Won’t let nuke deal fizzle, Iranian official says
Iran will not fall into the “trap” that the Trump administration is attempting to set in order to force the collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal, President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday.
The U.S. “ploy today is to behave in such a way as to have Iran say ‘I am walking away’” from the agreement, Rouhani told his Cabinet, according to the state-run Iranian Students News Agency. Iran “needs to be aware not to fall into their trap,” he said.
Rouhani’s remarks came after the U.S. again made clear its readiness to confront Iran and the accord that scaled back its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. On Monday, the U.S. affirmed that the Islamic Republic has continued to meet the agreement’s conditions — as the U.S. is required to do every three months — but hours later imposed new sanctions over what it called Iran’s persistent efforts to destabilize the Middle East.
The new sanctions target 18 Iranian individuals and groups, including an Iran-based company accused of aiding the country’s drone program, a Turkey-based provider of naval equipment, and a China-based network that helped secure electronics for Tehran.
There is “a school of thought in the administration” that wants to push Iran into walking away from the deal, said Henry Smith, lead analyst on Iran and the Middle East at the Dubai office of Control Risks, a research group. “The motivation for that is to make Iran look like it’s at fault rather than” the U.S., he said. The White House is conducting a broader review of policy toward Iran.
President Donald Trump lambasted the Iran deal during the presidential campaign and vowed to dismantle or renegotiate it if elected. But he’s now being advised by officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who don’t seem to “want the U.S. to be viewed as the aggressor” if the deal were to fall apart, according to Smith.
“They would much rather that that is perceived by the Europeans as being Iran’s fault, because otherwise it’s isolating,” he said.
Later Wednesday, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, warned the U.S. against imposing sanctions on the paramilitary group. He said the Guard’s missile program is not negotiable and hinted that new sanctions could put U.S. military bases in the region in danger.
“If the U.S. intends to pursue sanctions on the Guard, it should first disassemble its military bases within 1,000 kilometers, or 620 miles,” Jafari was quoted as saying by state TV, apparently referring to the range of Iranian missiles.
Viewed from Tehran, it’s the U.S. that hasn’t been living up to its end of the bargain. By pressing businesses not to work with Iran, Iranian officials say, the Trump administration is undermining the pact’s objective of normalizing trade, preventing Iran from benefiting from the accord while appearing to uphold it.
Iran has boosted oil exports and attracted foreign investment since sanctions relief was implemented in January 2016. But a set of U.S. sanctions not related to the agreement prevent most American entities from doing business with Iran.
Under the agreement, Iran is allowed to enrich and store some uranium for energy production, although it had to reduce its uranium stockpile by 96 percent, idle many of its enrichment centrifuges and pour concrete into its heavy water nuclear reactor. The administration of former President Barack Obama insisted the provisions would slow the time it would take Iran to produce nuclear weapons, something Iran has said it wasn’t trying to do.
Rouhani said Iran will respond with countersteps to any new U.S. sanctions that violate the terms of the nuclear deal. If the U.S. wants “to implement sanctions under any pretext or excuse, the Iranian nation will respond accordingly,” he said in comments broadcast on state television. “When it comes to congressional legislation, our parliament will approve corresponding measures.”
As the U.S. announced the new sanctions, Iran’s parliament moved to introduce a bill that would increase funding for the Revolutionary Guard and the country’s missile program, over which the U.S. Congress is considering new sanctions. The Iranian legislation would need to be approved by the parliament and the influential Guardian Council of Islamic law experts and jurists.
The five other deal signatories, which include the U.K., France and Russia, have continued to back the landmark foreign policy success of the Obama presidency. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s compliance with the accord, has found that it has largely met its obligations.