UPDATE 0815 GMT: European Foreign Ministers will meet Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday.
Zarif spoke with the German, French, and British Foreign Ministers on Wednesday while President Rouhani talked by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron.
The French Presidency said Macron emphasized his willingness “to continue enforcing the Iran nuclear agreement in all respects” and “underlined the importance that Iran do the same”.
Rouhani again implicitly pressed the necessity of economic links: “Under the current conditions, Europe has a very limited opportunity to preserve the nuclear deal, and must, as quickly as possible, clarify its position and specify and announce its intentions with regard to its obligations.”
He added, “If we reach a clear decision on the JCPOA within a limited time, we can witness broader interaction between Iran and Europe.”
Macron again linked this with Europe’s long-held goal of a separate agreement on Iran’s ballistic missiles program.
Iran’s Supreme Leader has warned key European countries that they must provide “guarantees” if the July 2015 nuclear deal is to be saved following the Trump Administration’s withdrawal.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump not only lifted the waiver on sweeping Congressional sanctions, but authorized further measures — including full restrictions within six months on Iran’s energy and financial sectors and threats of sanctions on any foreign companies dealing with Tehran — as he said the US will no longer observe the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Leaders of the European Union and the three European signatories — the UK, France, and Germany — of the JCPOA immediately said they would continue to observe the agreement and urged Iranian restraint. Tehran’s officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, said Iran will remain in the deal if “other nations” do so: an effective call on Europe not only to observe the political and military terms of the JCPOA but to defy the US sanctions and protect European firms and banks trading and investing with the Islamic Republic.
But Ayatollah Khamenei struck a tougher pose as he addressed teachers and university lecturers in Tehran:
I don't trust these three EU countries either. If the govt. wants to make a contract, they should ask for a guarantee, or else they will all do just as the U.S. did. If there's not definite guarantee, the #JCPOA cannot continue. pic.twitter.com/UEl86lpcwT
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) May 9, 2018
Khamenei’s message to Europe was the substance that followed a lengthy blast of rhetoric against Trump and the US. He derided Trump for “silly and superficial remarks”, with “more than 10 lies” and threats that “he will do this and that”, before challenging: “Mr. Trump, I tell you on behalf of the Iranian nation: You are making a damn mistake.”
Khamenei ruled out any re-negotiation of the nuclear deal or separate talks on Iran’s ballistic missile program — options already cast aside by the Trump Administration — and tried to maintain Tehran’s supremacy: “The US used to completely dominate [Iran] but the Revolution cut off their hands….You spent money to dominate Iraq and Syria; well you couldn’t, damn it to hell!”
While Rouhani emphasized the priority of maintaining the deal if the Europeans, as well as Russia and China, will work with Tehran, others in the regime emphasized defiance — even if it risks the JCPOA. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani told MPs that the Atomic Energy Organization should be prepared to resume the enrichment of 20% uranium and research and development of new nuclear centrifuges. The chairman of Parliament’s National Security Committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said the Majlis is ready to approve a budget to boost Iran’s military forces and ballistic missile program.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, whose leadership has always been hostile to the JCPOA, brushed aside any effect of Trump’s decision. The Guards’ commander, Maj. General Mohammad Ali Jafari, congratulated the nation on the US withdrawal and said it would have any effect on Iran’s national interests.
Mattis Still Pursuing New Deal
Despite little signs that his colleagues or Iran share his view, US Defense Secretary James Mattis is still holding out the prospect of a renegotiated nuclear deal.
Mattis had helped contained Donald Trump from leaving the JCPOA up to this month. However, he was isolated as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security H.R. McMaster were replaced by Mike Pompeo, considered a “hawk”, and John Bolton, a long-time advocate of regime change.
Mattis tried to cover withdrawal on Wednesday by saying the US now has an opportunity to “make [the deal] more compelling” in consultation with allies. He insisted that Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are working on this.
The Defense Secretary has said the deal was “pretty robust” in containing Iran’s nuclear program, but justified withdrawal yesterday “because we found it was inadequate for the long-term effort” to counter Tehran’s activities in the Middle East, its support of “terrorism”, and its nuclear and missile activities.