Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei today ruled out any negotiations with Western powers over Iran’s missile program and regional activities, and warned that Iran would rip the 2015 nuclear agreement to pieces if the “other side” walks away from it. He made the remarks five days after the Trump administration decertified the Iran nuclear deal and imposed new sanctions on the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) for its support for terrorism. In a speech on Friday, Trump called on Congress to amend the deal and fix its loopholes in order to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons when the sunset provisions in the accord expire. He warned that if “we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”
Khamenei hits back
In a televised speech, Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, said Iran will stick to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the nuclear agreement Iran signed with the United States, Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in July 2015 – if other signatories of the accord remain committed to it. “As long as the other side does not tear up the JCPOA, we will not tear it up. But if they tear the JCPOA up, we will shred it to pieces.”
The Supreme Leader called on European powers to resist American pressure and prevent Washington from damaging the deal. “The Europeans should confront the American government’s actions, including the violation of the JCPOA such as sanctions that are expected to come from [U.S.] Congress,” Khamenei said. “The Europeans opposed the American president’s statements about tearing up the JCPOA because they realize the JCPOA benefits them and the Americans. This position is appropriate but insufficient,” he added.
No negotiations on red lines
Khamenei further urged European powers not to support Trump’s call for renegotiating or supplementing the nuclear deal. He emphasized that Tehran will not compromise over its defense capabilities or its military presence in the region. “They should abstain from voicing solidarity with the Americans in issues such as Iran’s defensive power and Iranian presence in the region because we will absolutely not accept the Europeans’ harmony with America’s bullying.” Khamenei also called on all Iranian leaders to act in unison to defy U.S. pressure and continue to enhance the country’s defense capabilities, particularly the missile program. “Over the past 40 years, the Iranian nation has proved to the world that it is possible not to be afraid of superpowers, resist them, and continue to achieve progress despite pressures and sanctions,” he added.
The Supreme Leader played down the possibility of an American military attack against Iran but cautioned that the U.S. and its allies may try to harm Iran through other means. He did not elaborate. He also blasted new sanctions against the I.R.G.C. and claimed that Washington is sanctioning the I.R.G.C. because the elite force has “foiled dangerous goals of America and Daesh [Islamic State]” and defeated U.S. schemes in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
What’s next for Iran deal
While Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran nuclear accord fell short of his election-time pledge to tear the deal up, it certainly cast doubt on its viability and future. The ball is now in the court of Congress, which has three options: reinstate the pre-2015 sanctions and abandon the deal; pass a new legislation that addresses the deal’s loopholes and places new nuclear-related and non-nuclear restrictions on Iran; or do nothing in the next 60 days and return the case to the president. Trump made it clear that he will terminate the deal himself if Congress fails to act – although he may change his mind.
The Trump administration’s key demands to amend the deal are: to end the sunset clauses of the accord, prevent Iran from testing ballistic missiles, and allow for a more rigorous inspection regime, including frequent visits to Iran’s military sites by international inspectors. The administration has also called for Iran to stop meddling in neighboring countries. Iranian leaders, however, have rejected all these new demands and have maintained that Tehran would not renegotiate any terms of the deal.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top aide to Khamenei, said yesterday that Iran will not accept European powers’ proposal to complement the 2015 nuclear deal with new provisions on the country’s missile program and regional ambitions.
If the U.S. abandons the nuclear deal, Iran has two choices. First, Iran may try to stay in the deal and work with European powers as well as with China and Russia to keep the deal alive without America and minimize the impact of new U.S. sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani has hinted that Tehran prefers this option as long as Europeans ignore U.S. sanctions and continue to invest in Iran. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif echoed a similar view in an interview with Khabar Online. He said European powers are committed to staying in the deal even if Washington abandons it – adding that major European companies have in recent months signed multi-billion-dollar contracts with Tehran at a time when the Trump administration is increasing its anti-Iran rhetoric.
But if Rouhani adopts this option, he will come under pressure from hardliners who opposed the deal at the first place. The I.R.G.C. will particularly pressure Rouhani to quit the deal because new sanctions may deprive I.R.G.C. companies from benefiting from any potential foreign investments. Moreover, existing U.S. sanctions have already deterred many major foreign banks to do business with Iran, and upcoming U.S. sanctions would further impact foreign investment and hurt the Iranian economy – as a result, strengthening critics of the deal inside Iran. Hardliners argue that the Rouhani government’s idea of working with Europeans to isolate America is unrealistic. They point out that the Europeans have sided with America to sanction Iran in the past and will do so in the future. Some refer to France’s proposal to “supplement” the deal as an indication that Europeans cannot be trusted either.
The second option for Iran is to walk away from the accord. Iranian leaders have warned that Tehran will resume high-level nuclear enrichment if the U.S. cancels the deal and re-imposes the sanctions. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has said that Iran’s response would “surprise” Washington. He recently warned that Iran will also stop implementing Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty if the nuclear deal is canceled. "If one day the Iranian authorities see that the JCPOA has no more benefits for our country and decide to resume the 20-percent enrichment (of uranium) at Fordow (facility), we can begin it in four days," he added.