Iran says it won’t wage war, Russia tells US to stop stoking tensions

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since Washington blamed its long-time foe for Thursday’s attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane.

Relations had already deteriorated following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from an international pact under which Iran agreed curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Since exiting that accord in May last year Trump has restored and extended U.S. sanctions, forcing countries around the world to boycott Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.

Tehran, which has denied involvement the tanker attacks last week and in May, has urged other signatories to take action to save the nuclear pact or see Iran turn its back on the deal.

On Monday Iran warned it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord could prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The White House National Security Council condemned the development as “nuclear blackmail.”

The growing standoff drew calls for restraint from Russia and China, both signatories of the nuclear accord.

China’s top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced U.S. pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal. Russia told the United States to cease actions that looked like a conscious attempt to provoke a war with Iran, and urged restraint on all sides.

“What we see are unending and sustained U.S. attempts to crank up political, psychological, economic and yes military pressure on Iran in quite a provocative way,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was cited as saying by Russian news agencies.

“They (these actions) cannot be assessed as anything but a conscious course to provoke war,” he said.

Iran Defiant

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new U.S. deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.

Rouhani said Iran did not seek conflict and dismissed U.S. efforts to isolate Iran and suggested the Trump administration was inexperienced in international affairs.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who said Iran was responsible for Gulf security and urged US forces to leave the region.

Heightened Iran-US tensions have stoked fears of increased violence in countries where Iran and its Gulf Arab regional rivals are locked in a sometimes bloody struggle for influence.

Saudi air defenses intercepted two drones fired by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, one of them targeting a residential area in the southern Saudi city of Abha, Saudi media said on Tuesday. The group’s Al Masirah TV said the Houthis had launched drone attacks on Abha airport.

Three rockets landed on a military base hosting U.S. forces north of Baghdad late on Monday, an Iraqi military statement said, without providing further details. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

U.S. officials said last month there was an increased threat from Iran-backed militias against U.S. interests in Iraq, and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad evacuated hundreds of staff.

Warnings

The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran aimed to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb. The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by his Democratic predecessor, failed to address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.

Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world and Russia’s Ryabkov said Moscow had repeatedly warned Washington and its regional allies against the “unthinking and reckless pumping up of tensions in an explosive region.”

In Beijing, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi told reporters the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran. China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and urged all sides to ease tension.