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Trump speech sparks war of words between US, Iran

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran deal from the Diplomatic Reception room of the White House on Friday.- AFP

TEHRAN/WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s refusal to certify the Iran nuclear deal has sparked a new war of words between the Islamic Republic and America, fueling growing mistrust and a sense of nationalism among Iranians. The speech has also served to unite Iranians across the political spectrum – from Trump’s declining to call the Arabian Gulf, the waterway through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes, as the Persian Gulf, to undercutting those trying to change Iran’s clerically overseen government from within.


That is also likely to strengthen the hand of hardliners within Iran, who long have insisted that the United States remains the same “Great Satan” denounced in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “Under the deal, it was supposed to be that we get concessions, not that we give more concessions,” the hardline Kayhan newspaper raged. Iranian officials and media outlets yesterday uniformly condemned Trump’s comments that angrily accused Iran of violating the spirit of the 2015 accord and demanded Congress toughen the law governing US participation. Trump said he was not ready to pull out of the deal but warned he would do so if it were not improved.


Trump defended his decision to “decertify” Iran’s compliance in a speech Friday that evoked US grievances dating back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He railed against the “Iranian dictatorship, its sponsorship of terrorism, and its continuing aggression in the Middle East and all around the world”. And he warned he could rip up the 2015 agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program “at any time,” saying it had failed to address Iranian subversion in its region and its illegal missile program.


Reaction to the US move came fast and furious, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declaring the United States was “more than ever against the Iranian people”. Former US secretary of state John Kerry, who negotiated the nuclear deal, accused Trump of “creating an international crisis” and called on the US Congress to stand in the president’s way. “It endangers America’s national security interests and those of our closest allies,” Kerry said.


In a cautious but unmistakable rebuke, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said the deal remained in “our shared national security interest”. “We encourage the US administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the US and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine” the deal.


French President Emmanuel Macron later said he was considering visiting Iran after speaking by phone with his Iranian counterpart. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, also denounced the move, saying it makes proliferation more likely.


In a televised speech shortly after Trump made his announcement, Rouhani said his country would remain in the deal, but criticized Trump’s words, referring to them as “cursing and futile accusations”. Rouhani also said Iran would continue to build and test ballistic missiles, something allowed under the nuclear deal though Americans believe it violates the accord’s spirit. “We have always been determined and today we are more determined,” Rouhani said. “We will double our efforts from now on.”


The Iranian president also offered a list of moments that showed the United States could not be trusted by the average Iranian, dating back to the 1953 CIA-backed coup that cemented US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s power. Like many others in Iran, Rouhani focused on the fact that Trump used the term “Arabian Gulf” to refer to the Gulf. Some traded online video clips of past American presidents calling it the Persian Gulf, while one semi-official news agency published a photo gallery with the title “Persian Gulf forever”. Posts with the hashtag PersianGulf and the Iranian flag circulated on social media.


The name of the body of water has become an emotive issue for Iranians who embrace their country’s long history as the Persian Empire, especially as US Gulf Arab allies and the American military now call it the “Arabian Gulf”. Rouhani even suggested during his speech that Trump needed to “study geography”.


“Everyone knew Trump’s friendship was for sale to the highest bidder. We now know that his geography is too,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter. Zarif went on, with sarcasm, to mention Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, all hereditarily ruled Gulf nations, saying: “No wonder supporters of Trump’s inane Iran speech are those bastions of democracy in the Persian Gulf.”


Iran’s Education Minister Mohammad Bathai also suggested in a tweet that American teachers allocate more time toward teaching “history and geography” – another dig at Trump. Reformist activist Mostafa Tajzadeh, who spent seven years in prison following the turmoil of the 2009 disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also urged for a united stance against Trump. “One nation, one message: No to #Trump. We’re all in this together,” Tajzadeh tweeted.


Recent surveys have shown an increasing majority of Iranians are skeptical that the US will live up to its obligations in the nuclear deal. Meanwhile, most have yet to see the benefits of the deal itself as Iran’s economy still struggles to overcome rampant inflation, few jobs and bad loans to its banks. “Iran has in no way violated the nuclear deal, and as far as we know it has always remained committed to its promises, but it has always been (the Americans) who have broken their promises and have had other options on the table,” Tehran resident Hamed Ghassemi said.


The US has also levied new sanctions against Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, whose forces fight the Islamic State group in Iraq, support embattled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, have tense encounters with US warships in the Gulf and run the country’s ballistic missile program.


However, the US has balked at adding the Guard’s name to a formal State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations. That could have proven problematic, especially with the Guard’s vast economic holdings across Iran. “We have considered that there are particular risks and complexities to designating an entire army, so to speak, of a country,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.


Gen Masoud Jazayeri, a Guard commander and spokesman for Iran’s joint armed forces staff, said late on Friday that the country’s military will continue boosting its power and influence. “We tell the corrupt and evil government of the US that we will continue promoting defensive power of the country, more determined and with more motive than before,” Jazayeri was quoted as saying by the Guard’s news website. “We do not spare a while for defending suppressed people in any point of the world.”


Trump stopped short of scrapping the deal outright, however, leaving Congress and US allies some room for maneuver. The Republican-controlled Congress now has 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran – a step that if taken would almost certainly doom the accord.


The US president said he supports efforts in Congress to work on new measures to address the broader threats posed by Iran without immediately torpedoing the nuclear deal. “However, in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Trump said, in a televised address from the Diplomatic Room of the White House. – Agencies


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