Trump threatens to terminate Iran deal, raising stakes in showdown

'Iran remains a major source of regional instability,' Anwar Gargash, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs

Tough stance. US President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran deal from the Diplomatic Reception room of the White House in Washington, on October 13. (AFP)

2017/10/15 Issue: 127 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Thomas Seibert

Washington- US President Donald Trump raised the stakes in his confrontation with Iran, threatening to impose new eco­nomic sanctions against Tehran to counter the activities of a “rogue regime” bent on destabilising the Middle East and spreading terror­ism.

While keeping the United States under the umbrella of the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons programme for now, Trump is embarking on a strategy aimed at forcing Tehran to change its behaviour at the risk of seeing the collapse of the landmark pact and increasing the odds of US military confrontation with Iran.

“History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes,” Trump said in a televised address October 13. “Our policy is based on a clear-eyed assessment of the Ira­nian dictatorship, its sponsorship of terrorism and its continuing ag­gression in the Middle East and all around the world.”

The US president accused Iran of oppressing its own people, med­dling in Syria, supporting terror­ism and trying to develop a nuclear bomb despite the Joint Comprehen­sive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal that was supposed to put a stop to those activities. Listing a series of Iranian misdeeds beginning with the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Trump drew the image of a regime that is not be trusted.

He announced unilateral US sanctions against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and urged US allies in Europe to do the same. Trump called on the US Con­gress to draw up additional sanc­tions that would be triggered if Iran violated criteria set by the United States regarding Iran’s ballistic mis­sile programme and possible future nuclear activities.

“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump said.

Despite his strong words, Trump cannot be sure to receive the nec­essary backing from Congress for a tougher approach. Senator Ben Cardin, the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Com­mittee, called the new line “reck­less and dangerous.” It was unclear whether Trump’s Republicans, who have only a slim majority in the Senate, would have the votes to im­plement the president’s plan.

Trump made it clear that he was prepared to take the United States out of the JCPOA if his demands were not met. “In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Trump said. “It is under continuous review and our participation can be cancelled by me, as president, at any time.”

America’s European allies are re­luctant to follow Trump’s lead. The leaders of Britain, France and Ger­many renewed their commitment to the Iran nuclear deal and voiced concern over the new US strategy. Many countries in the Gulf region welcomed the more aggressive US approach, however. “The premise that the JCPOA would moderate Iran’s policy has been a total false­hood. Iran remains a major source of regional instability,” said Anwar Gargash, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs.

Trump’s address drew a hostile response by Tehran that hinted at a possible escalation in the coming months. Iranian President Hassan Rohani accused Trump of “base­less accusations.” He said his coun­try, while continuing to honour the JCPOA, would expand its ballistic missile programme, one of the tar­gets of proposed sanctions under Trump’s plan.

Despite the criticism, Trump, in a Twitter posting message late October 13, said he received fa­vourable responses to his speech. He suggested that the Europeans’ reluctance might have economic reasons. “Many people talking, with much agreement, on my Iran speech today,” Trump wrote. “Participants in the deal are mak­ing lots of money on trade with Iran!”

Thomas Seibert is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul.

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