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Iran FM in Pakistan Amid US Tensions   05/24 06:39

   ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Iran's foreign minister was in Pakistan on Friday, a 
critically timed visit amid a simmering crisis between Tehran and Washington 
and ahead of next week's emergency Arab League meeting called by Saudi Arabia 
over regional tensions.

   The purpose of the visit by Mohammad Javad Zarif, who held talks with his 
Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and also Prime Minister Imran 
Khan, was not made public. But there has been speculation that Iran is looking 
to Islamabad and its close relationship with Riyadh to help de-escalate the 
situation.

   Ahead of Zarif's arrival, Pakistan's foreign ministry called on "all sides 
to show restraint, as any miscalculated move, can transmute into a large-scale 
conflict."

   Zarif has been criticized by name this week by Iran's supreme leader, 
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who named him and President Hassan Rouhani as failing 
to implement the leader's orders over Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world 
powers. Khamenei had claimed the deal had "numerous ambiguities and structural 
weaknesses" that could damage Iran.

   The official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Zarif in Islamabad as warning 
of anarchy if world powers did not unite to stop what he called U.S. aggression 
--- Iran's official parlance for Washington's pressure on Tehran.

   Tensions have ratcheted up recently in the Mideast as the White House 
earlier this month sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over 
a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran. And on Thursday, the 
Pentagon outlined proposals to the White House to send military reinforcements 
to the Middle East to beef up defenses against Iran.

   The crisis takes root in the steady unraveling of the nuclear deal, intended 
to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The accord promised economic 
incentives in exchange for restrictions on Tehran's nuclear activities.

   The Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year, and 
subsequently re-imposed and escalated U.S. sanctions on Tehran --- sending 
Iran's economy into freefall.

   Khamenei's criticism of Zarif signaled a hard-line tilt in how the Islamic 
Republic will react going forward amid President Donald Trump's maximalist 
pressure campaign.

   Iran declared earlier this month that the remaining signatories to the deal 
--- Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia --- have two months to develop a 
plan to shield Iran from American sanctions.

   On Monday, Iran announced it had quadrupled its production capacity of 
low-enriched uranium, making it likely that Tehran will soon exceed the 
stockpile limitations set by the nuclear accord, which would escalate the 
situation further.

   Several incidents have added to the crisis.

   On Thursday, Saudi Arabia said Yemen's Iran-aligned rebels again targeted an 
airport near its southern border with a bomb-carrying drone. The Saudi military 
said it intercepted the drone, while the rebel Houthis said it struck a Patriot 
missile battery at the airport. The Houthis have claimed three times in recent 
days to have targeted the airport, which also hosts a military base. It comes 
after the Houthis last week targeted a Saudi oil pipeline in a coordinated 
drone attack.

   Pakistan was quick to condemn the attacks and promised Saudi Arabia, a 
staunch ally, its full support. The kingdom this week announced a $3.2 billion 
deferred oil and gas payment package for energy-strapped Islamabad.

   With neighboring Iran, Pakistan walks a fine line and their relationship is 
sometimes prickly. Islamabad has little leverage with Washington, although 
relations between the two have improved since Pakistan expressed readiness to 
help move talks between the Afghan Taliban and Washington forward.

   IRNA also reported that Zarif came to Pakistan with a proposal to link 
Iran's port of Chabahar on the Arabian Sea with Pakistan's Gwadar port, mostly 
being developed by China as part of the multi-billion-dollar One Road project 
that will connect the Arabian Sea with China.

   The proposal is unexpected because Pakistan's rival India has been Iran's 
partner in developing Chabahar while Iran's key regional rival, Saudi Arabia, 
has been in talks to develop an oil refinery facility at Pakistan's Gwadar, 
though no agreements have been signed.

   Meanwhile, Oman's Foreign Ministry said it was working to "ease the 
tensions" between Iran and the U.S.

   The ministry in a series of tweets on Friday morning attributed the comments 
to Yusuf bin Alawi, the sultanate's minister of state for foreign affairs, and 
cited an interview in Asharq Al-Wasat, the London-based newspaper owned by a 
Saudi media group long associated with the Al Saud royal family.

   In the interview, bin Alawi warns war "could harm the entire world if it 
breaks out." He doesn't confirm any current Omani mediation but says both the 
U.S. and Iran realize the gravity of the situation.

   Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said spoke last week by telephone with U.S. 
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

   Oman, a nation on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, has long been 
an interlocutor of the West with Iran. The U.S. held secret talks in Oman with 
the Iranians that gave birth to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.


(KA)

 
 
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