo set down 12 requirements expected of Iran, including ending military involvement in Syria, stopping support for terrorism, and ending the development and launching of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

They were nothing more than would be expected from any normal country, he said at the time.

Ortagus said Monday the only solution to the standoff was to reach “a new and better deal [than the JCPOA] that addresses the full scope of Iran’s threats.”

“Those threats form the basis of the 12 demands [laid out by Pompeo],” she said. “As President Trump and the Secretary have said, we stand ready to talk. Iran’s leaders know how to reach us.”

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