Zarif Says Iran Won't Seek Nuclear Arms as Trump Knocks Deal

  • Foreign minister says vow on nuclear weapons ‘never expires’
  • White House must certify Iran’s role in deal every 90 days

Iran’s foreign minister said his nation’s vow not to seek nuclear weapons “never expires,” even as the Trump administration accused the Islamic Republic of violating the “spirit” of a 2015 accord easing sanctions.

“Iran is committed to not producing nuclear weapons,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “Nuclear weapons do not augment anybody’s security.”

Zarif’s comments came as the Trump administration, facing a recurring deadline, said Iran was complying with the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. During his campaign, President Donald Trump called it the “worst deal ever” and said he would tear it up. The White House gets a chance to follow through on that promise every 90 days, when it’s required to certify to Congress whether Iran is meeting its terms of the deal.

For the second time since Trump took office, the administration determined that Iran was in compliance, according to three officials who briefed reporters Monday night on the condition of anonymity. But they said the U.S. would still seek to punish the country for malevolent behavior outside of the nuclear pact, including its support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and its continuing development of ballistic missiles.

In April, the first time the Trump administration had to make a determination on the accord, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the agreement only delayed Iran’s ambitions to gain weapons of mass destruction. He also said the accord didn’t take into account Iran’s role in sponsoring terrorism and destabilizing other countries.

For a QuickTake on Iran’s effort to woo oil companies, click here

“This deal represents the same failed approach of the past,” Tillerson said at the time. “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration.”

U.S. allies in Europe remain supportive of the pact, and many of the sanctions it removed would require their participation to go back into effect, a move seen as unlikely.

While the agreement allowed Iran to enrich and store some uranium for energy production, it had to reduce uranium stockpiles by 96 percent, idle many enrichment centrifuges and pour concrete into its heavy-water nuclear reactor. The Obama administration insisted the provisions would slow the time it would take Iran to produce nuclear weapons.

International Atomic Energy Agency reports verifying Iran’s compliance with the agreement show the country was holding up its part of the deal, Zarif said.

“That’s very clear in black and white in the report of the IAEA, which is hardly a sympathizer of Iran,” Zarif said. Instead, Tehran has argued that the U.S. hasn’t lived up to its end of the bargain by pressing European allies not to do business with Iran.

Iran could withdraw from the deal as a last resort if faced with a “major violation” by the U.S., Zarif said in an interview to the National Interest international affairs magazine published Monday. He did not elaborate on what Iran would consider a significant breach.

Permanent Ban

Opponents of the nuclear agreement have called for renegotiating the accord with the goal of making permanent its 15-year moratorium on uranium enrichment close to the level needed to make a bomb.

Regardless of whether it sticks with the JPCOA in the months and years ahead, the U.S. has the option of imposing additional sanctions separate from the accord. In June the Senate voted for new penalties on Iran, including designating its Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization and imposing sanctions on the country’s ballistic-missile program and other activities.

If carried out, the move against the Revolutionary Guards would come with risks, Iran’s military warned.

“Counting the Revolutionary Guards the same as terrorist groups and applying similar sanctions to the Revolutionary Guards is a big risk for America and its bases and forces deployed in the region,” Major General Mohammad Baqeri, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff said at a gathering of military commanders, the Tasnim newspaper reported.

The Senate bill, S. 722, which was later merged with a Russia sanctions bill, has so far stalled in the House over concerns from the energy industry that a provision could block U.S. companies from lucrative foreign oil deals.

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams, Jennifer Epstein, and Toluse Olorunnipa

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.