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Iranian president warns Trump not to isolate United States

Hassan Rouhani, President, Islamic Republic of Iran, at the United Nations on Sept. 18, 2017 in New York City. (Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/TNS)
October 12, 2017

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at Donald Trump Wednesday charging that U.S. opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal has only united all Iranians and brought sympathy toward Tehran from Europe.

Speaking at a meeting of his cabinet, Rouhani warned Trump against taking such “hostile action,” and suggested that even if the United States pulls out, Iran will uphold its side of the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if it serves Iranian interests through continued economic ties with Europe, according to translated excerpts obtained by McClatchy.

“Today, those who support and oppose the JCPOA are united with a single voice,” Rouhani said. “We consider violation of a commitment wrong and treacherous against the interests of our country, the region and the world.”

Trump is expected to “decertify” the Iran nuclear deal as early as Thursday, declaring the Obama-era pact not in U.S. interests and launching a congressional review of the agreement. Trump has argued that Iran has not lived up to the spirit of the pact and charged Tehran with supporting terrorism and exporting violence.

“The president has reached a decision on an overall Iran strategy and wants to make sure we have a broad policy to deal with that, not just one part of it, to deal with all of the problems of Iran being a bad actor,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday.

But Trump has received little support from the other five world powers involved in the pact that lifted crippling economic sanctions on the Iranian regime in return for restrictions on nuclear activities.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom phoned Trump to urge him to reconsider, calling the agreement “vital for regional security.” France and Germany — also signers — have also pressured the White House to remain.

Decertifying the deal doesn’t end the agreement, but is seen as the first step toward a full dismantling as it kicks the issue to Congress for debate over whether to re-institute previous sanctions.

Iranian leaders, meanwhile, likely have Libya at the back of their minds. In 2003, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program. Less than a decade later he was overthrown, captured and executed. Many believe Gaddafi gave up too much in the nuclear agreement and was undermined in the process, noted Anthony Cordesman, a military strategy consultant with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The perception is that, look, Gaddafi gave his up and he’s dead, and Iran gave theirs up and the United States didn’t comply with the agreement.”

Even Iranian hardliners who were originally opposed to the deal have joined former opponents who are fighting to remain. The agreement has been beneficial for Iran’s economy, opening it to foreign markets and the international financial system, said Ahmad Khalid Majidyar, who previously taught Middle East issues to U.S. and NATO military leaders at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Leader Development and Education for Sustained Peace program.

Before the agreement was signed in 2015, Iran was widely condemned by other world powers. Now French and German companies have been investing billions of euros in what they see as new lucrative markets.

Iran has been complying with the legal terms of the agreement, according to U.S. and European officials. And considering that the United Nations has also certified Iranian compliance, much of the world is some sympathy for Tehran.

“Somehow Iran has become kind of now the victim, not the pariah state it used to be seen as by many outside forces,” said Majidyar, who is director of a project called IranObserved at the Middle East Institute.

Rouhani said Iran never trusted the United States. He gave assurances to the Iranian people that if the Americans pull out of the deal, it’s not Iran that will suffer the loss.

“We have different options and will choose the one that serves the interests of the country and the regime,” Rouhani said. “We will have no difficulty in advancing our goals.”

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© 2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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