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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

33 mins ago - Science

The "war on nature"

A resident stands on his roof as the Blue Ridge Fire burned back in October in Chino Hills, Calif. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

Apocalyptic weather is the new normal because humans are "waging war on nature," the UN declared on Wednesday.

What they're saying: "The state of the planet is broken," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, reports AP. “This is suicidal.”

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Nursing homes are still getting pummeledU.S. could hit herd immunity by end of summer 2021 if Americans embrace virus vaccines, Fauci says.
  2. Politics: Pelosi, Schumer call on McConnell to adopt bipartisan $900B stimulus framework.
  3. World: U.K. clears Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for mass rollout — Putin says Russia will begin large-scale vaccination next week.
  4. Business: Investors are finally starting to take their money out of safe-haven Treasuries.
  5. Sports: The end of COVID’s grip on sports may be in sight.

Pelosi, Schumer call on McConnell to adopt bipartisan $900B stimulus framework

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Nov. 20. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to use a $908 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief framework as a basis for jumpstarting negotiations.

Why it matters: The framework, introduced by a group of bipartisan senators on Tuesday, calls for significantly less funding than Pelosi had previously demanded — a sign that Democrats are ready to further compromise as millions of Americans endure economic hardship.