Trump defiant over Iran deal as deadline approaches
President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani exchanged threats over the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday, with Trump warning that Tehran will face “big problems” if it restarts its nuclear program and Rouhani saying America will face “severe consequences” if it abandons the agreement.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron, in Washington on a state visit, called for a “new deal” to complement the 2015 nuclear agreement, covering not just nuclear issues but also ballistic missiles and Iran’s roles in conflicts in the Middle East, including the wars in Syria and Yemen.
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If he convinces Trump that’s worth pursuing, it could buy the nuclear deal more time.
The verbal warfare between Iran and Trump comes ahead of a deadline on May 12 for Trump to decide whether to re-impose some of the economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the nuclear deal. The U.S. president, alongside Macron on Tuesday, repeatedly belittled the Barack Obama-era agreement but didn’t say for sure if he’d walk away from it next month.
“It was insane. Ridiculous. It should have never been made,” Trump said of the deal, warning Iranian officials that if they restart their nuclear program, they’re “going to have big problems, bigger than they’ve ever had before.”
Although Iran has suggested it might restart its nuclear activities should the deal collapse, analysts are divided on whether Tehran would follow through on its threat. Trump’s harsh rhetoric, meanwhile, may simply be a tactic to intimidate Iran to accept new restrictions on its behavior that Washington has been demanding.
Macron’s visit this week is considered a critical moment for U.S. allies and partners who want to keep the deal in place. The French leader, who has a relatively good relationship with Trump, appeared eager to prove to the U.S. leader that he sympathizes with concerns about the limits of the deal.
But Macron also said he doesn’t want to tear up the existing agreement. Rather, he said, the goal is “to work on a new deal with Iran.”
This “new deal” would include four pillars, Macron said. One is to block nuclear activity in Iran in the short term, which Macron noted the existing agreement does until parts of it start expiring in 2025. The other three pillars, he said, are having a longer-term agreement on stopping Iranian nuclear activity, putting “an end” to Iran’s ballistic missile program, and laying groundwork for political solutions to conflicts in countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, where Iran has significant influence.
Ministers from France and its allies that have already been meeting in small groups to look at ways to deal with Iran could work on establishing such a framework, Macron said. “The purpose is to have some allied powers and we among them and of course also the regional powers to work at the level of this small group” he said. “And will have some discussions with Russia and Turkey on regional topics including Syria. So as from now, we will work using that method in favor — work towards a deal.”
Macron’s idea is akin to a “grand bargain” between world powers and Iran, and it is unlikely to become a reality anytime soon, especially if Iran wants major concessions from the West in return. Whether his pitch buys the deal more time could come down to whether Trump will feel comfortable casting Macron’s approach as a way to “fix” the existing deal, something he’s said he is willing to try before quitting it.
Trump’s frustrations with the nuclear deal are many. He is unhappy that it doesn’t cover Iran’s ballistic missile program, that it doesn’t allow for more intrusive international inspections of suspected nuclear sites and that some of its provisions expiring starting in 10 years.
Trump is also unhappy that Iran’s non-nuclear activities in the Middle East, including its sponsorship of proxy militias in Arab countries, aren’t covered by the agreement. Iran’s regional rise has particularly alarmed Israel and Saudi Arabia, two staunch allies of the United States.
During multiple appearances Tuesday, Trump cited Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom U.S. officials allege is using chemical weapons in his fight aganst rebels. Trump also bemoaned Iran’s role in the conflict in Yemen, where Saudi-led forces have been battling Houthi rebels backed by Tehran since March 2015.