Europe Seeks to Defuse Iran Crisis as Trump Says Military Option Still On

Scrambling to extend a reprieve in the Iran crisis on Saturday after President Trump’s aborted military strike, Britain, France and other European countries reached out to the Iranians for dialogue and urged restraint on all sides.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it had dispatched its minister of state for the Middle East, Andrew Murrison, for talks in Tehran. The French government said it had had dispatched an envoy, Emmanuel Bonne, to Iran.

And the office of the European Union’s top foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, emphasized what it called the need for “exclusively diplomatic routes” to address tensions.

Mr. Trump, who ordered then scrubbed armed retaliation against the Iranians on Thursday for having downed an American spy drone, told reporters at the White House on Saturday that military action was still possible.

But he suggested economic pressure was his preferred alternative to a threat of war between Iran and the United States over what his administration has described as Iran’s increasingly nefarious activities in the Middle East.

“We are putting additional sanctions on Iran,” Mr. Trump told reporters before departing for the Camp David presidential retreat. “In some cases, we are going slowly, but in other cases we are moving rapidly.”

The crisis has been slowly building since May 2018 when Mr. Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear agreement, negotiated by President Barack Obama’s administration. The deal relaxed some economic sanctions on Iran in return for its verifiable commitments of peaceful nuclear work.

Although Iran has honored the accord, Mr. Trump has asserted it is temporary and too weak. He has reimposed old sanctions and added new ones, including steps to choke all exports of Iranian oil, the country’s main revenue source.

Iran’s leaders, who have publicly and repeatedly rejected any discussions with the Trump administration, have shown no softening in their position.

Punctuating their defiance, Iran state-run media said Saturday that the authorities had executed an Iranian defense contractor on charges of spying for the C.I.A.

No date of the execution was provided for the contractor, identified as Jalal Haji Zavar, nor was the precise nature of the spying accusations. But reports in the state media said his contract with the Defense Ministry had ended in 2010 and that his wife, a co-conspirator, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

While executions are not uncommon in Iran, the announcement of the death penalty for an espionage defendant, just a few days after the downing of the drone, appeared deliberate.

Iran also protested to the United Arab Emirates on Saturday for having permitted United States forces to launch the drone from that country.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran disapproves of provision of facilities for foreign forces for the purpose of any aggression against the Iranian sea, ground and air frontiers,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s department of Persian Gulf Affairs said.

The United States has asserted the drone was outside of Iranian airspace when it was downed by a ballistic missile launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has asserted the drone was in Iran’s territory when it was destroyed. He posted on Twitter what he said were the exact coordinates of its location.

The downing of the drone was among the most brazen actions the Iranian military has taken to counter what Tehran’s leaders see as intensified American bullying under Mr. Trump.

Possibly emboldened by their success in downing the drone, some Iranian commanders reinforced the message on Saturday with bombastic warnings to the United States.

“Threat for threat means that if the enemy fires a single bullet at us, it will receive 10 bullets and have to pay a heavy cost,” Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for the armed forces, said in an interview with the state-run Tasnim News Agency.

“A military mistake from the enemy, particularly from the U.S. and its regional allies, will be tantamount to firing at a powder keg,” General Shekarchi said, “and it will set the region ablaze and burn up the U.S., its interests and its allies.”

America’s European allies, who have sought to preserve the Iranian nuclear deal, have been placed in an increasingly awkward position over the standoff between the United States and Iran.

The Europeans share some American concerns about Iran’s support for militant groups in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, but say the Trump administration’s repudiation of the nuclear accord was a mistake. They also are concerned about Iran’s warnings that it will no longer abide by some provisions of the accord unless the country starts receiving the promised economic benefits.

Part of Mr. Murrison’s diplomatic trip to Iran, the British Foreign Office said, was to “call for urgent de-escalation in the region and raise U.K. and international concerns about Iran’s regional conduct and its threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal to which the U.K. remains fully committed.”

Source: NYT

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