ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said his country does not seek war in the region but that they would “retaliate firmly” in a potential conflict, semi-official Tasnim news reported.
Rouhani’s words came during a joint press conference with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, who was in Tehran amid soaring tensions between Iran and the US, a year after Washington backed out of a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and major world powers.
Formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal aimed to limit Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program in return for lifting sanctions on the country. After withdrawing, the US has imposed successive rounds of punitive sanctions on Iran, crippling its economy.
In early May, the US announced new rounds of sanctions on Iran’s metal exports and then, in response to purported threats from Tehran and its proxies in the region, bolstered its presence in the Middle East. Washington deployed an aircraft carrier, cruising about 320 kilometers (200 miles) off the shore of Iran in international waters in the Gulf of Oman, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.
In what appears to be efforts at mediation and general prevention of further escalation, German and Japanese officials, who retain diplomatic ties with Iran, sought to meet separately with top officials from the US and Iran.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Japanese Prime Minister Abe also met with their US counterparts Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump, respectively, earlier this month, with Iran being a major topic of discussion. Maas and Abe later, separately, visited Tehran.
“I told the Prime Minister [Abe] that we will not be the primers of any war in the region, even with the US...But if a war is [brought upon Iran], we would have a decisive response,” said Rouhani during his joint-briefing with Abe, who in turn called for calm in the region.
“Amid rising tension, it is essential for Iran to play a constructive role in strengthening peace and stability in the Middle East, so that this region won’t be destabilized further or accidental clashes won’t happen,” Abe said as reported by Reuters.
The Japanese leader affirmed that the purpose of his visit to Tehran had been to “play the maximum role” Tokyo can to ease US–Iran tensions. According to Rouhani, Abe voiced his support for preserving the JCPOA as well as continuing to import oil from Iran.
Japan has been one of the biggest customers of Iranian oil, the export of which the US has sanctioned. Washington granted some countries waivers since it introduced the measure late last year, but has since suspended them, forcing Japan to seek other suppliers.
Abe’s visit is the first to take place by a holder of his post since the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled then monarch Mohammad Reza Shah, although it marks his second trip as he accompanied his father and then Japanese Foreign Minister, Shintaro Abe, in 1983, amid the mutually destructive Iran-Iraq war.
Editing by Nadia Riva