As Iranian leaders weigh how to respond to President Trump’s expected move to decertify the 2015 nuclear deal, hardliners in Tehran are seizing the moment of uncertainty to target Washington with a new dose of harsh rhetoric.
The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps issued an angry warning Monday amid reports that President Trump is also planning to designate the IRGC, considered the protector of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, a terrorist organization as part of his administration’s hawkish new posture toward Tehran.
“If the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world, particularly in the Middle East,” Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari told Iranian state media. But statements by a range of other Iranian officials suggest Tehran’s response should Mr. Trump pull out of the deal will probably be to proceed with caution, banking on Russia, China and America’s strongest European allies to condemn and contain the U.S. move.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said over the weekend that no single move by Mr. Trump could cause a total unraveling of the deal that Iran reached with the former Obama administration, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.
“In the nuclear negotiations and agreement, we reached issues and benefits that are not reversible,” Mr. Rouhani said in Tehran, according to state media. “No one can turn that back, not Mr. Trump or anyone else. Even if 10 other Trumps are created in the world, these are not reversible.”
Iranian Atomic Chief Ali Akbar Salehi said in August that Iran could resume its pre-deal uranium enrichment activities within “five days” if Mr. Trump were to do anything to cause the deal to collapse. Mr. Rouhani suggested the government now is considering a more cautious response.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi argued Monday that the other Western powers party to the deal simply won’t follow President Trump’s lead if he moves to decertify between now and next Sunday’s deadline.
After years of isolation, the nuclear deal opened the way for Iran to do business with the international community by easing sanctions in exchange for an end of Iranian nuclear activities that the West had long believed were geared toward developing nuclear bombs. Europe’s growing business ties with Tehran have hung in the backdrop of Mr. Trump’s threats to pull America out of the deal. Under U.S. law, the White House must certify every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the accord. Mr. Trump is expected to give a speech on the matter between now and the next 90-day milestone Sunday. Such a declaration would still require Congress to re-impose sanctions, but analysts agree it would be the first major step toward pulling America out of the deal.
Deal supporters point to repeated findings by the U.N. atomic agency that Iran is complying with the deal. “I can state that the nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the [nuclear agreement] are being implemented,” said International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano, according to Agence France-Presse.
But critics of the deal argue Tehran has over the past two years tested more advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges than agreed to under terms of the deal. They also argue the “spirit” of the agreement has been undermined by Iran’s repeated ballistic missile tests and continued support for terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas across the Middle East.
Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a Mideast specialist at Princeton who advised Tehran in the talks that led to the 2015 deal, says a Trump pullout from the Iran deal won’t bode well for future U.S. efforts to resolve nuclear tensions elsewhere, in particular in the drive to halt North Korea’s nuclear programs.
“If the Trump administration undoes the [deal],” Mr. Mousavian wrote in a commentary circulated over the weekend, “this would kill the potential for diplomacy resolving the North Korean crisis and leave North Korea and Iran with no reason to trust the United States or the U.N. Security Council.”
Others say the deal is a charade and Mr. Trump would be irresponsible not to kill it. The idea that withdrawal would harm America’s image is “ludicrous,” says John R. Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and undersecretary of state for arms control in the George W. Bush administration. Washington “must act in its own self-interest,” Mr. Bolton wrote in The Hill on Monday. “Iran’s ability to ‘rush’ to have nuclear weapons existed before the deal, exists now, and would exist if America withdrew.”
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