President Donald Trump warned Iran of “very severe” consequences should the country restart nuclear activities that were halted as part of the 2015 accord he abandoned on Tuesday.
“I would advise Iran not to start their nuclear program,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Wednesday. “I would advise them very strongly. If they do, there will be very severe consequence.”
Trump announced Tuesday that the U.S. would exit the accord aimed at curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and reinstate financial sanctions on the country. The move was criticized by key allies, including France, Germany and the U.K., who are signatories to the accord and lobbied Trump in recent weeks to remain in it.
The European Union hopes to preserve the deal without the U.S. Germany, France and the U.K. all said they’d stick to their commitments. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he wants to see them deliver.
“I don’t trust these three countries either,” Khamenei said on his website. “If you want to have a deal, we need practical guarantees otherwise they will do the same as the U.S. If they can’t give definitive guarantees, it won’t be possible to continue.”
It’s not clear whether the EU and other signatories China and Russia will be able to ensure Iran receives the deal’s promised economic benefits. The prospect of free access to international oil markets and accelerating flows of trade and investment were among the carrots that persuaded the Islamic Republic’s leaders to sign up to an agreement capping its nuclear program.
Even before Trump’s Tuesday announcement, Western businesses had been reluctant to take the plunge into a country still subject to multiple curbs imposed by Washington. The U.S. exit from the deal throws billions of dollars of planned European investments into disarray. President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will push to make the deal work but may increase uranium enrichment if the European efforts don’t yield tangible results.
“The international reach of U.S. sanctions makes the U.S. the economic policeman of the planet, and that is not acceptable,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday in an interview on France Culture radio. He branded Trump’s decision a “major mistake” and said he’ll lobby Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week to grant exemptions for European firms. French President Emmanuel Macron is due to speak to Rouhani later in the day.
Trump’s promise to introduce a host of new restrictions will test an Iranian economy already under strain. Iran’s rial has hit record lows against the dollar in recent months, forcing Rouhani’s government to impose currency controls. Protests that spread through several Iranian cities in December and January were linked to stagnation and rising costs of living, as the nuclear deal failed to deliver economic liftoff.
The EU has policy tools available that it’s used in the past to protect companies from U.S. sanctions — but they’re often outweighed, in the eyes of executives, by the risk of losing access to the world’s biggest economy.
Russia said late Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” by the U.S. decision to pull out of the deal, and ready to work with other parties to keep it alive. China urged all parties involved to continue efforts to implement the agreement.
Trump on Wednesday expressed pessimism that tensions between the U.S. and Iran would ease anytime soon.
“We’ll see how we do with Iran, probably we won’t do very will with them but that’s OK, too,” Trump said. “They’ve got to understand life because I don’t think they do understand life. If you look at what’s happening in the Middle East with Syria, with Yemen, with all the places they’re involved — it’s bedlam and death.”