Iran may pull further away from nuclear deal after latest sanctions

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Tehran comments follow US advising not to mistake prudence and discretion for weakness

Iran has announced it may take further steps to pull away from its nuclear program deal with international powers as John Bolton, Donald Trump’s national security consultant, said a fresh round of sanctions against Tehran would serve as a warning not to” mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness “.

The remarks on Sunday followed reports that Washington had mounted a sophisticated and crippling cyber-attack on the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards after the US president decided against a more conventional airstrike in response to Tehran’s downing of a US surveillance drone.

Bolton was judged to have lost an inter-agency dispute when Trump pulled back last week from the missile attack on Iranian sites. Trump said the US air force was ” cocked and loaded “ when he decided the estimated civilian death toll of a military action would be a disproportionate response to Iran’s downing of the unmanned drone.

But Bolton, speaking in Jerusalem before a three-way conference between US, Russia and Israel on the future role of Iran in Syria, insisted the US was not losing its nerve.

Bolton said no one had awarded Iran” a hunting licence in the Middle East “. He echoed Trump’s warnings that the US military was ” rebuilt, new and ready to go”, and said ” biting” new sanctions would be imposed on Monday, as announced by the president.

” Iran’s continued pursuing of nuclear weapons, its threats to outstripped the limits set in the failed Iran nuclear deal in the coming days … are not signs of a nation seeking peace ,” Bolton told reporters, speaking alongside the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

He exhorted Iran not to” mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness”, saying military action against Iran remained very much an option despite Trump’s rethink about a military strike last week.

Back in Washington however, Trump issued one of his frequent reminders that Bolton does not have the final say in US national security matters, but is just one voice among several vying views.

” John Bolton is absolutely a hawk. If it was up to him he’d take on the whole world at one time, okay? But that doesn’t matter because I want both sides ,” Trump told the NBC News programme Meet the Press on Sunday. He pointed to the disastrous US-led intrusion of Iraq in 2003 – a war Bolton aggressively advocated – as a reason for caution in the Middle East.

However, Trump warned that any more hostile acts by Iran like the downing of a US drone, could describe a more forceful military response that the one planned, then aborted on Thursday.

” So what happened is I said,” I’m not going to do it. I’ll save it. If they do something else, it’ll be double ,” the president told NBC, adding that he would continue to ramp up sanctions.

But as he has done at almost every occasion he has discussed Iran, he offered direct talks with” no preconditions’ focused on Iran’s nuclear programme.

He said he told Shinzo Abe, before the Japanese prime minister visited Tehran on 12 June:” Send the following message: you can’t have nuclear weapons. And other than that, we can sit down and make a deal. But you cannot have nuclear weapons .”

On further questioning he added the demand that Tehran should not have a ballistic missile programme, and suggested he wanted a tougher inspection regime in Iran than current arrangements.

Iran has declared it does not want to acquire nuclear weapons and has agreed not to do so with its signature of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Up to now, it has stuck to the limits on its nuclear programme agreed in a 2015 multilateral deal, that Trump withdrew the US from last May, and has since tried to destroy.

Faced with a US-imposed oil embargo and a web of other sanctions, Iran has advised in recent months that it will cease to abide by some elements of the 2015 agreement. It is allowing stocks of low-enriched uranium to build up, and President Hassan Rouhani has warned that if Europe does not do more to shield Iran from US sanctions by a July 8 deadline, it will take the much more significant step of increasing the level of enrichment of uranium, bringing it closer to weapons grade.

On Sunday, the head of Tehran’s strategic council on foreign relations indicated Iran could take other measures to raise the stakes.

” If Europeans don’t take measures within the 60 -day deadline( announced by Iran in May ), we will take new steps ,” the semi-official news agency ISNA quoted Kamal Kharazi as saying.

In his statements, Trump claimed Iran was already violating the 2015 bargain by limiting inspections, but that is a view contradicted by the International Atomic Energy Agency whose job it is to to be undertaken by the inspections.

When he was told that European countries also believe Iran has been honouring the bargain, Trump replied:” Well, I don’t care about the Europeans. The Europeans are going out and making a lot of money .”

The threat of US sanctions has forced European firms to withdraw the vast majority of the investments and trade with Iran.

Kharazi’s comments came after he satisfied the British Foreign Office minister Andrew Murrison, who is in Tehran in a last-ditch attempt to persuade Iran to not withdraw from its commitments to the deal as it has threatened to do in two phases.

In the first stage, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said the country would by 27 June produce more low-enriched uranium -used to fuel power plants- than allowed by the deal. In the second stage, the agency suggested it may start enriching uranium to higher levels of purity a month later, bringing Tehran closer to what would be necessary to build a nuclear weapon.

It is Murrison’s first visit to Tehran as a Middle East minister, during which he is also expected to raise the plight of the Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is on hunger strike in a Tehran jail. She is serving a five-year sentence for espionage, a charge she denies.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, is on a sympathy hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy in London. A creek of well-wishers have been to visit him, including the Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson.

Bolton is to hold unprecedented talks this week with his Russian and Israeli counterparts Nikolai Patrushev and Meir Ben-Shabbat focused on the Iranian influence in Syria, particularly through the Revolutionary Guards Quds force.

The three sides will investigate the once-unlikely possibility of a deal in which Russia expects the US to recognise the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and lift sanctions. In exchange, Russia would move to either reduce the Iranian presence or drive Iran from Syria.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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