- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2019

Iran’s top diplomat on Monday blasted the U.S. for selling weapons to Tehran’s adversaries in the Middle East, claiming Washington is turning the region into a “tinderbox ready to blow up.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the allegation in an interview during a visit to Qatar with that nation’s Al Jazeera network, blaming the U.S. for tensions that have soared in the Persian Gulf during recent months.

The Trump administration argues the movement of more U.S. military assets to the Gulf early this summer was driven by intelligence that Iranian forces were preparing attacks on American interests there.

U.S. officials have since blamed Tehran for downing an American military surveillance drone near the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic Persian Gulf passage through which some 20 percent of the world’s oil passes annually. The Trump administration has also cited intelligence pointing to Iranian culpability for multiple bomb attacks on commercial oil tankers near the strait.

Iran has threatened to try and choke off the strait in response to the administration’s push for a global embargo on Iranian crude oil.



U.S. officials are relying on increased oil exports through the strait from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others to accommodate U.S. allies around the world that have cut their purchases of Iranian crude in compliance with the embargo.

The effort block Iranian oil is part of a pressure campaign the Trump administration has ramped up against Iran since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which had eased international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for limits to Iranian nuclear activities.

Administration officials say they seek to pressure Iran into negotiations toward a new deal that would end Tehran’s ballistic missile program — tests from which have violated U.N. Security Council resolutions — as well as Iran’s backing of militant proxies around the Middle East.

Such matters were left out of the Obama-era nuclear accord.

Mr. Zarif, meanwhile, has been a point man in expressing Iran’s frustration toward the U.S. and the Trump administration.

The Iranian foreign minister told Al Jazeera on Monday that more warships in the Persian Gulf will only trigger more insecurity.

“The U.S. [sold] $50 billion worth of weapons to the region last year,” he said. “Some of the countries in the region with less than a third of our population spend $87 billion on military procurement.

“Let’s make a comparison; Iran spent last year $16 billion on all its military with almost one million people in the army,” Mr. Zarif continued. “The UAE, with a total population of one million, spent $22 billion, Saudi Arabia spent $87 billion.

“If you are talking about threats coming from the region, the threats are coming from the U.S. and its allies who are pouring weapons in the region, making it a tinderbox ready to blow up,” he said.

There was no immediate response from the Trump administration to Mr. Zarif’s comments, which came in the wake of a U.S. announcement of plans to form a regional military coalition aimed at protecting commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf.

Qatar is widely seen to be key to such plans. While other Gulf monarchies have accused Doha of being too close with Iran, the nation is home to Al Udeid Air Base, which hosts the forward headquarters of U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

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