Trump says he’s not looking to topple Iranian leadership

DUBAI • US President Donald Trump said he isn’t pursuing regime change in Iran, but aims to keep it from developing nuclear weapons, in an apparent effort to tamp down tensions that have led to fears of war.

Iran “has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership”, Trump said at a joint press conference in Tokyo yesterday, alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “We are not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear.”

Iranian officials have said the raft of US sanctions against their country, which was tightened last month, is aimed at fuelling popular dissent in an effort to topple the leadership.

“I’m not looking to hurt Iran at all. I’m looking to have Iran say ‘No nuclear weapons’,” Trump said. “No nuclear weapons for Iran and I think we will make a deal.”

Trump’s remarks come amid fears that rising tensions between the US and Iran could lead to miscalculations that would precipitate an armed conflict engulfing the Middle East.

Frictions escalated this month after the US said Tehran was planning an offensive against American interests in the region, then made a show of military force in the Gulf.

Iran has responded to the American moves by threatening to abandon aspects of the 2015 multipower nuclear deal that remains in force despite Trump’s withdrawal a year ago.

Trump’s conciliatory comments about the Iranian regime probably won’t comfort Gulf allies that view Iran’s leadership with deep suspicion over its regional activities, said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political analyst in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These include Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“But Trump changes his mind within 24 hours,” Abdulla said.

“Today, he can say this about Iran, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him going to war with Iran tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, the US isn’t ready to make a trade deal with China, Trump said while on the state visit to Japan.

“I think they probably wish they made the deal that they had on the table before they tried to renegotiate it,” Trump said yesterday. “They would like to make a deal. We’re not ready to make a deal.”

Trump said American tariffs on Chinese goods “could go up very, very substantially, very easily”.

His comments came after trade talks between the two countries stalled earlier this month. Each side has since blamed the other, and Trump has threatened billions more in tariffs.

Trump said businesses were leaving China for countries without tariffs, including the US and Asian neighbours including Japan.

still he also expressed optimism that the world’s biggest economies would eventually reach an agreement.

“I think sometime in the future, China and the US will absolutely have a great trade deal, and we look forward to that,” Trump said. “Because I don’t believe that China can continue to pay these, really, hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs. I don’t believe they can do that.”

Trump also said he may announce something on a US-Japan trade agreement in August, hinting he will push for results well in advance of the six-month deadline he laid out earlier this month.

A senior official in Abe’s administration told reporters the two leaders had reached no such agreement on timing during their summit in Tokyo yesterday, which followed Trump’s threat to raise tariffs on the approximately US$50 billion (RM209.34 billion) worth of cars and auto parts Japan exported to the US annually.

But Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura, who was present for the summit, told reporters afterward there had been “absolutely no” agreement on getting the trade deal done by August. — Bloomberg