Iran president: Uranium enrichment may resume if deal fails

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — President Hassan Rouhani warned Tuesday that Iran could restart enriching uranium “without any limitations” within weeks, after President Donald Trump pulled America out of the nuclear deal, though he said world powers still in the accord could potentially save the pact.

Rouhani’s speech, broadcast live on state television within minutes of Trump’s announcement, marked a doubling-down for the cleric who has seen his signature foreign policy achievement threatened by Trump for years. Trump’s announcement from the White House marked potentially the worst-case scenario for the relative moderate, as the country’s economy continues to reel despite the deal and may further worsen.

Stressing that the accord remained a “multilateral” one, and not just with the U.S., Rouhani said he’d be sending Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the countries still in the deal — China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Iran hopes the European Union will pass laws to protect European firms from any potential U.S. sanctions. EU officials have suggested they’ll do what they can to salvage the agreement.

Still, Rouhani made a point of stressing that Iran, at any time, could resume its nuclear program.

“So if necessary, we can begin our industrial enrichment without any limitations,” the Iranian leader said. “Until implementation of this decision, we will wait for some weeks and will talk with our friends and allies and other signatories of the nuclear deal, who signed it and who will remain loyal to it. Everything depends on our national interests.”

During the live broadcast, Rouhani also made a point of reeling off examples of American meddling in Iran, including the 1953 coup that deposed its elected prime minister and the U.S. Navy shooting down of an Iranian commercial airliner in 1988.

Iranian state television did not broadcast Trump’s announcement live, but carried his remarks in a crawl at the bottom of the screen and later recounted some of them.

Earlier Tuesday, Rouhani had stressed that Iran wants to keep “working with the world and (pursue) constructive engagement with the world.” That appeared to be a nod to Europe, which has struck a series of business deals with Iran since signing the landmark 2015 nuclear accord.

Trump and the United States also came under fire from Iran’s first vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, a popular reformist politician who has been suggested as a possible presidential contender in Iran’s 2021 election.

“Today, the biggest power in the world is yelling that it does not accept” the deal, Jahangiri said, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

Only “naive individuals would accept to enter talks with such a country,” he added. “We are ready and have a plan for managing ... under any circumstance.”

Jahangiri’s comments suggest a potential political turn against any rapprochement with the West in response to the Trump pullout, especially as he is a reformist — a politician who advocates for change to Iran’s theocratic government. It also comes as Trump is set to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un later this year, where negotiations will undoubtedly include talks about that country’s atomic weapons program.

Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal imposed restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of most of the U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran.

However, the deal came with time limits and did not address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its regional policies in Syria and elsewhere. Trump has repeatedly pointed to those omissions in referring to the accord as the “worst deal ever.” However, proponents have said those time limits were meant to encourage more discussion with Iran in the future that could eventually address other concerns.

Many in Tehran and elsewhere in the country are worried about what Trump’s decision could mean for Iran.

Already, the Iranian rial is trading on the black market at 66,000 to the dollar, despite a government-set rate of 42,000 rials. And many say they have not seen any benefits from the nuclear deal.

Iran’s poor economy and unemployment sparked nationwide protests in December and January that saw at least 25 people killed and, reportedly, nearly 5,000 arrested.

Still some hard-line Iranian politicians welcomed the U.S. pullout.

“The U.S. pullout from the deal is the best achievement for Iran since it shows the real face of the U.S.,” said hard-line lawmaker Ahmad Alirzabeigi. “We should not rely on the U.S., nor on Europe.”

“We will face hard sanctions following the U.S. pullout, but they will not remain in place since the global community needs Iran,” added another hard-line lawmaker, Jabbar Kouchakinejad.


Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.


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