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Iran's Zarif heading to Asia in push against US sanctions

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Norway on August 22, 2019 (AFP Photo/Stian Lysberg Solum)

Tehran (AFP) - Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will head to East Asia on Sunday, his office said, as part of a diplomatic push to win relief from biting US sanctions.

Zarif would visit China, Japan and Malaysia fresh on the heels of a tour of Western European nations, spokesman Abbas Mousavi said late Friday on the ministry's Telegram channel.

"Bilateral relations and most importantly regional and international issues are some of the topics our foreign minister will discuss with the aforementioned countries' officials during the trip," said Mousavi.

The United States slapped sanctions on Zarif late last month in a bid to target any assets he has in America and squeeze his ability to function as a globe-trotting diplomat.

But Zarif hailed his visit to France on Friday following trips to Finland, Sweden and Norway.

In a post on Twitter, he said "despite US efforts to destroy diplomacy" he met French President Emmanuel Macron, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and had interviews with media in Paris, including AFP.

Iran and its arch-foe the United States have been at loggerheads since last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a 2015 deal under which the Islamic republic agreed to rein in its nuclear activities in return for an easing of sanctions.

Twelve months on from the US pullout, Iran began reducing its commitments by surpassing a uranium enrichment cap and exceeding a limit on its reserves.

The situation has threatened to spiral out of control, with ships attacked in the Gulf, drones downed and oil tankers seized.

During his visit to France, Zarif told AFP in an interview that he was pleased with the efforts of Macron to defuse the crisis.

"President Macron made some suggestions last week to President (Hassan) Rouhani and we believe they are moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet," Zarif said.

Macron has been seeking to roll back some of the US measures imposed as part of Trump's campaign of "maximum pressure" on Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is peaceful.

French diplomats have raised the idea of US waivers on sanctions affecting Iranian oil exports to India and China, or a new credit line for Tehran that could help the struggling economy.