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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has stepped up his public diplomacy to criticize President Trump's foreign policy and amplify ruptures — real or purported — within the administration.

The big picture: In a string of televised interviews on Sunday, Zarif warned that Washington risks stumbling into a war with Tehran and defended Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, falsely claiming it “has never killed Americans.” Almost a year after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, this effort may signal that the administration's "maximum pressure" campaign is straining Iran's "maximum patience."

Background: Zarif's media appearances follow his trip to New York City last week for UN meetings and a speech at the Asia Society, during which he made public a prisoner-swap proposal that attempted to goad Washington into premature diplomacy, thereby undercutting sanctions, and was later watered down.

Between the lines: Zarif has alleged a "divergence" between the dealmaking impulses of President Trump and those of a pejoratively styled "B team" comprising national security adviser John Bolton, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the UAE's Mohamed bin Zayed and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all of whom Zarif claims want conflict with Iran.

  • By claiming that the maximum pressure policy will end in a war that Trump would not want, Zarif is gambling that the president could still do an about-face on Iran. One Iranian outlet even suggested that by appearing on Fox News, Zarif was reaching out to Trump personally.
  • Context: This tactic has recent precedents. In November, Politico reported that Turkish press and North Korean officials had been differentiating between President Trump and his administration in their messaging.

What to watch: Iran can be expected to continue looking for pressure points, even among the free press, to divide Washington on the Iran issue, much as it cleaved the transatlantic community.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

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Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

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