TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s defense minister poured scorn Saturday on US Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks that Tehran was “destabilizing” the Middle East, countering that America should get out of the region.
The broadside illustrated new tensions between Iran and the United States, despite last year’s nuclear deal, with contrasting stances on the conflicts in Yemen and Syria underpinning the latest barbs.
If the US seeks “stability” it should “leave the region and stop supporting terrorists,” Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said, according to Iranian state TV.
“If John Kerry thought about these subjects, he would no longer utter nonsense and foolish words,” he said.
The reaction came after Kerry, speaking on a visit to Bahrain on Thursday, condemned “the destabilizing actions of Iran,” noting that the United States was taking Tehran’s actions “very seriously.”
But Dehghan denounced Kerry’s remarks as a sign of “frustration” at “Iran’s defense capabilities”, charging that it is the US that is intervening in the Middle East on account of massive arms sales.
“Americans have made countries in the region dependent on them through sale of weapons and suggesting that implementing US policies are a must for their survival.”
A series of ballistic missile tests by Iran since the nuclear deal was struck last summer — sanctions against Tehran were lifted in January in return for curbs on its atomic program — has added to US anger.
Concern over Iran’s alleged involvement in the conflict in Yemen has not died down.
The US Navy said Monday its forces in the Gulf had seized a shipment of weapons on March 28 believed to be from Iran that was destined for Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen.
“We call on Iran to constructively join in the efforts to make peace and to help us to resolve Syria and rather than to continue to send weapons to Houthis, join in the effort… to make peace and to work toward a cessation of hostilities,” Kerry told reporters in Manama.
Kerry later held a meeting with his Gulf Arab counterparts, two weeks before President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend a summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh.
The secretary of state also said that the US and GCC nations “remain united in our opposition to Iran’s missile activities”.
However, a top Iranian military official said Saturday there would be no change to the missile program.
“The US is not qualified to make comments about our defense power,” said Revolutionary Guards deputy chief General Hossein Salami.
“Our missile capabilities will never be negotiated or compromised.”
According to the Iranian Fars news agency, Salami said in response to Kerry’s comments that Iran’s “missile capability is a back-up for Iran’s prestige, honor, survival and dignity and will never be negotiated, compromised and dealt with.”
Another official, Deputy Chief of Staff of Armed Forces Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazzayeri, warned the US on Friday that Iran’s missile power is a red line.
“We are stressing what has been said several times, that is, our missile power is non-negotiable… Iran doesn’t get permission from anybody,” he was quoted by Fars as saying.