Iran presses global efforts to save nuclear deal amid rising US tensions
Iran's foreign minister travelled on Friday to China on his Asian tour aimed at keeping world markets open to Tehran amid an intense sanctions campaign from the US as tensions across the Persian Gulf remain high.
Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran that has seen America order nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq.
Tensions have also ratcheted up in the region after authorities said that a sabotage operation targeted four oil tankers on Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack Tuesday on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline.
Saudi Arabia directly blamed Iran for the drone assault, and a local newspaper linked to the Al Saud royal family called on Thursday for America to launch "surgical strikes" on Tehran.
This all takes root in President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions.
But Trump took a soft tone Thursday, a day after tweeting that he expected Iran to look for talks. Asked if the US might be on a path to war with the Iranians, the president answered, "I hope not."
Iranian officials remain sceptical.
Imposing sanctions while seeking talks is like "pointing a gun at someone and demanding friendship," said Iranian Gen. Rasool Sanaeirad, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.
On Friday, Zarif arrived in Beijing to speak to his Chinese counterpart. China was one of the signatories on Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw it limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crushing economic sanctions.
"So far, the international community has mainly made statements instead of saving the deal," Zarif said, according to a report by the state-run IRNA news agency. "The practical step is quite clear: Economic relations with Iran should be normalized. This is what the deal clearly addresses."
Zarif earlier visited Japan, a major importer of crude oil from the Persian Gulf.
Iran recently said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached with Europe by July 7. That would potentially bring it closer to being able to develop a nuclear weapon, something Iran insists it has never sought.
Agencies contributed to this report.