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Monday 21 May 2018

Iran warns it will abandon nuclear deal if US pulls out

Iran President Hassan Rouhani. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo
Iran President Hassan Rouhani. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

Josh Lederman and Edith Lederer in New York

US President Donald Trump and Iran's top diplomat traded sharp warnings yesterday, with Mr Trump threatening "bigger problems" than ever if Tehran restarts its nuclear programme.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif put the president on notice, telling the Associated Press if the US pulls out of the nuclear deal, Iran "mostly likely" would abandon it, too.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Zarif said a US withdrawal from the landmark 2015 accord would undermine Mr Trump's talks with North Korea by proving that America reneges on its promises. He said if Mr Trump re-imposes sanctions, "basically killing the deal," Iran would no longer be bound by the pact's international obligations, freeing it up to resume enrichment far beyond the deal's strict limits.

"If the United States were to withdraw from the nuclear deal, the immediate consequence in all likelihood would be that Iran would reciprocate and withdraw," Mr Zarif said. He added: "There won't be any deal for Iran to stay in."

As Mr Zarif spoke in New York yesterday, Mr Trump was meeting at the White House with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been leading an effort by France, Britain and Germany to find "fixes" to the deal that would satisfy Mr Trump's objections. Few expect such a solution can be found by May 12, the date on which Mr Trump has said he'll leave the deal if there's no fix agreed to with the Europeans.

"No one knows what I'm going to do on the 12th, although, Mr President, you have a pretty good idea," Mr Trump said, referring to Mr Macron. He said if he does withdraw, he would look to see "if it will be possible to do a new deal with solid foundations, because this is a deal with decayed foundations."

In a bleak warning to Iran President Hassan Rouhani, Mr Trump added that if Iran ever threatens the United States, "they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid".

Iran has been working feverishly to frame Mr Trump's expected withdrawal as a major blot on the United States, just as America's closest allies in Europe try to persuade the president not to rip it up. US and European officials say they've made major progress on two of Mr Trump's demands - on nuclear inspections and Iran's ballistic missiles programme. But talks have stalemated on Mr Trump's third demand: that the deal be extended in perpetuity, rather than letting restrictions on Tehran to "sunset" after several years.

Iran has outright rejected any changes to the deal, arguing it's unfair to impose more demands beyond what Tehran agreed to already. Mr Trump's strategy relies on the assumption if the US and the Europeans unilaterally agree to new demands, Iran will back down and voluntarily comply in order to continue enjoying the benefits. Under the 2015 deal Iran agreed to nuclear restrictions in exchange for billions in sanctions relief. Even if an add-on deal with the Europeans is achieved, there is no guarantee it will satisfy Mr Trump. His aides have said they can't predict with certainty what conditions would be enough to keep him in the pact.

As Mr Trump prepares for a high-stakes summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un aimed at resolving nuclear weapons concerns, Mr Zarif emphasised that US credibility was at stake. He said Iran would welcome lower tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but Mr Trump was showing the world that the US is "not a trustworthy, reliable negotiating partner".

Irish Independent

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