Iran has accused the United States of instigating an “unacceptable” escalation of tensions as Washington pledged to continue a campaign of “maximum pressure” on the Islamic Republic. Speaking in Tokyo on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Tehran would not hold talks with Washington but added it would act with caution following the recent deployment of US military hardware to the Gulf region. “We believe that escalation by the United States is unacceptable and uncalled for,” he told reporters in Tokyo, where he is meeting with Japanese officials.”[But] we exercise maximum restraint … in spite of the fact that the United States withdrew from JCPOA last May,” he added, referring to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal brokered between the Islamic Republic and several other world powers. US President Donald Trump last year unilaterally pulled out of the agreement, which curbs Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, and reimposed punitive measures, suggesting Iran was a destabilising actor in the Middle East. Since then, Trump’s administration has steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran: blacklisting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a “terrorist group“, moving to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero and sending a US aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf in response to an unspecified threat.
On Wednesday, in the latest escalation, the US announced it would pull all “non-essential” staff out of Iraq, which neighbours Iran, citing undisclosed “credible and possibly imminent threats”.