Iran Warns Trump
Iran has warned of a strong response if Donald Trump goes ahead with plans to use the twilight of his presidency to mount a strike on Iran or its allies in the region.
It was reported that Trump last week looked at options for striking Iran’s main nuclear site, but was dissuaded from taking action after his advisers warned it might lead to a larger conflict in the Middle East. The report was sourced to four US officials by the New York Times.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei warned against such an attack. “Any action against the Iranian nation would certainly face a crushing response,” he said.
Trump is frustrated that his policy of maximum sanctions has not forced Iran back to the negotiating table and has not ruled out other military action against Iranian surrogate forces in the Middle East ahead of his first term ending in January.
He has yet to concede defeat to Joe Biden, but appears to be looking for foreign policy legacy, including the further withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to the New York Times report, US officials told Trump last week that inspectors from a UN nuclear watchdog had reported on Wednesday that Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material increased significantly, and that Iran had barred their access to another site where there is evidence of prior nuclear activity.
At the Natanz nuclear facility, the IAEA said, the uranium stockpile is 12 times larger than permitted by the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew in 2018. Iran is continuing to give the IAEA inspectors access to its sites, and the build-up in the stockpile has been relatively slow. Natanz has already this year been hit by arson and a possible cyber-attack, attributed to Israel.
Iranians are also monitoring sudden personnel changes inside the Pentagon, including Trump’s removal of the defence secretary, Mark Esper, and the recruitment of a group of hardliners. Little official explanation has been given for the reshuffle, leaving Iranian officials on guard for a military confrontation.
Aides present at the meeting included the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, the acting defence secretary, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
Officials said Trump had been dissuaded from striking the nuclear facility, but the possibility remains of targeting Iranian assets and allies outside of Iran, such as Iranian-aligned militias operating in Iraq. A day before the White House meeting, the report says, a small group of national security advisers met to discuss the issue.
Pompeo is on a tour of the Middle East, including stops in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, three countries fiercely opposed to Iran. Pompeo also met with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Monday.
The three main European powers – the UK, France and Germany – would be fiercely opposed to any military strike and favour the reopening of US talks with Iran. The EU has already said it will support a EU-Iran business conference if sanctions are lifted by the US.
Debate is raging within Iran whether it would be wise, and on what terms, to reopen negotiations on a revamped nuclear deal with an incoming administration led by Joe Biden.
The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has said his administration will make use of every opportunity to lift the US sanctions. “Whenever we see that there’s a situation for the lifting of sanctions, we will make use of that,” he said at a cabinet meeting. “Our goal is that cruel sanctions would be lifted.”
Hardliners in Iran are demanding economic self reliance and warning Biden is no different from Trump. They argue it would be folly for Iran to make the same mistake twice by signing a second deal from which the US then withdrew with impunity.
Some Iranian diplomats are insisting no talks should occur until not only the US provides compensation for American sanctions since 2018, but also existing US sanctions are lifted. Biden has said he wishes to return to the deal, but not been precise on the preconditions, or the political capital he might be willing to expend to overcome Israel’s opposition and gain the support of Congress for such a move. He is likely to be surrounded by aides who are veterans of the pre-2015 negotiations.
Phillip Gordan, the former White House special assistant on the Middle East under Barack Obama said the Trump administration “is doing everything possible to make it impossible for Biden to implement his policy.”
He added Trump was also sending a signal to the Iranians that there was no point cooperating with Biden since he would not be able to implement the policy due to resistance in Congress by Trump’s own supporters.
The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, spoke to the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, on Monday night, but it is not known if they discussed the possibility of a Trump strike.
The news comes at an already tense time in Iran with coronavirus deaths reaching record levels, and security forces anxious about protests marking the anniversary of the November 2019 street protests that led to hundreds of Iranians being shot for opposing a sudden fuel price rise.
As many as 20 Iranian cities are due to be closed for a fortnight from Saturday, with officials warning that if the public does not comply the current daily death toll of 400 will reach four digits.
There is also tension about the anniversary on 3 January of the US killing of Qassem Suleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps leader killed in a US drone strike in Iraq. Senior IRGC commanders this week repeated claims that Iran had not yet fully exacted revenge for his assassination.
Iran has sought to reach out to its Arab neighbours, with Zarif warning them that Trump will be leaving in 70 days, but Iran’s regime will remain “forever.” The foreign minister urged them to realise that “betting on outsiders to provide security is never a good gamble”.
Courtesy – theguardian.com