US Troops in Syria Would Inflame Region

Mohammad Javad ZarifMohammad Javad Zarif
There is an international consensus not to let the Iran nuclear accord unravel, as most experts know it was the best deal possible for all concerned

Sending US ground troops to Syria to fight the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group will fan the flames of extremism in the region, which will impact the security of the whole world, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN on Friday.

He also said the agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear program—brokered in 2015 by the US, Iran and five other world powers—will stay in place, despite noises to the contrary from members of US President Donald Trump's administration.  

Speaking on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Zarif said there was an international consensus not to let the agreement, which took two years to negotiate, unravel.

"I believe everybody, including experts in the United States, know this was the best deal possible for all concerned, not just Iran but the US too," he said.

"It was a triumph of diplomacy over coercion, because coercion doesn't work anymore."

Regarding Syria, where Iran is in alliance with Russia in supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the 57-year-old Iranian diplomat said it was the US "occupation" of Iraq that created IS.

Zarif noted that a nationwide ceasefire in Syria—brokered by Russia and Turkey in December—was largely working, and said that sending US soldiers to fight IS would add fuel to the fire.

"We cannot commit to solutions that are part of the problem," he said. "I believe that the presence of foreign troops in Arab territory is a recipe for those extremists to rally behind and gain new fighters from disenfranchised youth."

Regarding the global effort to destroy IS, Zarif pointed out that Trump himself had accused then-president Barack Obama of creating IS and repeated criticisms of the US policy to arm opposition groups in Syria.

  Sanctions Won't Work

Shortly after Trump took office, the White House put Tehran "on notice", applying sanctions on 25 individuals and companies allegedly connected to Iran's ballistic missile program and those providing support to Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Qods Force.

Zarif said sanctions will not work with Iran.

"Everybody [in] the past who has tested Iran know we don't respond well to threats. We respond well to mutual respect and mutual interests."

Zarif said the Obama administration tried to use economic sanctions to curtail Iran's nuclear program, but eventually failed, with Iran increasing their number of nuclear centrifuges tenfold in that period.

"The reason Obama came to the negotiating table was because sanctions did not work," he said.

Zarif said Trump's proposed, but currently stalled, travel ban on seven mainly Muslim countries, including Iran, "was an affront to the entire nation".

"You cannot find any Iranian who has committed a single act of terror against Americans, in any of these atrocities that have taken place," he said.

"Iran has always condemned every single terrorist incident in the United States since 9/11."

Zarif said the ban was a departure from previous US policy that took issue with the government but not the Iranian people and added that Iranians were among the most successful immigrants in the US.

"They [the US] don't understand in a globalized world you cannot contain threats to one locality. Syria is now a training ground for terrorists creating havoc everywhere," Zarif said.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour asked the top diplomat why Tehran chose to intervene in Syria on behalf of President Assad.

"There are 500,000 people dead, there are 12 million refugees, there is torture, there is mass hanging—it is not my impression, those are the facts," she claimed.  

"Mistakes were made in Syria, as in the past, mistakes have been made," he replied. "The same people who armed Daesh [IS], armed the terrorist groups, were the same people who armed [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein, were the same people who created and armed Al-Qaeda. We should not continue to repeat history and then blame people who were on the right side."

Responding to a question about people who criticize Iran for its support for Hezbollah, Zarif said the Lebanese resistance group entered Syria on the request of Assad "to prevent these extremist forces [IS and other militant groups] from infiltrating into Lebanon, which would be a threat against all of us."

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