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Iran minister, media mock Trump and ‘B team’ aides as tensions worsen

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif mocked President Donald Trump’s threat to “end” Iran on Monday, implying that he was being egged on by a “B team” of aides.

In messages posted Monday afternoon local time, Zarif claimed Trump was being “Goaded by #B_Team” to confront Iran.

Zarif did not name anybody, but he likely meant John Bolton, and potentially Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom media reports have identified as the driving force of the White House stance on Iran.

It came after Trump threatened “the official end of Iran” in a tweet on Sunday, amid wider US moves against Iran.

In a follow-up tweet, Zarif reminded Trump of his criticism of so-called “forever wars,” and mockingly quoted his “drain the swamp” campaign slogan back to him.

Iranian media have also been bullish in response to recent US actions.

According to BBC Monitoring, which translates and assesses foreign media output, frontpage news headlines variously describe Trump as bluffing, or being in the thrall of Fox News.

Iran’s Hamdeli newspaper labeled Trump’s tweet an “empty threat,” the Ebtakar outlet accused the White House of a “double game against Iran,” and Asr-e Iranian said Trump “awaits orders from Fox News.”

The long-simmering conflict between the US and Iran took on a new urgency when Trump sent his “official end of Iran” tweet, now long after a rocket landed close to US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, where the US accuses Iran of backing armed groups.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” he said.

The tweet took some observers by surprise, with the president the week before having reportedly told officials that he did not want war with Iran, and preferred a diplomatic route out of the current crisis.

On May 6, the US deployed an aircraft carrier and fleet of bombers to the Persian Gulf in response to what Bolton, the national security adviser, said was a heightened threat to US forces in the region.

Three officials told The New York Times last week that the US was acting in response to intelligence pictures showing Iranian paramilitaries loading missiles onto boats.

US allies, though, reportedly believe that Iran could be acting defensively in response to perceived US provocations.

A British general who is second-in-command of Coalition forces fighting ISIS has disputed US claims of an increased threat from Iran-backed forces, but was rebuked by US Central Command.

When asked by reporters last week whether the US was going to war with Iran, Trump replied “I hope not.”

Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, on May 14 said “no one is seeking war,” but claimed at the same time that Iran was capable of creating weapons-grade uranium to engage in nuclear conflict.

In May 2018 Trump pulled the US out of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, which had seen Iran agree to international inspections of its nuclear facilities in exchange for economic sanctions being lifted.

The US has in recent months designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, and on May 2 tightened sanctions in a bid to cut off Iranian oil exports as its places the government in Tehran under increased pressure.

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