World

Iran rebuffs Trump’s call to rewrite nuclear deal

The Azadi Tower in Iran’s capital, Tehran.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
The Azadi Tower in Iran’s capital, Tehran.

TEHRAN — Iranian officials, responding to President Trump’s call to revise the nuclear agreement, said they would reject any changes to the 2015 deal, saying it was “not renegotiable.”

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the nuclear agreement between Iran, the United States, and other world powers was “a solid multilateral agreement” that Trump was “maliciously violating.”

On Friday, Trump, once again, reluctantly signed waivers crucial to keep the agreement in place, but he also demanded that European allies agree to rewrite the nuclear deal within 120 days or else he would kill it.

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Trump also announced new sanctions, including against the chief of Iran’s hard-line dominated judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli-Larijani, for his involvement in punishing protesters who participated in antigovernment rallies earlier this month.

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A series of demonstrations over the economy, which also turned against Iran’s Islamic establishment, erupted in nearly 80 cities nationwide the first week of the year, spreading very quickly, with several turning violent.

At least 21 people are believed to have died during the protests, and nearly 4,000 people were arrested. Two of those arrested died in prison in the aftermath of the protests, in what officials said were suicides. Protesters say the two men were killed.

Amoli-Larijani is the highest judicial authority in the country. His brother, Ali Larijani, is the speaker of the Parliament.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that the Trump administration had “crossed a red line of international behavior” by imposing sanctions against Amoli-Larijani. The ministry said that the decision went against international law and that the action would receive a “serious response” from Iran.

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Trump’s ultimatum comes at a time when Iran’s economy is struggling, and the nuclear deal has not delivered on the promises made by Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, for economic improvement.

“Naturally, officials are nervous over what the impact would be if Trump withdraws from the deal,” said Nader Karimi Joni, a reformist journalist. “They fear the local currency could devaluate even further and prices could rise, if that is to happen.”

Trump wants to work with European allies to removed sunset clauses that would allow Tehran to resume its enrichment program when the agreement expires. The new accord Trump wants to forge with the Europeans should also involve Iran’s long-range missile program, the White House said Friday.

Iran’s military heavily relies on missiles as a deterrent; one of Iran’s regional rivals, Saudi Arabia, purchased more than $110 billion in weaponry from the United States in 2017. Iranian officials have said they are not considering making the missile program negotiable.

One hard-liner, Hamidreza Taraghi, said he was not afraid that Trump’s ultimatum would lead to a collapse of the agreement.

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“He is a man who often changes his opinions,” said Taraghi, an analyst and politician. “Now he wants to send the ball in the Europeans’ court, so that if he fails to do anything against Iran, he will be able to say it is Europe’s shortcoming.”

Diplomats from several European countries said renegotiating the deal was a nonstarter. The best Trump could hope for, one official said, would be a commitment from Europe to begin work on a new and separate agreement.

Such a step, they said, would require the participation of China and Russia, which are also signatories to the deal, as well as Iran itself — something the White House ruled out.

By demanding that European allies agree to rewrite the Iran nuclear deal within 120 days, Trump set himself a diplomatic challenge that would be formidable even for an administration with a deep bench of experienced negotiators.

For Trump, who has filled his national security ranks with retired military officers and allowed his State Department to languish, the challenge is even more profound. And it is not limited to Iran: The North Korea crisis has taken a sudden turn toward diplomacy, with the unexpected opening of talks between the North and the South.

On both fronts, current and former officials say, the Trump administration is being forced to rethink strategies that had been driven largely by military considerations.

Many say the White House is ill-equipped to deal with the prospect of a South Korean détente with the North’s Kim Jong Un or the recent eruption of political unrest in Iran.

The antigovernment protests in Iran have complicated Trump’s calculations about whether to rip up the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration, several officials said. While the unrest has made the president even more determined to punish the Iranian leadership, it has also reinforced the conviction of European leaders that the deal should be preserved.

The nuclear deal, Trump said, drove Iranians into the streets because the government misused the proceeds from the lifting of sanctions. “It has served as a slush fund for weapons, terror, and oppression, and to further line the pockets of corrupt regime leaders,” he said in a statement.

But that is precisely why European leaders argue that keeping the deal in place makes even more sense now: because it keeps a harsh spotlight on Iran’s leaders, and their malfeasance, rather than allowing the Iranians to paint the United States and its allies as the villains.