Iran threatens to ‘vigorously’ resume enrichment if US quits nuclear deal
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Iran threatens to ‘vigorously’ resume enrichment if US quits nuclear deal

As May 12 deadline nears, France's Macron heads to White House to persuade Trump not to walk away from accord

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow on January 10, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow on January 10, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Iran is ready to “vigorously” resume nuclear enrichment if the United States ditches the 2015 nuclear deal, and further “drastic measures” are being considered in response to a US exit, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Saturday.

Zarif told reporters in New York that Iran is not seeking to acquire a nuclear bomb, but that Tehran’s “probable” response to a US withdrawal would be to restart production of enriched uranium – a key bomb-making ingredient.

“America never should have feared Iran producing a nuclear bomb, but we will pursue vigorously our nuclear enrichment,” Zarif said.

US President Donald Trump has set a May 12 deadline for the Europeans to “fix” the agreement that provides for curbs to Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from financial sanctions.

In a CBS interview to be broadcast Sunday on “Face the Nation,” Zarif doubled down on a warning this month from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who vowed Washington would “regret” withdrawing from the nuclear deal, and that Iran would respond within a week if it did.

“If the decision comes from President Trump to officially withdraw from the deal, then Iran will take decisions that have been provided for under the JCPOA and outside JCPOA,” Zarif said, referring to the 2015 accord.

“We have put a number of options for ourselves and those options are ready, including options that would involve resuming at a much greater speed our nuclear activities.

“And those are all envisioned within the deal. And those options are ready to be implemented and we would make the necessary decision when we see fit,” added the foreign minister, who is in the United States to attend a UN meeting on sustaining peace.

The fate of the Iran deal will be a key issue during French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to Washington beginning Monday, followed by talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington on Friday.

US President Donald Trump (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (L) leave after a joint press conference following meetings at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on July 13, 2017. (bertrand GUAY / AFP)

Zarif said the European leaders must press Trump to stick to the deal if the United States intends to maintain any credibility in the international community.

European leaders are hoping to persuade Trump to save the deal if they, in turn, agree to press Iran to enter into agreement on missile tests and moderating its regional influence in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

“It’s a dialogue of the deaf,” complained one European envoy. A US diplomat acknowledged that getting Trump to buy in will be the “trickiest” part of the problem.

British, French and German representatives have been in deep talks with the US State Department’s head of policy Brian Hook on what a supplemental deal would look like.

But the representatives complain privately that, despite progress with their American counterparts, they have no idea whether they are close to an agreement that the mercurial president would accept.

To appease Trump, European capitals are working on a document that would amount to a political engagement to prevent Iran from returning to the nuclear path after the 2015 deal starts to expire.

In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, Iran, Monday, April 9, 2018. Rouhani said Monday that despite many attempts, the U.S. has “failed to destroy” the landmark 2015 deal between Iran and world powers. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Zarif said the original deal included a vow that Iran will never seek a nuclear bomb, and repeated Tehran’s insistence that it had never sought one.

The Europeans could even call such a statement a new “deal,” if it convinces the US leader to stay within the terms of the original and “true” agreement.

Therein lies the rub.

“He hates the deal,” another European diplomat acknowledged.

All Hook can say is that once he comes to terms with his European partners, it will be up to Trump, in consultations with his hardline new National Security Advisor John Bolton, to decide.

“If we can reach an agreement, then that will be presented to the president by the secretary of state and the NSA, and then he will make a decision on whether he wants to remain in the deal or stop waiving sanctions,” Hook said.

“We always have to prepare for any eventuality, and so we are engaged in contingency planning because it would not be responsible not to engage in it.”

The appointment of Bolton, an avowed Iran hawk, fueled Europe’s pessimism, as did the nomination of CIA director Mike Pompeo to become the next US secretary of state.

But Pompeo, who has always talked tough on Iran, played down the significance of the May 12 deadline in his Senate confirmation hearing.

“I want to fix this deal. That’s the objective,” he told US lawmakers concerned that he might push for war.

“If there is no chance to fix it, I’ll recommend to the president we do our level best to work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and better deal. Even after May 12th, even after May 12th, there’s still much diplomatic work to be done.”

As the deadline looms, even some of the more hawkish Washington pundits — critics of the deal when it was signed — have begun to suggest that the return of US nuclear-related sanctions could be postponed until a new fixed date.

But if all the talk fails and Trump follows his clear inclination to tear up the “terrible deal,” there appears to be no Plan B, at least from Europe.

“Anyone who wants to blow up the Iran deal has first to tell us what he will do if Iran relaunches its uranium enrichment program,” France’s ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud tweeted in exasperation.

If the United States buries the deal, Iran is unlikely to stick to the agreement alongside the other signatories — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, said the foreign minister.

“Obviously, the rest of the world cannot ask us to unilaterally and one-sidedly implement a deal that has already been broken,” Zarif said.

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