Zarif makes fresh push to save Iran deal, ease Gulf tensions

Iran's foreign minister has embarked on a long journey in search of workable diplomatic solutions to save the battered nuclear deal and resolve heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf.

al-monitor Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade of Finland Ville Skinnari meets Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammed Javad Zarif, in Helsinki, Finland, Aug. 19, 2019.  Photo by Lehtikuva/Markku Ulander via REUTERS.

Aug 20, 2019

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is on an international tour that will take him from Scandinavia to France and later to East Asia in search of solutions to rescue the Iran nuclear deal — also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — from collapse and to end ongoing tensions in the Persian Gulf.

Addressing a gathering of Iranians in the Swedish capital, Zarif expressed Iran's readiness for dialogue with its main regional rival, Saudi Arabia. Zarif revealed that during his recent trip to Kuwait, he told his hosts that talks between Tehran and Riyadh could start as immediately as "tomorrow" if the Saudis were prepared. "But they [Saudis] make odd statements, saying Zarif has no authority and that they have issues with General Qasem Soleimani," who is the commander of Iran's powerful Quds force, the overseas branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Zarif suggested that the Saudis are "lying," as they rejected earlier offers involving Soleimani for talks over the situation in the region.

In the first leg of the European tour in Finland, Zarif was presented with a proposal meant to calm tensions in the Persian Gulf, where stakes have risen to the level of a military conflict between Tehran and Washington. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the Finish offer is welcome, as Tehran has always sought "peace and stability in the sensitive region." Mousavi did not elaborate on the details of the package but warned in the meantime against "the forging of new alliances" that could destabilize the Persian Gulf.

Zarif's journey will continue in Norway and France. The latter has recently advanced active diplomacy to convince Tehran to stay in the nuclear deal. In Paris, the top Iranian diplomat will sit down with President Emmanuel Macron only two days before the latter hosts his US counterpart, Donald Trump, for the G-7 summit.

Zarif is further scheduled to land in two other important destinations, Beijing and Tokyo. Being the leading importer of Iranian crude, China plays a crucial part in the entire standoff over the JCPOA. As the US administration's "maximum pressure" campaign seeks to shut off Iran's oil exports, convincing Beijing to maintain the purchases is a key priority in Iran's foreign policy.

The long itinerary of the Iranian foreign minister also includes Central Asia and the Caucasus as well as several African countries. But the close concentration on intense dialogue has not distracted the Islamic Republic from the new measures it has vowed to take. Officials in Tehran say a "third step" is nearly ready to be taken toward more reduction of JCPOA commitments. The nature of those measures remains undisclosed, but Tehran has said they are revocable if European signatories guarantee the economic relief Iran expects from the accord.

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