Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has accused outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump of seeking to fabricate a "pretext for war" between the two countries.
Zarif made the comments on December 31, days ahead of the first anniversary of the killing of a top Iranian military commander in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq.
For weeks, U.S. officials have suggested Iran or allied Iraqi militia may carry out retaliatory attacks to mark the January 3 anniversary of Qasem Soleimani’s assassination.
And U.S. President Donald Trump on December 23 warned Tehran against any attack on U.S. military or diplomatic personnel in Iraq, days after suspected Iran-backed Iraqi militia launched a barrage of rockets at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.
No Americans were killed or injured by the rockets.
The developments came as Trump ramped up pressure on Iran ahead of a transition to President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he will try to revive diplomacy with Iran upon his inauguration on January 20.
In a show of force directed at Iran, the United States flew strategic bombers over the Persian Gulf on December 30, the second such flight this month. In addition, a U.S. nuclear submarine carrying 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles crossed the Strait of Hormuz on December 21.
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has been patrolling Gulf waters since late November.
On December 31, Zarif criticized the United States for sending American B-52 bombers to the region.
"Instead of fighting [the coronavirus pandemic] in US, @realDonaldTrump & cohorts waste billions to fly B52s & send armadas to OUR region," Zarif tweeted.
"Intelligence from Iraq indicate plot to FABRICATE pretext for war," he wrote, adding: “Iran doesn't seek war but will OPENLY & DIRECTLY defend its people, security & vital interests.”
The killing of Soleimani, the powerful commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, near Baghdad's international airport considerably raised tensions between the two rivals.
Days later, Iran launched retaliatory ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.
In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and imposed punishing sanctions on Iran under a so-called “maximum-pressure” campaign.
In response, Iran has gradually breached parts of the agreement, which was intended to induce Tehran to curb its controversial nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, arguing that it was no longer bound by the deal owing to the U.S. withdrawal.