Iran’s leaders threatened Saturday to retaliate over the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist, blaming Israel and pledging to continue the work of the man who US and Israeli officials believe was the architect of what they call the country’s secretive nuclear weapons program.
But Germany, a key US ally in Europe, urged all sides not to allow the last weeks of the Trump administration to obliterate hopes for fresh negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The comments followed the assassination Friday of the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside the Iranian capital, Tehran.
“A few weeks before the new US administration takes office, it is important to preserve the scope for talks with Iran so that the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program can be resolved through negotiations,” a spokesman for Germany’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We, therefore, urge all parties to refrain from any steps that could lead to a further escalation of the situation.”
President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers unravelled the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and distanced the United States from Western allies, including Germany, which tried to keep the agreement intact.
Now, President-elect Joe Biden wants to reactivate the 2015 accord, which curtailed Iran’s nuclear activities, but the killing could complicate that aim.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said Saturday that Iranian officials must commit themselves to “pursuing this crime and punishing its perpetrators and those who commanded it.”
And Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, blamed Israel for the assassination and said in a televised Cabinet meeting that Iran would respond “in due course.”
“Iran’s enemies should know that the people of Iran and officials are braver than to leave this criminal act unanswered,” he said Saturday. “In due time, they will answer for this crime.”
In response, Israel on Saturday put its embassies around the world on high alert, Israeli N12 News reported. The country’s Foreign Ministry said it would not comment on embassy security matters.
For decades, Fakhrizadeh was the guiding figure behind what US and Israeli officials have described as a covert campaign by Iran to design an atomic warhead. He was shot in what the Iranian news media said was a roadside ambush as he and his bodyguards travelled outside Tehran.
One US official and two other intelligence officials said that Israel was behind the attack on the scientist. It was unclear how much the United States may have known about the operation in advance, but the two nations are the closest of allies and have long shared intelligence regarding Iran, which Israel considers its most potent threat.
Since the nuclear deal collapsed, Iran, which maintains that its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes rather than weapons, has again begun increasing its nuclear capabilities.
John Brennan, who was CIA director under Obama, said on Twitter on Friday that the killing was a “criminal act & highly reckless” and that it risked “lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict.”
The remarks Saturday by Iran’s leaders fueled the concerns of a new escalation of retribution.
“Once again, the evil hands of global arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” Rouhani said, echoing phrases that Iranian officials use to refer to Israel.
Analysts have said that the killing would set back Iran’s nuclear program. But Rouhani tried to dispel that idea, saying that it would “not slow down our achievements” and reinforcing promises from several Iranian leaders that they would not relent in their nuclear ambitions.
In a letter to the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, and the Security Council on Friday, the Iranians said that there were “serious indications” that Israel had carried out the killing, and that they reserved the right to retaliate.