While President Trump delivered a rebuke to voices calling for immediate negotiations with Iran, labeling such moves premature, Iranian officials disavowed any intention of seeking talks with the U.S., indicating tensions are likely to persist for some time. Elsewhere in the region, Israeli forces have opened a new front against Iran’s regional assets by launching a series of attacks on Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq.
IRANIAN OFFICIALS MOVE TO SAVE FACE AFTER TRUMP DISMISSED NEW TALKS
On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump declared it was "too early" to meet with Tehran's top diplomat, who made a surprise weekend visit to the G7 summit. "It's too soon to meet, I didn't want to," Trump told reporters at the summit. Trump insisted he had advance knowledge of Zarif’s travel plans — stating, “I knew he was coming” — and also that he tacitly blessed French President Macron’s plans to engage Zarif: "I knew everything he [Macron] was doing and I approved everything he was doing.”
Iranian President Rouhani was quick to respond, saying on a televised speech in Tehran on August 27 that "the step is to retreat from sanctions. You must retreat from all illegal, unjust and wrong sanctions against the nation of Iran." Rouhani further stressed that "without taking this step, the deadlock will not be unlocked.”
For his part, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif sounded a dour note following his brief visit to the G-7. He indicated that American-Iranian dialogue was effectively impossible at present, and even a full American return to the JCPOA would not enable bilateral talks: “I said in Biarritz that a meeting between the Iranian president and Trump is not imaginable until the U.S. returns to 5+1 and discharges [its commitments] under the JCPOA, and even then, there would be no bilateral talks.”
ISRAEL WIDENS CAMPAIGN AGAINST IRANIAN ASSETS
Related developments elsewhere in the region reflect the intensification of Israel’s campaign to contain Iranian paramilitary expansionist capacities. Beginning on July 19, reports of airstrikes targeting Iranian-affiliated Iraqi Shi’ite militias began to appear. Since then, there have been three additional airstrikes on weapons depots allegedly involved in transferring weapons into Syria as well as military bases of militias aligned with the IRGC.
No nation or organization has declared itself responsible for these acts. However, following the most recent flareup, two senior American officials, speaking to the New York Times, confirmed claims that Israel waged the strikes on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. Kata’ib Hezbollah has also accused Israel of targeting the 45th Brigade of the Popular Mobilization Units on August 25th.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has not claimed responsibility for the strikes, but hinted broadly that Israel is their author. On August 24, Netanyahu tweeted, “In a major operational effort, we have thwarted an attack against Israel by the Iranian Quds Force & Shi'ite militias. I reiterate: Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression. ‘If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first.’”
Several days earlier, Netanyahu also hinted that Israeli forces would soon widen their campaign against Iranian assets in the region. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 9 TV, Netanyahu declared, “Iran has no immunity, anywhere. The Iranians continue to threaten Israel with annihilation and are building military bases across the Middle East intended to carry out that goal. … we will act — and currently are acting — against them, wherever it is necessary.”