Iran FM scolds Trump for tweet, rules out nuke renegotiation

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NEW YORK — Iran’s top diplomat scolded President Donald Trump on Wednesday for a weekend tweet about a nonexistent Iranian missile launch and essentially ruled out renegotiating or launching follow-up talks to a landmark nuclear accord that Trump is threatening to dismantle.

“We need to check our facts before we make statements,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It worries me that people play with facts and produce alternative facts.”

He also criticized a recent referendum on independence by Iraq’s Kurdish minority as “dangerous” to stability in a Middle East already beset by efforts to defeat the Islamic State extremist group and civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

And Zarif seemed to float the possibility of a prisoner exchange for several detained Americans in Iran, responding to a question about their fate by raising the situation of several Iranians held or being pursued by the United States for sanctions violations.

But the Iranian minister reserved his sharpest scorn for Trump, who on Saturday blasted Iran in a Tweet that renewed criticism of its 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers including the United States.

“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel,” the president wrote. “They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!”

But it turns out there was no Iranian ballistic missile launch, according to Zarif and U.S. officials.

It’s unclear where Trump got his information, but it apparently did not come from U.S. intelligence agencies, which keep a continuous lookout for missile launches around the globe. As president, Trump could easily have checked with the CIA or other intelligence agencies to verify whether Iran had actually test-fired a missile.

Zarif also declared the U.S. leader’s newly extended travel ban restrictions on Iran to be “an insult to the entire Iranian nation.”

The restrictions, which go into effect Oct. 18, cover citizens of Iran, Chad, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — and some Venezuelan government officials and their families. Iranians were also targeted in Trump’s earlier bans.

“It is unfortunate that for irrelevant political reasons the president of the United States decides to alienate … and antagonize an entire nation who have not harmed anybody,” Zarif said.

“I believe that we need to respond to the measures that were taken by the United States in order to preserve the dignity of our citizens,” he said, “but how we respond is a decision that we will make.”

Regarding the seven-nation nuclear deal, Zarif rejected what he called the “myth” that a renegotiation is possible — as argued by some in the Trump administration.

He said Trump “would open a Pandora’s box” by trying to re-litigate the 2015 accord’s time limits on various Iranian nuclear activities — which were the most intensively negotiated issue.