Throughout the U.S. presidential election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly articulated disgust for the nuclear deal reached last year between Iran and world powers and promised to scrap it if he took office. But though Trump won the election about two weeks ago, the head of Iran’s nuclear program, Ali Akbar Salehi, doesn’t appear too concerned about the president-elect’s threat.
Alongside President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Salehi was one of the main Iranian officials to take part in negotiations with counterparts from the United States and the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. The agreement put limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief and the unfreezing of Iranian funds locked in foreign bank accounts.
Iranian officials have warned the United States that any steps to renege on the deal would potentially kill it – sounding the drums of war in the Middle East and sparking an international diplomatic crisis, with allies in Europe likely to be aggrieved by Washington’s rejection of what took years of multilateral negotiation and coordination.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran acts upon its undertakings under the nuclear deal and we expect the other side to act upon its undertakings as well,” Salehi said Tuesday, according to a report in the semiofficial Fars News Agency. “I imagine when the U.S. president practically takes the country’s leadership, he will take actions on the basis of the realities.”
Salehi added: “It is an international issue and we think that we will not face so many problems.”
His public calm belies divisions within Iranian politics over the deal and the wisdom of negotiating anything with the United States, a longtime geopolitical foe. Some hard-liners close to the inner circle of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also have indicated their desire to tear up the agreement. Khamenei, for his part, said earlier this year that if Trump scraps the deal, “we will set fire to it.”
Meanwhile, policy experts and officials in Washington, including those who staunchly opposed the Iran deal during its inception, also are cautioning against scrapping it – a move that would profoundly antagonize U.S. allies. Rather, they’re pushing for a tightening of conditions and a re-imposition of sanctions so that Tehran will feel compelled to renegotiate some of the terms of the deal.
“We gave up . . . all of our leverage on the front end when we gave away the moneys that were stashed in various countries around the world, and so now the leverage is with them,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told MSNBC last week. “I think the beginning point is for us to cause them to strictly adhere [to the deal]. And I think that what we have to remember is, we have to keep the Europeans and others with us in this process.”
Salehi had also played it cool before Trump was elected.
“You can [use] many words, slogans, but then, at the end of the day, you are constrained by the realities,” he said in September, referring to the rhetoric of the U.S. election campaign.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ishaan Tharoor