Acting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blamed “aggressive” U.S. policies for heightened global tensions and called on Washington and Tehran to de-escalate their feud.
Speaking at his annual news conference in Moscow on January 17, Lavrov called the downing of a Ukrainian passenger by Iranian air defense systems a “very serious red flag” and a warning signal to begin calming the situation instead of resorting to “constant threats.”
"An increase in tensions between Iran and the United States will not help settle any single crisis in the region, if only because the tensions will be increasing," he said.
The downing of the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) flight on January 8, which killed all 176 people on board, came as the United States and Iran appeared headed for war.
The tragedy occurred hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, in response to the targeted killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. air strike earlier this month.
Iranian authorities initially denied any responsibility, but three days after the tragedy it admitted the plane was shot down "unintentionally."
In wide-ranging comments, Lavrov said that while he was not making “excuses for anyone,” the "unprecedented" U.S. operation "undermined and put into question all imaginable norms of international law.”
Lavrov said there were reports of "at least six [U.S.] F-35 fighters in the air at the Iranian border" at the time of the incident.
"This information has yet to be verified," he said, "but I'd like to underline the edginess that always accompanies such situations."
Lavrov also chided Britain, France, and Germany for triggering a dispute mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers, citing Tehran's reduced compliance with the accord, which the United States unilaterally abandoned in 2018.
He said the three took a “dangerous turn” by caving into threats of increased tariffs from the White House and setting off the dispute mechanism, which could result in UN and European Union sanctions on Tehran.
Iran has taken several steps away from meeting its commitments under the 2015 pact since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the agreement and implemented crippling sanctions on Iran.
The remaining parties to the accord -- the three European powers, plus China and Russia -- have pledged to keep it alive.
But European partners have been unable to offer Tehran a way to sell its crude oil abroad despite the U.S. sanctions, which caused the value of Iran's currency to plummet and sent its inflation rate soaring.
Lavrov also reaffirmed that Russia would like to extend the New START nuclear-arms treaty with the United States, which is due to expire in February 2021. However, he said Moscow has not seen "any clear, coherent signals" from the United States on its intentions regarding the accord.