Iran's top diplomat says risk of war in the Middle East 'has gone up,' blames US

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian spoke exclusively with ABC's Martha Raddatz.

January 23, 2024, 5:20 PM

The chances that flashpoints in the Middle East will ignite a conflict that engulfs the entire region have increased, Iran's top diplomat told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

"The scope of the war has become wider. This means that the danger of having a wider war in the region has gone up," Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, blaming the U.S and Israel for the escalating tensions.

"If the U.S. today stops its backing -- logistical and weapons, political and media support -- of the genocidal war launched by Israel, then I can assure you that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will not survive for 10 minutes," he asserted. "So the key to solve the problem is in Washington before it is in Tel Aviv."

The Iranians call Hamas a "Palestinian liberation group" and say Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are a response to the war in Gaza.
ABC News

Raddatz pressed the foreign minister on Iran's role in stoking the conflict, including its longstanding financial and military support of Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group that killed hundreds of civilians in Israel in its Oct. 7 attack.

"We consider Hamas a Palestinian liberation group that is standing against occupation," Amir-Abdollahian said. "Of course, we never approved the killing of women and children, civilians anywhere in the world. We never support it."

Raddatz also questioned the foreign minister on Iran's backing of the Houthis -- the Yemeni rebel group responsible for dozens of recent attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, including U.S. ships.

Amir-Abdollahian discusses conflict in the Middle East as tensions rise in the Red Sea between the U.S. and Iran.
ABC News

The Pentagon has shared evidence of what it says is Iran's weapons smuggling network that supplies the Houthis, including details of a commando mission in the Arabian Sea that successfully intercepted Iranian-made missile components destined for Yemen but resulted in the death of two Navy SEALS.

But Amir-Abdollahian dismissed the allegations, baselessly accusing the U.S. military of fabricating the information.

"Mostly, this is a TV show," he asserted, even though the United Nations and other foreign governments have documented similar arms transfers from Iran.

While the Oct. 7 attacks and its tumultuous aftermath have renewed fears of direct combat between the U.S. and Iran, the two have teetered on the brink of war before in recent years.

Hostilities between the countries hit a zenith in 2020, when then-President Donald Trump ordered an air strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force and a man the U.S. says responsible for the deaths of hundreds American and coalition service members and was actively plotting to kill more.

In the aftermath of Soleimani's killing, Iranian officials vowed they would eventually exact revenge.

"That was a big, big mistake made by Trump. That is not something that we will be able to forget," Amir-Abdollahian said, adding that Tehran still wanted to see "all the people involved" in the strike "brought to justice."

"What does that mean?" Raddatz asked. "Does that mean killed?"

"Justice will rule on it," he responded.

However, Amir-Abdollahian argued that whether Trump won or lost his bid for another term in the Oval Office would ultimately have little impact on the relationship between the U.S. and Iran.

"Individuals are not important, what matters is the behavior of the government that takes the office.," he said.

In the Middle East, Tehran wields much of its power through its vast web of proxies--an informal coalition terrorist organization like Hamas, the Houthis, Lebanon's Hezbollah, as well as paramilitary groups scattered through Iraq and Syria that are united by anti-Western and anti-Israeli sentiments.

U.S. officials say Iran has significant influence over the network of militants that benefit from the country's financial and military support, but Tehran has consistently downplayed or denied the connections--insisting the country only wants to see peace across the Middle East.

"Nobody is going to benefit from any war. We believe that the solution is never war," Amir-Abdollahian said.

ABC News' Cindy Smith, Nate Luna and Christopher Boccia contributed to this report.