In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press published last week, President Donald Trump suggested that Iran had broken the “spirit” of a nuclear proliferation deal agreed under President Barack Obama. Asked if he believed the United States would stay in the deal, Trump replied: “It’s possible that we won’t.”
The comment seemed to offer another hint that Trump may plan to upend the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) approved in 2015. As a candidate, Trump repeatedly criticized the “horrible” nuclear deal, pledging to “tear up” the accord if elected.
But Iran’s top diplomat doesn’t seem to be worried. According to reports in the Iranian press, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters at the sidelines of a cabinet session on Wednesday that they shouldn’t take Trump’s comments seriously.
“Do not pay much attention to Trump’s words,” Zarif said, according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency.
Zarif may have a point. While Trump has talked tough about Iran since taking office in January, he has taken little action against the JCPOA. In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to Congress earlier this month that clearly stated Iran was complying with the terms of the nuclear deal. Trump has been accused of walking back or reversing a number of his foreign policy positions from the campaign, including policies on Syria, China and NATO.
However, Tillerson’s letter also suggested that the Trump administration is looking for other ways to target Iran, and Bloomberg reported that the president himself intervened to toughen the language of the letter. Trump also prompted Tillerson’s later comments at the State Department that sharply criticized the deal, the news agency reported.
Iran has been targeted in other ways, too. It was one of seven countries whose citizens were banned from entering the United States for 90 days under an executive order signed by Trump, though that order has since been suspended. After an apparent Iranian missile test, Trump’s then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, declared that the United States was putting the country “on notice.”
In a series of English-language tweets last week, Zarif suggested that it might be the United States that ultimately failed to comply with the JCPOA.
“#IranDeal obliges US to support successful implementation, incl in public statements, and to refrain from adversely affecting normal trade.”
“We’ll see if US prepared to live up to letter of #JCPOA let alone spirit. So far, it has defied both. Should I use my highlighter again?”
Notably, Iranians will vote in a presidential election on May 19, a vote that some are calling a referendum on the JCPOA. Zarif likely knows more than most that aggressive foreign policy rhetoric often plays well with a domestic audience, even if a more pragmatic approach can be taken diplomatically.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Adam Taylor