No talks unless US bloc scraps its own nuclear weapons: Iran
Tehran: Iran's armed forces spokesman said on Saturday that there can be no talks on the country's missile programme without the West's destruction of its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
"What Americans say out of desperation with regards to limiting the Islamic republic of Iran's missile capability is an unattainable dream," Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri told the official IRNA news agency.
"The condition for negotiations on Iran's missiles is the destruction of America's and Europe's nuclear weapons and long-range missiles."
Jazayeri said US criticism of Iran's missile programme was driven by "their failures and defeats in the region."
US President Donald Trump has threatened to tear up a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers unless more is done to curb Iran's missile programme.
European governments have been scrambling to appease Trump and keep the deal intact, and have voiced increasing concern over Iran's missile programme.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is due to visit Iran on Monday, said last month that its missile programme and involvement in regional conflicts needed to be addressed if Iran "wants to return to the family of nations".
Meanwhile, the former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met privately with Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, a global gathering of foreign-policy glitterati. The diplomatic odd couple once met openly and often—more with each other than with any other foreign leaders—during two years of feisty negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal. No longer. The meeting in Munich, attended by others involved in the accord, might have produced backlash in both Washington and Tehran. Kerry quietly urged the Iranians not to abandon the deal or violate its terms—whatever the Trump Administration does.
A few days later, I was in Moscow for the Valdai Discussion Club conference on the Middle East. The keynote event featured the snowy-haired Zarif and his gruffly imposing Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, sitting next to each other, chummily, on white leather chairs. Both men spoke at length to diplomats and specialists from thirty countries, and then fielded questions. Afterward, they held widely covered bilateral deliberations. "The positions of Iran and Russia on many regional issues are very close," Zarif pronounced.
What a difference a year—and a policy reversal—can make. The Trump Administration's decision to challenge the 2015 Iran nuclear deal now carries a broad geostrategic price. The relationship between Moscow and Tehran—once tactical militarily, coldly calculating diplomatically, and practical economically—has been converted into a growing strategic partnership. Vladimir Putin's relentless quest to make Russia a superpower again is part of it; Iran's goal is just to be a player again. Since President Trump took office, in 2017, Moscow and Tehran have shared increasingly common bonds: growing tensions with Washington and a quest to expand spheres of influence in the Middle East.
"Two years ago, it was the United States that framed regional issues, even for Iran," Kayhan Barzegar, the director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, in Tehran, and a former fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center, told me in Moscow. "Now that's over. Now it's Russia which is very tempting to regional actors, to attach to the Russian dynamic. The U.S. produced regional confusion. Russia filled the power vacuum."
The deepening ties were reflected when Putin flew to Tehran, in November, for talks with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. "Our coöperation can isolate America," Khamenei told Putin, according to Iran's media. Putin called the growing Russian-Iran coöperation "very productive."
Putin and Khamenei spent a highly unusual hour together, one on one, accompanied only by interpreters. "The most important thing that Putin said was, 'I will not betray you,' " Ali Vaez, an Iranian-American who heads the Iran portfolio of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, told me.
The talks came less than three weeks after Trump announced that he would not certify Iran's compliance with the landmark nuclear deal—despite repeated reports by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Tehran had consistently fulfilled its obligations. The White House is required by Congress to certify Iran's compliance every ninety days.
Trump's decision was a step closer to walking away from an accord negotiated by the world's six major powers—in which the Kerry-Zarif talks were pivotal—and then formally endorsed in a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution. In what the Times described as a "fire-breathing" speech, Trump said, in October, "We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more chaos, the very real threat of Iran's nuclear breakout."
Putin's message to Khamenei was basically, You can trust us, Vaez said. We won't renege like the Americans. "This is a pivotal moment in an evolving alliance that over the past few decades has never gone beyond a tactical relationship," Vaez added. "It has implications across the Middle East and for the wider world."
In January, Trump took one step further. He put Iran on notice that he would "terminate" the nuclear deal—formally known by the longwinded title of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A.—unless it agreed to change the terms. "No one should doubt my word," Trump said in a statement. None of the other major parties—Europe, Russia, or China—support amending the accord.