Sep 23, 2019

Iran tests U.S. military messaging at UNGA

Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Istanbul in 2017. Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tells Axios that Americans should ask themselves why U.S. soldiers should risk dying to protect Israeli and Saudi interests, and he thinks President Donald Trump is "determined not to get militarily involved" in Iran — but others in his orbit are trying to "drag him into" it.

The big picture: As leaders gather this week at the United Nations General Assembly, Iran and the U.S. are trying to figure out how to out-maneuver one another in a protracted dispute over the Iran nuclear deal, regional aggression, sanctions and oil sales.

Driving the news: The U.S. is considering retaliating on Iran for this month's attack on Saudi oil facilities that Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed credit for.

  • Iran's President Hassan Rouhani will lay out a proposal this week for a "Coalition for Hope" with confidence-building and non-aggression measures but also an effort to exclude foreign forces from the Persian Gulf.
  • Meanwhile, Iran wants European nations to defy the U.S. and let Tehran resume oil sales.

Go deeper: In a 90-minute discussion with journalists from Axios and other news outlets Sunday afternoon, Zarif continued to deny Iran was behind the Saudi oil attack and insist he seeks "a peaceful way out" of tensions with the U.S.

  • Zarif said Iran was hurt, not helped by the Saudi attack.
  • If anyone gained, he said, it's Trump because now "he's selling weapons" in the region and the U.S. has oil.
  • Saudis "want to fight their wars until the last American soldier," Zarif said.
American soldiers are being killed protecting Israeli interests, protecting Saudi interests. I think that's something for Americans to think about."
— Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

Between the lines: With Iran hawk John Bolton out as National Security Adviser and Benjamin Netanyahu's tenure as Israel's prime minister in question after elections, Iran is focusing its ire on U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

  • Zarif said Pompeo should be brought before the International Criminal Court for "trying to starve" the Iranian population (Pompeo told CBS earlier, "I don’t know why anyone listens to the Iranian foreign minister.").
  • The goal is to test messaging on Trump, who campaigned on reducing U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
  • Zarif said of the U.S. warm dealings with the Saudis after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, "After Khashoggi, the U.S. should shut up on human rights."

What's next: Iran will be watching this week to see how Bolton's days-old replacement, Robert O'Brien, the administration's former hostage negotiator, weighs in.

Go deeper

Pompeo doubles down on claim of Iranian "act of war" in Saudi Arabia

Pompeo this week at the UN. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared today that he had been right to label attacks on Saudi oil facilities an “act of war” by Iran, but said Iran would fail to “goad us into conflict.”

The big picture: The U.K., France and Germany accused Iran yesterday of responsibility for the Sept. 14 attacks. Iran has denied responsibility for the attacks in Saudi Arabia, accused the U.S. of “deception" and warned of "all-out war" if attacked.

Go deeperArrowSep 25, 2019

Boris Johnson: Trump is the "one guy" to broker new Iran nuclear deal

In an interview with NBC Nightly News airing Monday evening, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government is "virtually certain" Iran is behind the recent Saudi oil attacks and called for a new Iran nuclear deal brokered by President Trump.

Go deeperArrowSep 23, 2019

U.S. hits Iran with cyberattack following Saudi oil bombings

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. has allegedly carried out another cyberattack against Iran in the wake of attacks on Saudi oil facilities in September, two unnamed U.S. officials told Reuters.

Why it matters, per Axios' Joe Uchill: This is the second publicly revealed round of cyberattacks in response to real world attacks, after U.S. Cyber Command targeted Iran following the downing of a U.S. drone in July. The U.S. and many of its allies have blamed Iran for the Saudi oil attacks, but Iran has vigorously denied the allegations.

Go deeperArrowOct 16, 2019