Iran’s foreign minister on Wednesday ruled out cooperating with the United States in helping Iraq fight Islamic State militants and warned that the terrorist group poses a much broader global threat that needs new thinking to eradicate.
Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran has serious doubts about the willingness and ability of the United States to react seriously to the “menace” from the Islamic State group “across the board” and not just pick and choose where to confront it as it has just started doing in Iraq.
“This is a very mobile organization,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations. “This is not a threat against a single community nor a threat against a single region. It was not confined to Syria, nor will it be confined to Iraq. It is a global threat.”
The U.S.-Iranian relationship is at a delicate moment, with a new round of talks on a deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear program set to begin on Thursday, which Zarif said is his top priority. Leaders of the two countries, who talked a year ago, are also arriving next week for the annual ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.
Iran was the first country to provide help to neighboring Iraq when the Islamic State group swept across the border from Syria in July. France wanted Iran to attend an international conference in Paris on Monday aimed at coordinating actions to crush the Islamic State extremists in Iraq, but the United States said “no.”
Zarif called the 24 participating nations at the Paris conference “a coalition of repenters” because most supported the Islamic State group “in one form or another” from its inception following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
At the end of the day, he said, they created “a Frankenstein that came to haunt its creators.”
Zarif said Iran’s assistance without any troops helped Iraq prevent the Islamic State group from taking over Baghdad and the Kurdish capital Irbil.
Zarif said it’s now time for the international community “and particularly the coalition of the repenters” to stop providing financing, military equipment and safe passage for the group and its fighters.
He didn’t name any coalition members, but Saudi Arabia and Qatar provided financing to the al-Qaeda breakaway group, and Turkey has not stopped thousands of foreign fighters from crossing into Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State group.
Zarif said the international community must begin to deal with the resentment and disenfranchisement that allows the Islamic State group to attract young people from the Middle East to Europe and the United States.
The international community, he said, must also recognize that in a globalized world problems can’t be solved through coercion, exclusion or imposing solutions.
Zarif agreed with U.S. President Barack Obama that the group is neither Islamic nor a state so he referred to it by a previous name, ISIS. But he was critical of the U.S. approach to dealing with the threat from the group.
In Iraq, where the U.S. is carrying out airstrikes, Zarif said, “it will not be eradicated through aerial bombardment.”
In Syria, where the U.S. is beefing up military support for the moderate opposition to confront the extremists and step up opposition to President Bashar Assad’s government, he said, “you cannot fight ISIS and the government in Damascus together.”
When Zarif was asked what circumstances could lead the two countries to collaborate or even discuss the threat posed by the Islamic State group in Iraq, he said he told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Iran has two fundamental principles — “it should be for the Iraqis to decide and we should not be rewarding terrorists.”
He also implicitly criticized the U.S. for supporting Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to replace Nouri al-Malaki, saying Iraqis must be allowed to determine their own politics.
“And that was one of the problems we had in the initial approach by the United States, and that is why we turned it down,” Zarif said.