Mohamed Al Hakim (right) holds a press conference with Mohammad Javad Zarif in Baghdad on Sunday. Associated Press
Iraqi leaders have warned of the risks of war during a visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country is locked in a tense standoff with the United States.
Zarif’s visit to neighbouring Iraq − which is caught in the middle of its two allies, the US and Iran − follows a decision by Washington to deploy 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East.
“We are currently repelling all the efforts of war against Iran, whether economic or military,” Zarif said at a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Ali Al Hakim.
“We will face them with strength and we will resist,” he added.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi warned of the “danger of a war” during a meeting with Zarif on Saturday night, his office said.
Abdel Mahdi pleaded for the “stability of the region and the upholding of the nuclear deal,” it said, referring to a 2015 agreement between Tehran and major powers.
Zarif called on European states to do more to preserve a nuclear agreement his country signed.
Zarif said Iran wanted to build balanced relations with its Gulf Arab neighbours and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.
Iraq stands with Iran and is willing to act as an intermediary between its neighbour and the United States, Hakim said. Baghdad does not believe an “economic blockade” is fruitful, he added in a reference to US sanctions.
“We are saying very clearly and honestly that we oppose the unilateral actions taken by the United States. We stand with the Islamic Republic of Iran in its position,” Hakim said.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh discussed with Zarif “the need to prevent all war or escalation,” his office said.
On Saturday, Zarif called the deployment of extra US troops to the region “very dangerous and a threat to international peace and security.” It follows a US decision in early May to send an aircraft carrier strike force and B-52 bombers in a show of force against what Washington’s leaders believed was an imminent Iranian plan to attack US assets.
Meanwhile, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi arrived in Oman and discussed “regional developments” with Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, the sultanate’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, Oman News Agency reported.
“Araqchi stressed the importance of peace and security in the Gulf region and warned against the destructive policies of the United States,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on its website. “He rejected any direct or indirect talks with America.” In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani floated the idea of holding a referendum over Iran’s nuclear programme, Iranian media reported.
A referendum on the programme could give Iran’s leaders space to manoeuvre and a chance to resolve the stand-off with the United States.
“Article 59 of the Constitution (referendum ) is a deadlock breaker and could be a problem-solver at any junction,” the semi-official news agency ILNA quoted Rouhani as saying late on Saturday.
Rouhani said that, when he was a top nuclear negotiator in 2004, he had proposed holding a referendum on the nuclear issue to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Washington says the latest reinforcements are in response to a “campaign” of recent attacks including a rocket launched into the Green Zone in Baghdad, explosive devices that damaged four tankers near the entrance to the Gulf, and drone strikes by Yemeni rebels on a key Saudi oil pipeline.
Iran has denied any involvement.
On May 15, the United States ordered the evacuation of non-emergency staff from its Baghdad embassy and Arbil consulate, citing an “imminent” threat from Iranian-linked armed groups in Iraq, two of which rejected the claim.
During the three-year battle to oust the Daesh militant group from Iraqi cities, Iran-backed Shiite militias on the ground effectively fought on the same side as US-led coalition warplanes in the skies.
But since Iraq declared victory over the militants in December 2017, relations between Washington and Tehran have deteriorated sharply.
In May last year, US President Donald Trump pulled out of the landmark nuclear deal with Iran and later re-instated tough sanctions.
Zarif was due to meet representatives of Iraq’s different political forces as well as religious dignitaries in the Shiite Holy Cities of Karbala and Najaf in southern Iraq during his visit through Monday.