Rouhani: 10 Trumps can’t roll back nuke deal benefits for Iran

Iranian president’s remarks come as US leader seen backing away from pledge to rip up nuclear accord, planning other measures instead

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani answers a question during a press conference in New York on September 20, 2017, on the sidelines of the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly. (AFP/Jewel Samad)
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani answers a question during a press conference in New York on September 20, 2017, on the sidelines of the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly. (AFP/Jewel Samad)

TEHRAN, Iran  — Iran’s president on Saturday defended the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, saying not even 10 Donald Trumps can roll back its benefits to his country.

Hassan Rouhani’s comments come as US President Donald Trump appeared to be stepping back from his campaign pledge to rip up the deal, instead aiming to take other measures against Iran.

“We have achieved benefits that are irreversible. Nobody can roll them back, neither Trump, nor 10 other Trumps,” Rouhani said addressing students at Tehran University.

Rouhani warned the US not to violate the deal.

“If the United States violates (the nuclear deal), the entire world will condemn America, not Iran,” he said.

Iran accepted curbs on its contested nuclear program as part of the agreement. In return, Iran has benefited from the lifting of sanctions against Iran’s oil exports among others.

An Iranian oil worker rides his bicycle near an oil refinery south of the capital, Tehran, December 22, 2014. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Aiming to show tough action against Iran, the White House is preparing a series of measures targeting its affiliates in the country and beyond, even as Trump quietly steps back from his campaign pledge to rip up the nuclear deal.

New actions to be announced in the coming days will focus on two entities: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist group blamed for sowing discord in the Middle East and seeking Israel’s demise.

The actions include financial sanctions on anyone who does business with the Revolutionary Guard, as well as millions of dollars in rewards for information leading to the arrest of two operatives of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Women wave a Lebanese national flag and Hezbollah flags in front of portraits of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil on August 13, 2016. (AFP Photo/Mahmoud Zayyat)

The measures were described by two administration officials and a person familiar with the unfolding policy on Iran. The administration officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the actions before they are officially announced. The third person was not authorized to speak about private conversations.

The moves allow Trump to show he is not easing the pressure against the Islamic Republic, even though the nuclear deal he has long derided may live on — at least for the immediate future.

An avowed critic of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Trump has called it one of America’s “worst and most one-sided transactions” ever. Yet White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that Trump is looking beyond the deal for ways to pressure Tehran.

“The president isn’t looking at one piece of this,” Sanders said. “He’s looking at all of the bad behavior of Iran — not just the nuclear deal as bad behavior, but the ballistic missile testing, destabilizing of the region, number one state sponsor of terrorism, cyber attacks, illicit nuclear program.”

US President Donald Trump speaks during a proclamation signing in the Oval Office of the White House on October 6, 2017.(AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Since taking office, the Trump administration has spoken about an all-of-the-above approach to countering Iran’s troublesome activities in the region, which extend beyond nuclear development to ballistic missile testing, human rights violations and support for extremist groups. But the administration has had to wait to put that approach into place until it finished a lengthy Iran policy review whose completion has been repeatedly delayed.

The person familiar with Iran policy said H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, has been the key driver in developing the integrated strategy with the Defense, State and Treasury departments and intelligence agencies.

Trump is set to deliver a policy speech on Iran next week in which he is expected to decline to certify Iran’s compliance in the landmark 2015 agreement that the US and its partners signed with Tehran to rein in its nuclear program.

That would stop short of pulling out of the deal. Lawmakers say Trump isn’t going to immediately announce new nuclear sanctions, which are prohibited by the deal, and instead will refer the matter to Congress.

US National security adviser H.R. McMaster speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Friday, September 15, 2017 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., tweeted Friday that the White House has told senators the president will “decertify [the] Iran deal but asks Congress NOT to re-impose sanctions.”

Under the new policy, the White House is focusing on the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah — two Iran-backed entities that have long elicited scorn from much of the West.

The State Department next week will announce a total of $12 million in rewards for information leading to the location, arrest or conviction of two leaders of Hezbollah.

The US will offer up to $7 million for information on Talal Hamiyah, who leads Hezbollah’s international terrorism branch and is suspected of carrying out hijackings, attacks and kidnappings of US citizens. Another $5 million is being offered for information on Fuad Shukr, a member of Hezbollah who runs the group’s military forces in southern Lebanon, where the group is based.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, will also feel the squeeze. Legislation signed in August gave Trump an October 31 deadline to either impose sanctions on the IRGC or issue a waiver. He is not expected to sign the waiver, meaning the sanctions will kick in automatically.

The new White House policy will also include a political strategy to curb Iranian aggression, possible covert or cyber operations and diplomatic efforts to change parts of the nuclear deal with Iran.

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