Iran vows ‘surprise’ to counter US sanctions amid reports of new nuke activity

FM Zarif says Tehran seeks to ‘entertain’ Trump as Washington reimposes ‘illegal’ punitive measures

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran on February 13, 2019 (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran on February 13, 2019 (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran has promised “surprise” measures to counter the reinstatement of US sanctions on its oil exports amid other options, months after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama and signed by five other world powers.

The deal was aimed at preventing Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic incentives, including the lifting of previously imposed, punishing sanctions. The US pulled out of the agreement in May 2018 and has been urging the remaining signatories — the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China — to abandon it as well.

In an interview published on Friday with the Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that should other countries bow to US pressure and refuse to buy Iranian oil, Tehran has “other options” at its disposal.

When pressed on what Iran intends to do, Zarif replied: “Trump loves the element of surprise, so we’ll entertain him.”

Zarif said “the international community must decide whether it is in their interest to let the US go through its illegal diktats.”

“Europeans must ask themselves: if they allow this precedent, what will they do if the US demands an end to trade with China?” he added.

On Saturday, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani told the Iranian news agency Tasnim that Tehran is weighing several options, among them disrupting oil shipments.

“Apart from closing [the] Strait of Hormuz, we have other options to stop oil flow if threatened… The US administration lacks ‘goodwill,’ no need to hold talks with America,” he said.

“Iran has plans in place that will neutralize the illegal US sanctions against Iran’s oil exports,” Shamkhani was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The remaining signatories to the Iran nuke deal, along with the European Union, have so far shown no inclination to abandon the agreement. They instead have tried to provide Iran with enough economic incentives to keep it alive.

Last month, Britain, France and Germany established a barter-type system known as INSTEX that is designed to allow their businesses to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and thereby evade possible US sanctions. Plans call for the payment system to be run from Germany as a financial institution.

The plan has angered Washington, despite reassurances from the Europeans that their initiative would concentrate on products not currently subject to US sanctions, such as medicine, medical supplies, and agricultural goods, rather than on broader trade.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, warns constantly that Iran has never abandoned its ambition to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. Last year, the Mossad spirited a huge haul of documents from what it said was Iran’s nuclear weapons archive, which Netanyahu said proved conclusively that Iran has lied to the world when claiming it has not been seeking to produce nuclear weapons.

On Friday, Israeli TV reported that Britain’s MI6 intelligence chief secretly visited Israel this past week for talks with his Israeli counterparts about concerns that Iran may be considering breaching the 2015 nuclear deal and attempting to break out to a nuclear weapons capability.

Channel 13 news said Friday that MI6 chief Alex Younger arrived in Israel on Monday and met with the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen, and other Israeli intelligence chiefs.

Israel’s assessment is that Iran is “making preparations” within the provisions of the 2015 deal, and “getting ready,” but has not yet made the political decision to break out to the bomb, the TV report said.

Citing Western intelligence sources, it said the issue was also discussed by participants at last week’s Munich international security conference.

MI6 chief Alexander Younger (Courtesy: UK government)

Iran, the report noted, has recently renewed its production of centrifuges, “and is gearing up for the renewal of uranium enrichment” within the provisions of the deal.

The report described Iran’s current activity as “preparing the infrastructure… in an accelerated fashion” should the regime take the political decision to breach the accord.

In this frame grab from Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran, June 6, 2018. (IRIB via AP)

Hours before the TV report, the UN’s nuclear watchdog in Vienna said Iran was continuing to comply with the 2015 nuclear deal.

In a confidential quarterly report distributed to its member states, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has been abiding with key limitations set in the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

In its report, the Vienna-based agency said its inspectors still have access to all sites and locations in Iran they needed to visit.

“Timely and proactive cooperation by Iran in providing such access facilitates implementation of the Additional Protocol and enhances confidence,” the report stated, referring to the procedure detailing safeguards and tools for verification.

It noted that Iran’s stock of heavy water and low-enriched uranium continues to be under the limits set under the 2015 pact.

Last June, Iran’s nuclear chief inaugurated a new nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz, which Iran said was geared toward producing centrifuges to operate within the limits of the nuclear deal.

Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks in an interview with The Associated Press at the headquarters of Iran’s atomic energy agency, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Last month, Salehi bragged in another interview that Iran quietly purchased replacement parts for its Arak nuclear reactor while it was conducting negotiations for the deal under which it knew it would be required to destroy the original components.

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