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Iran’s man grabs European spotlight with anti-Trump focus

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's speech in Munich showed the Tehran government utterly unbowed. | Kerstin Joensson/AP Photo

Foreign Policy

The Iranian foreign minister lashes out at the United States and demands Europe do more to save the nuclear deal.


02/17/2019 01:39 PM EST

MUNICH, Germany — The U.S. is trying desperately to isolate Iran, but on Sunday Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seized the stage of the world’s premier security conference.

He held the audience of power-brokers rapt for nearly 40 minutes as he thrashed the Trump administration, fired a pointed demand at Europe to do more to protect their nuclear deal, and generally painted a portrait of Tehran’s worldview that at times drew chuckles for defying reality.

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It was a striking performance, conducted in fluent and colloquial English, that quickly became the most talked-about presentation at the annual Munich Security Conference — for its bluntness, its audacity, and its timeliness. Zarif capitalized on tensions in transatlantic relations, exploited President Donald Trump’s unpredictable and erratic foreign policy decisions, and generally played on the jangled nerves of policymakers unsure how to handle an array of new threats.

He also braided all of the main threads together in issuing a blunt demand that EU powers do more to preserve the nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), following Trump’s withdrawal and reimposition of economic sanctions. “Europe needs to be willing to get wet if it wants to swim against the dangerous tide of U.S. unilateralism,” Zarif declared, demonstrating not only his comfort conversing in English, but also an ability to turn its idioms to his advantage.

His forthright presentation, and willingness to spar with the moderator — BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet, who repeatedly challenged him and sought to hold Iran responsible for military aggression and other extraterritorial misdeeds — delighted organizers of the annual conference, who had been hoping for just such a vivid confrontation.

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Zarif’s performance came three days after senior Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Trump’s son-in-law and senior........

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