Trump's Iran Moves Threaten to Take Dangerous Turn, Zarif Warns


(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran could take a dangerous turn if he heeds the advice of allies and aides seeking regime change in the Islamic Republic, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

Speaking two days after the U.S. said it will let waivers to a handful of governments still importing Iranian oil expire, exposing them to sanctions, Zarif said Wednesday that he thinks that Trump wants to force Tehran to the negotiating table but is being pushed toward a potential military conflict by some of his advisers and regional allies -- a “B Team” of officials that he said includes the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Trump's Iran Moves Threaten to Take Dangerous Turn, Zarif Warns

“President Trump’s aim is to bring us to our knees and talk,” Zarif said at the Asia Society in New York. “But the ‘B-team’ wants regime change at the very least.”

Iran’s leaders have been unified in saying the latest U.S. efforts will fail, despite the hurdles already confronting the Islamic Republic’s economy since Trump withdrew a year ago from a seven-nation agreement meant to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for ending some economic sanctions.

Oil steadied near a six-month high as an industry report showing a gain in U.S. crude inventories partly offset concern over America’s campaign to halt Iranian crude exports.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said it will be “impossible” to slash his nation’s oil exports to zero, while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to “respond” to the U.S. move.

“We can export as much oil as we need and as much as we intend to,” Khamenei said.

Echoing remarks by a senior Iranian military official, who said the Islamic Republic will close the strategic Strait of Hormuz if it’s prevented from using it, Zarif said Iran is committed to keeping the waters open so long as no one tries to stop it from using its “lifeline.”

Zarif said that the “B Team’s ” efforts could lead the U.S. into the type of conflict Trump vowed to keep the U.S. out of during his presidential campaign. Playing on an amalgam of names with the letter B in them, he said the “B-Team” includes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Bolton, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Accidents are possible,” Zarif said. “I don’t discount the ‘B Team’ plotting an ‘accident’ anywhere in the region, particularly as we get close to an election here.”

Iran would consider negotiations to resolve disputes with the U.S. if held in a context of “mutual respect,” Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting, according to the state-run Mehr news agency.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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