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Zarif: Military strike on Iran will lead to 'all-out war' in region

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks in an exclusive interview with the CNN in Tehran on Thursday 19, 2019. (via CNN)

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says a possible military strike against his country by the United States or Saudi Arabia will unleash an “all-out” war in the region.

Iran's top diplomat made the remarks in an exclusive interview with the CNN in Tehran on Thursday.

Asked what the consequence of a US or Saudi military strike on Iran would be, Zarif said: "All-out war."

"I make a very serious statement about defending our country. I am making a very serious statement that we don't want to engage in a military confrontation," Zarif said, adding that a military response based on "deception" about the weekend attacks on Saudi oil installations would cause "a lot of casualties."

"…We won't blink to defend our territory," Iran's foreign minister emphasized.

Tensions started to rise between Iran and Saudi Arabia after a group of Yemeni drones hit two oil facilities of Saudi Arabia's state oil giant Aramco in the country's east, causing huge fires before dawn on Saturday.

A spokesman for Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry said in a statement that the attacks targeted two Aramco factories in Abqaiq and Khurais, without specifying the source of the attacks. However, Yemen's Houthi movement later claimed responsibility in an announcement on Al Masirah TV. The movement's military spokesman, General Yahya Sare'e, said 10 drones were deployed against the sites in Abqaiq and Khurais, and pledged to widen the range of attacks on Saudi Arabia.

On Sunday, Riyadh admitted that Yemen’s drone strikes had shut down about 50 percent of the kingdom’s crude and gas production, with the United States rushing to point the finger at Iran for the raids without providing any evidence.

In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on the same day, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman acknowledged that the attacks on Aramco refineries in Abqaiq and Khurais had cut the state oil giant’s crude oil supply by around 5.7 million barrels per day, or about 50 percent of its output.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter to put the blame for Saturday’s operation on Iran, claiming, “Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia” and that “there is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

On Wednesday, Pompeo who was in Riyadh to discuss the matter with Saudi officials described the attack on Saudi oil facilities as "an act of war" that knocked out more than half the kingdom’s oil production.

Elsewhere in his interview with the CNN, Zarif said Iran hoped to avoid conflict, adding that the country was willing to talk to regional countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

He once again denied Tehran's involvement in attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities, saying that Yemen's Ansarullah movement, which claimed responsibility for the attack, has stepped up its military capabilities and is now capable of conducting a sophisticated operation such as the one that knocked out half of the kingdom's energy production.

"I know that we didn't do it. I know that the Houthis made a statement that they did it," Zarif said.

‘No US talks unless all sanctions removed’

Zarif was also asked about the possibility of negotiations between the Iran and the administration of US President Donald Trump, dismissing such possibility and nothing that there would be no negotiations between the two sides unless the US gave Iran the full sanctions relief promised under the nuclear deal.

Trump pulled his country out of the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in May 2018, and re-imposed a host of unilateral sanctions on the Islamic Republic that had been lifted after the deal was reached between Tehran and the P5+1 group of countries in 2015, which at that time included the United States, the UK, France, Russia, and China plus German.

"(The JCPOA) is an agreement that we reached with the United States. Why should we renegotiate? Why should we start something else, which may again be invalid in a year and a half," Zarif said, adding, "If they lift the sanctions that they re-imposed illegally, then that's a different situation… Then we would consider (talks)."

Zarif was echoing previous remarks by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, who said in a public meeting on Tuesday that talks with Iran would be possible only if the US returned to the nuclear deal.

“If the US retracts its words, repents and returns to the nuclear accord that it has violated, it can then take part in sessions of other signatories to the deal and hold talks with Iran… Otherwise, no talks at any level will be held between Iranian and American authorities, neither in New York nor elsewhere."

The Leader, however, emphasized that under the present circumstances, Iran would not engage in negotiations with the United States “at any level,” and that Washington's "maximum pressure" campaign against the Iranian nation has failed to achieve its goals.

Ayatollah Khamenei said entering talks with the US under these circumstances would be tantamount to surrendering to Washington's undue pressure campaign.

"Negotiating would mean Washington imposing its demands on Tehran. It would also be a manifestation of the victory of America’s maximum pressure campaign,” the Leader noted, adding, “That is why Iranian officials — including the president, the foreign minister and others — have unanimously voiced their objection to any talks with the US — be it in a bilateral or a multilateral setting.”

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