Iran has vowed it won’t “fall into the trap” of scuppering any future talks with a new U.S. administration following the assassination of a top nuclear scientist.
“Iran’s scientific and defense policies won’t change because of the assassination of one scientist or general,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said in a statement Sunday posted on the government’s official website. The Islamic Republic “shouldn’t fall into the trap of linking the assassination to past nuclear negotiations,” he said.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a veteran physicist who played a major role in Iran’s nuclear research and defense activities, was killed in a bombing and shooting ambush outside Tehran on Friday. Iran has blamed Israel, which had accused Fakhrizadeh of masterminding a secret nuclear bomb project and hasn’t commented on the allegation.
Underscoring the support for diplomacy, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said while “Iran and the U.S. will continue to have fundamental differences,” the tension between Tehran and Washington needn’t continue after Trump is out of office.
“Under Trump’s presidency, Iran and U.S. tensions rose to a 40-year peak. It seems unnecessary for this situation to continue,” Zarif told the Entekhab news website in an interview on Sunday.
Both Israel and U.S. President Donald Trump oppose President-elect Joe Biden’s intention to rejoin the Obama-era nuclear accord if Tehran — which denies bomb-making ambitions — also returns to full compliance.
Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the deal in 2018 and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, considered attacking the country during his last few weeks in office but was dissuaded by senior aides, the New York Times reported. The killing of Fakhrizadeh, who will be buried in Tehran on Monday, could also complicate a return to the accord.
“This assassination will not remain unanswered, but our response won’t come at a time, place or shape they expect,” Rabiei said, referring to Israel and the U.S. “Iran sets the time and the place.”
Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, said the assassination will make it more difficult for Biden to re-enter the nuclear agreement with Iran.
“Fakhrizadeh was at the heart of the Iranian nuclear program,” he said. “Not only the brains but also the passion behind it, so his assassination is really a significant event.”
Mullen added he was hopeful that Biden “can actually reach in and calm the waters, but I think this heightens tension significantly.”
Friday’s incident tops a year of crisis and instability that started with Trump ordering the killing of a top Iranian general in a Jan. 3 drone strike in Baghdad. Iran retaliated with a missile strike on a U.S. base in Iraq that didn’t result in any fatalities. But its unintentional downing of a passenger plane above Tehran in the aftermath killed 176 people.
Hard-liners inside Iran are angry at President Hassan Rouhani for trying to keep the 2015 deal alive while attacks continue on Iran. The ultrahard-line Kayhan newspaper, whose editor is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, published an opinion piece on Sunday calling for the northern Israeli city of Haifa to be attacked in retaliation.
“Assuming that the role of the Zionist regime in this great martyrdom can be proved, we can operationalize this threat,” the column said. “We should attack the port city of Haifa in such a way that in addition to destroying its facilities, heavy human casualties are also incurred so that our deterrence is optimized.”
The newspaper has made similar calls in the past and, while it reflects the views of the most radical elements of the Islamic Republic, its circulation is relatively small and it doesn’t necessarily represent pragmatists in the government and military.
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