Davos Diary: Iran’s Zarif Accuses U.S. of ‘Coercion,’ and Tells the Saudis to Chill

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had quite the day in Davos.


DAVOS, Switzerland — Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was a busy man in Davos Wednesday, taking the United States to task for new sanctions connected to ballistic missile tests. He also told Saudi Arabia, which has broken diplomatic ties with Tehran, to chill out.

First, in an interview with the Associated Press, Zarif blasted Washington for sanctions against 11 individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, announced last Sunday. These came a day after sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program were lifted. He called the penalties an example of America’s “addiction to coercion.”

“We believe these sanctions are uncalled for. We believe the sanctions are illegal. They violate basic principles,” Zarif said. He called the Iranian missile program “a legitimate defense” that is allowed under the landmark nuclear deal that was enacted last weekend.

Then, speaking at a World Economic Forum event, Zarif assured the world there would be no war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Relations between the two Middle East powerhouses have hit a low point after the Saudis executed a leading Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The Saudi Embassy in Tehran was subsequently attacked, and Riyadh severed diplomatic ties.

When asked if there would be military conflict, Zarif said: “No. I think our Saudi neighbors need to realize that confrontation is in the interest of nobody.”

He also said the breakdown in relations sharply spiraled in 2013, when Iran and the P5+1 powers struck a preliminary nuclear deal. The Saudis had long been opposed to the agreement, but has publicly said it will support it so long as Iran’s nuclear facilities are rigorously inspected.

Since the tentative 2013 agreement, Zarif said, Saudi officials “have been panicking.”

“But there is no need to panic, our friends,” he said. “Iran is there to work with you, and Iran doesn’t want to exclude anyone from this region. There is no need to engage in a confrontation.”

Then, just hours after blasting Washington for new sanctions, Zarif struck a conciliatory tone. Speaking to reporters, he said he regretted that the images of U.S. sailors captured and subsequently released in Iranian waters were made public.

“No humiliation was intended. The picture that was taken to show there was no mistreatment,” he said.

He later added, “Some of the pictures may have been best left in the archives.”

Photo Credit: Remy Steinegger/

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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