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Iran minister: Trump’s aim is talks, Bolton wants conflict

April 24, 2019
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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the Asia Society in New York, Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the Asia Society in New York, Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK (AP) — Iran’s top diplomat said Wednesday President Donald Trump’s aim “is to bring us to our knees to talk” — but national security adviser John Bolton and key U.S. allies in the Mideast want “regime change at the very least” and the “disintegration of Iran.”

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he doubts Trump wants conflict because the president ran on a campaign promise “not to waste another $7 trillion in our region in order to make the situation only worse.”

But Zarif said what he called “the B team” — Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed — is trying “to push Iran to take action” as a pretext for “crazy” and “adventurous” U.S. actions.

“President Trump has a plan, but he’s being lured into not a plan but a trap,” Zarif warned in a question-and-answer session at the Asia Society. “It will cost another $7 trillion and even a greater disaster.”

Zarif said “it’s not a crisis yet, but it’s a dangerous situation,” adding that “accidents, plotted accidents are possible.”

The Trump administration re-imposed sanctions on Iran, including on its energy sector, last November, after pulling America out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.

The U.S. designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group earlier this month — the first ever for an entire division of another government — added another layer of sanctions to the powerful paramilitary force, making it a crime under U.S. jurisdiction to provide the guard with material support.

On Monday, Trump announced the U.S. will no longer exempt any countries from U.S. sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil, a decision that primarily affects the five remaining major importers: China and India and U.S. treaty allies Japan, South Korea, Turkey.

The move is part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran that aims to eliminate all of its revenue from oil exports which the U.S. says funds destabilizing activity throughout the Mideast and beyond.

Hours before Trump’s announcement, Iran reiterated its long-running threat to close the Strait of Hormuz if it’s prevented from using the crucial waterway in the Persian Gulf through which about a third of all oil traded at sea passes. The U.S. Navy has in the past accused Iranian patrol boats of harassing American warships in the waterway.

“We believe that Iran will continue to sell its oil,” Zarif said when asked about the waivers and keeping the Strait of Hormuz open.

“We will continue to find buyers for our oil and we will continue to use the Straits of Hormuz as a safe transit passage for the sale of our oil. That is our intention and that is what we believe will happen,” he said.

“But if the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that, then it would be prepared for the consequences,” Zarif said.

What does “prevent” mean?

“The B team wants the United States to take crazy measures. And it won’t be the first time that the United States has taken adventurous measures,” Zarif replied.

The Iranian minister said he thinks Trump wants a deal “but I think he’s doing the wrong thing” by maximizing pressure, stressing that “Iranians are allergic to pressure.”

Addressing Trump, he said: “Try the language of respect. ... It won’t kill you, believe me.”

Zarif said he came back to the Foreign Ministry after resigning because “we diplomats never give up hope.”

“I don’t think anybody would envy my position, particularly when I have to deal with the B team,” he said, adding to laughter, “I wish it was the A team at least.”

“I have to do whatever I can to prevent conflict, to see if we can resolve conflict peacefully, diplomatically,” Zarif said. “And I have a lot of hope.”

He recalled saying after the 2015 nuclear deal was agreed that diplomats always make the right choice after exhausting all the wrong choices.

“I do not believe that there are many wrong choices left to make,” he said. “So my hope is that after Washington has exhausted all the wrong choices, they may come to the right choices.”

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