Iranian president says uranium enrichment may resume if nuclear deal fails
Trump says U.S. will 'not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail'
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says he will send his foreign minister to negotiate with countries remaining in the nuclear deal after President Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. from the deal, warning he otherwise would restart enriching uranium "in the next weeks."
Rouhani's speech, carried live by state television, marked a doubling-down for the cleric who has seen his signature foreign policy achievement threatened by the U.S. president.
Trump on Tuesday signed a presidential memorandum withdrawing from the 2015 agreement and he is planning to reinstall sanctions on the Iranian regime.
Trump said in an address to the nation that he will be re-instituting the highest level of sanctions and warning any country not to help the Iranian government. Trump said the U.S. "will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail" and will not allow "a regime that chants 'Death to America"' to get access to nuclear weapons.
Rouhani, however, stressed that the deal could survive without the U.S.
"If at the end of this short period, we've concluded that we are able to achieve our demands in the deal, the deal will survive," Rouhani said.
His foreign minister also weighed in, saying he's ready to spearhead the diplomatic effort.
In response to US persistent violations & unlawful withdrawal from the nuclear deal, as instructed by President Rouhani, I'll spearhead a diplomatic effort to examine whether remaining JCPOA participants can ensure its full benefits for Iran. Outcome will determine our response.—@JZarif
Iranian state television did not broadcast Trump's speech live, but carried his remarks in the crawl at the bottom of the screen and later recounted some of them.
Earlier on Tuesday, Rouhani stressed Iran wants to keep "working with the world and constructive engagement with the world." That appeared to be a nod to Europe, which has struck a series of business deals with Iran since the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran likely hopes the European Union will pass laws to protect European firms from any potential U.S. sanctions.
The leaders of Britain, Germany and France urged the U.S. to refrain from taking action that prevents other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal from continuing to implement it.
In a joint statement issued after Trump's announcement, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron urged Iran to "show restraint" and continue fulfilling its own obligations such as co-operating with inspection requirements.
The European Union foreign policy chief, who helped supervise the implementation of the 2015 deal, said the Iran nuclear agreement is a pillar of international security and called on its signatories to continue to respect it after Trump's announcement.
"The nuclear deal with Iran is crucial for the security of the region, of Europe and of the entire world," said Federica Mogherini.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement Tuesday evening that the Canadian government supports the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and thinks the 2015 deal is "essential to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability and to ensure greater regional and global security."
'We are ready'
Trump and the United States also came under fire from Eshaq Jahangiri, Iran's first vice-president and a popular reformist politician, who has been suggested as a possible presidential contender in Iran's 2021 election.
"Today, the biggest power in the world is yelling that it does not accept it [the deal]," Jahangiri said, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. "It's up to them what to do with the deal, but [from now on] naive individuals would accept to enter talks with such a country.
"We are ready and have a plan for managing the country under any circumstance," he said.
Jahangiri's comments suggest a coming political turn against any rapprochement with the West if Trump pulls out of the deal, especially as he is a reformist — a politician who advocates for change to Iran's theocratic government. It also comes as Trump is set to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un later this year, where negotiations will undoubtedly include talks about the Asian country's atomic weapons program.
The Obama-era deal imposed restrictions on the Islamic republic's nuclear program in return for the lifting of most of the U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran.
However, the deal came with time limits and did not address Iran's ballistic missile program or its regional policies. Trump has repeatedly pointed at that, while referring to the accord as the "worst deal ever." Proponents of the deal have said those time limits were to encourage more discussion with Iran in the future that could grow into addressing those other concerns.
Many in Tehran and elsewhere in the country are worried about what Trump's decision could mean for the country.
Already, the Iranian rial is trading on the black market at 66,000 to the U.S. dollar, despite the government-set rate being at 42,000 to $1. Many say they have not seen the benefits of the nuclear deal.
Iran's poor economy and unemployment already sparked nationwide protests in December and January that saw at least 25 people killed and, reportedly, nearly 5,000 arrested.
Netanyahu praises Trump
Israel's prime minister, meanwhile, praised the U.S. president for withdrawing from the deal.
Benjamin Netanyahu called Trump's decision Tuesday a "historic move." He said leaving the deal unchanged would be "a recipe for disaster, a disaster for our region, a disaster for the peace of the world."
Netanyahu is a leading critic of the deal, saying it did not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear-weapons capability or address Iran's other activities across the region.
He said Iran's aggression has grown since the deal, especially in Syria, where he says it is "trying to establish military bases to attack Israel."
Earlier, Israel's military said forces were on high alert and ordered bomb shelters open in the Golan Heights after spotting "irregular activity of Iranian forces in Syria."
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have pushed Washington to take seriously Tehran's ballistic missile program and support for militant groups, also embraced Trump's announcement.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he is "deeply disappointed" at the U.S. decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and called on the five other signatories "to abide fully" by their commitments.
He also called on all other UN member states to support the 2015 agreement.
With a file from Reuters