DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — New U.S. sanctions over Iran's ballistic missile testing are an example of an American "addiction to coercion" despite improved relations and a historic nuclear deal, Iran's foreign minister said in an interview Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Davos for the World Economic Forum, said the ballistic program was part of Iran's right to legitimate self-defense, and said the prospect of restoring U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations remains "far away" despite the nuclear deal.
His comments to The Associated Press came after the U.S. on Sunday imposed sanctions against 11 individuals and entities involved in Iran's ballistic missile program as a result of Tehran's firing of a medium-range ballistic missile, one day after the Obama administration lifted economic penalties against Iran over its nuclear program.
"We believe these sanctions are uncalled for. We believe the sanctions are illegal. They violate basic principles. The Iranian missile program is a legitimate defense program," Zarif said.
"It shows that the United States has an addiction which has been very difficult for it to overcome," Zarif said. Washington, he said, suffers from an "addiction to pressure, addiction to coercion, addiction to sanctions."
The United States insists Iran's ballistic missile tests violated U.N. sanctions — sanctions that will remain in effect for at least eight more years under the terms of the nuclear accord.
The U.S. administration has long argued that the nuclear deal does not cover other elements of Iran's allegedly bad behavior and that Washington will continue to press Iran to change its ways and punish it when necessary.
Zarif countered that Iran spends far less than its neighbors on its military.
"In addition, the United States sells tens of billions of dollars worth of military equipment to the region," he said. "So it's just preposterous to cry wolf about Iran's ballistic missile program while at the same time you are selling — the United States is selling — tens of billions of dollars worth of toys to our neighbors."
He didn't specify, but the U.S. has been a big military supporter of Israel and Iranian rivals Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
The end to sanctions is poised to provide a boon to Iran's struggling economy, and Zarif pointed to a "tremendous" response among business leaders — many of whom are also attending the WEF. He put in a plug for Iran's workforce and relative stability in a region riven with conflict including Yemen and Syria.
"We have deals that are being worked out with Airbus — all sorts of companies from nuclear technology companies, to irrigation, green energy ... a whole range of them," he said, without elaborating.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who along with other top diplomats worked closely with Zarif to reach the deal, has indicated that he hopes Iran will take a positive role in resolving conflicts in places like Yemen and Syria.
Zarif insisted his country has "always played a positive role" in those two countries. Iran backs Syrian President Assad and Yemeni Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who are fighting a Saudi-led coalition that backs the internationally recognized president.
Asked about conservative voices within Iran, Zarif said: "Iran is not a monolith, I think Americans would recognize that ... just like the United States is not. So you have a difference of views among various political actors, among various parts of the population."
Despite lingering tensions between Iran and the United States, he said, "the United States can take steps to overcome this mistrust," such as through implementation of the nuclear agreement.