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Exclusive: Zarif threatens ‘all-out war’ in case of a military strike on Iran

Iran’s foreign minister has raised the spectre of “all-out war” in the event of US or Saudi military strikes and that Saudi Arabia would have to fight “to the last American soldier.”

Javad Zarif told CNN that Iran hoped to avoid conflict, adding that the country was willing to talk to its regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But the possibility of a return to negotiations with the US, however, would not happen unless Washington provided full sanctions relief as promised under the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran’s top diplomat said.

He again denied Tehran’s involvement in weekend attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which dramatically ratcheted up tensions in the region this week. Zarif said Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who claimed responsibility for the attack, have stepped up their military capabilities and are capable of conducting a sophisticated operation such as the one that knocked out half of the kingdom’s energy production.

Probed further, however, Zarif was unable to provide proof that Houthis launched the drones and missiles.

“I cannot have any confidence that they did it because we just heard their statement,” said Zarif. “I know that we didn’t do it. I know that the Houthis made a statement that they did it.”

US and Saudi officials have repeatedly dismissed Houthi claims of responsibility in the weekend attacks. Instead, they have highlighted Iran’s alleged involvement in the incident.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Saudi Ministry of Defense spokesman Turki al-Malki said weapons that missed their targets were found to be Iranian-made. He also said that investigations revealed that the drones and missiles were likely launched from the north of the kingdom, and not from the direction of Yemen, which lies southwest of the country.

War drums have become louder since the attack. US President Donald Trump has called on Pentagon officials to plan potential responses. He tweeted that the US was “locked and loaded” but was waiting for Saudi Arabia’s rulers to decide on a path forward.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was the first official to name Iran as the culprit, is in the Persian Gulf visiting Saudi and Emirati leaders.

Asked what the consequence of a US or Saudi military strike on Iran would be, Zarif said: “All-out war.”

“I make a very serious statement about defending our country. I am making a very serious statement that we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” said Zarif. He added that a military response based on “deception” about the weekend attacks would cause “a lot of casualties.”

“But we won’t blink to defend our territory,” he said.

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