Iran’s response to President Trump’s decertification of the nuclear deal, teased all week and finally made official on Friday, includes a mixture of belligerent rhetoric, ominous threats, and uncertainty about whether the deal can survive.
Belligerent rhetoric poured in for days as decertification became a certainty. Among the latest examples was Brig. General Esmail Ghaani, deputy commander of the infamous Quds Force, declaring that Iran is ready to “bury” President Trump.
“We are not a war-mongering country. But any military action against Iran will be regretted. … Trump’s threats against Iran will damage America,” Ghaani said to Iran’s Tansim News Agency, as reported by the UK Independent on Friday.
“We have buried many … like Trump and know how to fight against America,” the general added. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was sanctioned as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury Department on Friday, although the State Department did not formally label it a terrorist organization, the harshest measure that could have been taken.
Iran Front Page, a private media outlet in Iran, claims to have an exclusive statement from “an informed source” at the Iranian Foreign Ministry in response to President Trump’s remarks that claims Iran only wants to defeat “ISIS and other terrorist groups,” accuses the U.S. of supporting those groups, blasts the United States for “supporting the Zionist regime and other authoritarian and repressive governments in the region,” and insists Iran’s missile research is purely defensive in nature.
“This capability has indeed played an effective role in the path of [securing] regional peace and stability so far. Without such capability, it was not clear where the region would be led to by the immature thoughts and ambitions of certain pampered regional leaders,” the statement says of Iran’s missiles, in what is presumably a shot at Saudi Arabia and the other oil-rich Sunni Muslim Gulf states.
The passage of the alleged Foreign Ministry statement that is bound to make diehard defenders of President Obama’s nuclear deal squirm is the part where it asserts the “entire world has come to know that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s policies were right,” and it is the United States that has become “more isolated than ever in the international community.”
“The international community has known the Islamic Republic of Iran as a rational and wise player in the global arena which is striving for peace, and does not pay heed to the policies of players who make themselves more isolated every day by withdrawing from a treaty or international body,” the statement reads, validating a major point made by JCPOA critics that the nuclear deal confers entirely too much legitimacy on the ugly regime in Tehran.
The problem is not that Iran says things like this, the problem is that fealty to the JCPOA, and the substantial value of the business deals it made possible, will oblige Western nations that should know better to take Iran seriously. Then again, Treasury’s action against the IRGC might destroy many of those deals, since the Revolutionary Guards control so much of the Iranian economy.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also responded to the stern criticism of Iran issued by President Trump, saying that the speech was “full of cursing and baseless accusations against the Iranian nation.”
Despite Iran’s confident statements that the JCPOA would survive American withdrawal because all other signatories would remain committed to its terms, there is some confusion on that point. Riccardo Alcaro of the Istituto Affari Internazionali told Tasnim on Friday that he had “qualified” confidence the deal would survive, in part because continued European support would persuade Congress not to impose new sanctions after Trump decertifies. Also, he suggested the U.S. government would be hesitant to complicate nonproliferation negotiations with other parties, notably North Korea, by scuttling the Iran deal.
Alcaro speculated Congress and the Trump administration might hit Iran with sanctions unrelated to the nuclear deal, such as the State and Treasury department designating the IRGC a terrorist organization, as Treasury did indeed do on Friday afternoon.
On the other hand, Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani warned during a visit to Russia on Friday that if the U.S. withdraws, “nothing will remain from the deal.”
Larjani repeated the Foreign Ministry’s assertion that the United States has violated the JCPOA, receiving some support from his Russian opposite number Vyacheslav Volodin, who blasted “the use of sanctions as a tool to advance personal standards.” Russia, of course, is under sanctions for activities ranging from the annexation of Crimea to interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.