US President Donald Trump on May 27 insisted his administration is not looking for regime change in Iran and indicated that he hoped Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could serve as a go-between and make progress in resolving the dispute between Tehran and Washington.
However, Trump has in recent weeks made all manner of different comments on where he thinks the stand-off between Iran and the US is heading, and this point was encapsulated by a comment made to Bloomberg on May 27 by Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political analyst in the United Arab Emirates, who said: “… Trump changes his mind within 24 hours. Today, he can say this about Iran but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him going to war with Iran tomorrow.’’
Trump, who last week repeated his claim that he is a “very stable genius” after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi questioned his well-being and called on his family or friends to stage an intervention "for the good of the country", is on a state visit to Japan.
Iran “has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership,’’ Trump said at a joint press conference in Tokyo alongside Abe. “We are not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear.’’
“I’m not looking to hurt Iran at all. I’m looking to have Iran say no nuclear weapons,” Trump added. “No nuclear weapons for Iran and I think we will make a deal.’’
He also said: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen.”
There is, however, no indication as yet that Iran plans to enter into any talks with the Trump administration.
In May last year, Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the multilateral nuclear deal between Tehran and six major powers which was drawn up to provide Iran with a shield against heavy sanctions in return for compliance with measures designed to ensure its nuclear development programme remains entirely civilian in nature.
The remaining accord signatories and UN atomic inspectors all say Iran has kept faith with the deal, but Trump insists the agreement should be toughened up to give a longer-term guarantee over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, curb the Iranian ballistic missile programme and end Iranian support for various militia in conflict zones of the Middle East. In an attempt at forcing Iran to the table, the US president has imposed the toughest ever sanctions Iran has ever faced, pushing the country into a deep recession. Tehran says they amount to an “economic war” and that Trump’s withdrawal from the painstakingly negotiated nuclear pact was a breach of international diplomacy that shows the US can never be trusted.
Zarif and Pompeo ‘have never spoken’
In an example of how relations between the US and Iran are in the deep-freeze, The Hill on May 25 cited a Reuters interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a US-educated veteran diplomat, in which he related how he and his American counterpart Mike Pompeo have never spoken directly.
Zarif argued in the interview that part of the reason the two men have never spoken is Pompeo's tendency to "insult" him in public statements about Iran's government. “Pompeo makes sure that every time he talks about Iran, he insults me,” Zarif told the news service. “Why should I even answer his phone call?”
Zarif has had frequent contact with US diplomats before. He previously worked closely with former US Secretary of State John Kerry during the Obama administration on issues that threatened to drive a wedge between their governments.
One top European diplomat was cited as expressing alarm when told about the lack of a relationship between Zarif and Pompeo, at a time when the US is beefing up its military presence in the Gulf in reponse to what it claims are potentially threatening postures being adopted by the Iranian armed forces. The diplomat argued that such channels are necessary to avoid misunderstandings that lead to greater conflict.
“I hope that there are some channels still existing so we don’t sleepwalk into a situation that nobody wants,” the unnamed diplomat told Reuters. “The rhetoric that we have is alarming.”
“Deep and serious”
Trump’s comments came after his national security advisor and foreign policy hawk John Bolton, who for many years as a private citizen argued for the need to bomb Iran to force regime change, said on May 25 that the US had “deep and serious” intelligence on threats posed by Iran. He did not disclose any of the claimed intelligence.
In further remarks, Trump welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran after broadcaster NHK said Japan’s leader is considering a trip to Tehran as early as mid-June. Iran, however, said a visit was unlikely in the near future.
“I know for a fact that the prime minister is very close with the leadership of Iran, and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said.
“Peace and stability of the Middle East is very important for Japan and the United States and the international community as a whole,” Abe said at the joint press conference.