Javad Zarif: Trump wasting billions sending B-52s to Gulf instead of fighting Covid

Tehran not seeking war, foreign minister says, amid heightened tensions with Washington

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 14, 2015 shows then British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (2nd R), then US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (L) talking to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as they wait for the Russian Foreign Minister for a group picture at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, after reaching a nuclear deal. Israel welcomes a German push to expand the Iran nuclear deal into a broader security agreement once Joe Biden moves into the White House next month, its ambassador to Berlin told AFP. Jeremy Issacharoff, the nation's envoy in Germany since 2017, said a recent call by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to reassess the 2015 nuclear accord with a new US administration was a "step in the right direction". / AFP / POOL / CARLOS BARRIA / TO GO WITH AFP INTERVIEW by DEBORAH COLE on December 24, 2020

Iran is not seeking a war with the US, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told President Donald Trump in a Tweet on Thursday, but he said Tehran will defend itself if needed.

US intelligence officials said that there are indications that Iran is planning an attack on American interests and allies in Iraq to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the killing of Quds Force head, Qassem Suleimani, on January 3.

The US flew B-52 strategic bombers through the Arabian Gulf several times in the past month as a deterrence and returned or deployed aircraft carriers and submarines to the region.

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The manoeuvres, Mr Zarif said on Thursday, were a waste of money and the precursor to fabricated reasons for war by Washington.

"Instead of fighting Covid in US, Donald Trump and cohorts waste billions to fly B52s and send armadas to our region. Intelligence from Iraq indicate plot to fabricate pretext for war,” he tweeted.

“Iran doesn't seek war but will OPENLY & DIRECTLY defend its people, security & vital interests,” he said.

Suleimani was killed in a drone strike near Baghdad airport last January alongside Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iran-backed Iraqi militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, and eight others.

The US embassy in Baghdad withdrew non-essential staff last year and in recent weeks slimmed down personnel numbers further in what a top Iraqi official said was a temporary step driven by "security reservations".

It could also be a harbinger of more US military action to come, Iraqi and western officials told AFP.

"The US would need to get its staff out before it acts, so that they wouldn't be targeted in any possible retaliation," one western diplomat said.

Mr Trump directly addressed the tensions. He said the US was hearing "chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq" and warned that "if one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over".