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Iran Is Not Interested In Escalating Tensions, Iranian Diplomat Says


Tensions between the United States and Iran are ramping up. Yesterday, the United States ordered its diplomatic staff to leave Iraq, as U.S. officials warned of growing threats from Iran and also militias backed by Iran. Also, Iran has announced it is resuming some activities it halted under the nuclear deal - activities that threaten to violate the 2015 nuclear pact.

We have Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Ravanchi with us now from our studios in New York City.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for taking the time for us.

MAJID RAVANCHI: Good to be with you.

GREENE: How do you respond to the claim from the United States that militias backed by Iran could be preparing to target U.S. forces in the region?

RAVANCHI: I should say that we are not interested in the escalation of tensions in our region because if something goes wrong, everybody will lose - including Iran, including the U.S., including all the countries in the region. We are not interested in war. We are not planning for a war. War is not an option for Iran. But at the same time, we have to be prepared for any action against our forces, against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iran. Therefore, we are vigilant. We are doing everything possible to lower the tension in the region. But unfortunately, there are certain people, both in Washington as well as in our region, who are interested to escalate the tension, who are interested to agitate the situation in the region, to provoke. And I believe that it is in everybody's interest to prevent such an eventuality.

GREENE: Well, you say people in the region. Could there be people in your own country who are trying to provoke? I mean, with respect, you know, I wonder if you're in a position to know for sure that the Revolutionary Guard or other militias might be doing one thing or doing another. Is it possible that there are proxy forces in Iran - Iran is well known for using proxy forces - who could be doing things - doing things that could be seem provocative to the United States right now?

RAVANCHI: You - I'm sure you've heard - our supreme leader, the other day, said that Iran is not interested in war. So we are not going to prepare anything for a conflict. And this is being said at the highest level of our system. Therefore...

GREENE: But could there be defensive measures? I mean, you said that you have to be vigilant. Could there be defensive measures right now that that the United States might be seeing and interpreting it as preparing for some sort of conflict?

RAVANCHI: We - as I said, we have to prepare ourselves for defensive measures. We are not interested to provoke. We are not going to do anything which can be interpreted as an offensive act by Iran. But at the same time, it is our right to be prepared. It is our right to defend ourselves.

GREENE: Well, I want to ask you about one specific. I mean, The New York Times reports that administration officials had access to photographs appearing to show some Iranian forces loading missiles onto boats in the Persian Gulf. I mean, our news network, NPR, has not seen or authenticated these. But is that happening?

RAVANCHI: As I said, we have to prepare ourselves. I'm not in a position to talk about military preparedness in Iran. But what I can tell you is that all of these allegations are part of the fake allegations, which are being directed to Iran, against Iran, to prepare something like a conflict or something like a war.

GREENE: Iran did say it was restarting some nuclear activities, as I mentioned, that could be a violation of the 2015 deal. If that's happening, does the U.S. have a right to take a tougher posture after that announcement?

RAVANCHI: It is not against the nuclear deal. In fact, what we have done is exactly to preserve the deal. It is - what we have said is exactly in accordance with paragraph 26 and 36 of the nuclear deal. And it is based on our rights to lower our commitments, to somehow try not to do certain things that we were doing in the past. Therefore, it is our right to act in accordance with the nuclear deal.

GREENE: Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Ravanchi, thanks so much for your time this morning.

RAVANCHI: Thank you, sir.

GREENE: And I'm joined by NPR's Peter Kenyon, who follows all of this from Istanbul. And Peter, it sounds to me like the ambassador is not denying that Iran is making some, what he considers, defensive moves. But this might be the sort of thing the United States is picking up on.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, perception is a lot in these sorts of situations. Obviously, the outcome many of America's allies are hoping to avoid is the same one Ravanchi said - and I believe Iran says that it would like to avoid - direct armed conflict between it and the U.S. Analysts have been telling me for years that Iran has no interest in open conflict with America. That's why it operates through proxies, like the militias it backs in Iraq or Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Now, given the events of recent days, we've got other factors - economics, oil, ships being targeted in the Persian Gulf, a reported drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline that has been claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. This has helped drive the oil prices up for three consecutive days. Iran has said if it can't get its oil through the Strait of Hormuz that's in the Persian Gulf, other countries won't be able to get their oil through either. So there are several possible flashpoints.

GREENE: NPR's Peter Kenyon, following all of this from Istanbul.

Peter, thanks so much. We appreciate it as always.

KENYON: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.