Iran's defense minister called on the U.S. Thursday to leave the Persian Gulf, apparently in response to recent accusations from a top U.S. military official that Iran's foreign policy had a negative influence in the region.
Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan said Washington behaved like an "insane armed robber" by establishing dozens of bases in the Gulf and conducting military operations on foreign soil, Iran's Mehr News Agency reported. A day earlier, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, called Iran "the greatest long-term threat to stability" in the Gulf. Dehghan questioned the U.S. role in the region and urged Washington to withdraw.
“What are Americans doing in the Persian Gulf? They had better get out of this region and not cause nuisance for the regional countries,” Dehghan said, according to a press release published by Iran's Tasnim News Agency.
The U.S. has allied itself diplomatically and militarily with majority-Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, all of which have expressed concern over majority-Shiite Muslim Iran's influence in the Middle East. The Gulf Arab faction, especially Saudi Arabia, has been engaged in a proxy war of regional influence with Iran, with both sides sponsoring opposing combatants in conflicts in Syria and Yemen and opposing political movements throughout the region.
Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. and Iran signed a landmark nuclear treaty that would lift years of sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear development program. This deal was sharply criticized by conservatives in both countries and President Donald Trump has threatened to renegotiate or abandon it altogether. Dehghan was a proponent of this agreement.
Tensions have recently risen between the U.S. and Iran over a series of Iranian missile tests. Both nations have conducted multiple military exercises on opposite sides of the Gulf since the beginning of the year.