World News

Iran Rallies Against U.S. and Warns Europe Over Endangered Nuclear Deal

Posted May 11, 2018 7:10 p.m. EDT
Updated May 11, 2018 7:14 p.m. EDT

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s hard-line authorities organized nationwide rallies on Friday to denounce the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement, burning American flags and warning that Europe might further sabotage the accord.

The reaction reflected the view held by many hard-liners that the U.S. withdrawal had vindicated their suspicions that Westerners were treacherous.

The anger on display in Tehran and other cities also reinforced the possibility that Iran would now abandon the agreement as well, restarting the nuclear-fuel enrichment it had halted.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a well-known hard-liner who leads the Friday Prayer services in Tehran, admonished fellow citizens against making any deals with foreigners “since they cannot be trusted.”

In his sermon, broadcast on state television, Khatami also criticized Iranian politicians who have looked toward Europe to preserve the nuclear agreement, arguing that the Europeans, too, have broken promises.

The outpouring of anger, in demonstrations organized around the country, was the most strident so far to President Donald Trump’s announcement Tuesday he was abandoning the nuclear agreement reached with Iran and other major powers three years ago.

The agreement relaxed or ended many economic restrictions on Iran in return for its verifiable pledges to never make nuclear weapons, including a freeze on nuclear fuel production for at least 15 years. Trump called the agreement too weak and described it as a shameful giveaway to Iran by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Trump’s announcement restored onerous U.S. sanctions on Iran, including penalties for foreign companies that do business with that country. His announcement was widely criticized around the world but drew praise from Iran’s regional enemies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

While European governments have said they want to preserve the accord, the participation of the United States was widely considered to be crucial to its survival.

Even before Trump announced the pullout, non-American businesses were wary about making any financial commitments in Iran, fearful of such an outcome.

Many Iranians, who had hoped the nuclear accord would bring a flood of investment and business to the country of 80 million, have been deeply disappointed.

Reminding Iranians of this point, Khatami said Europeans had been expected to invest in Iran after the nuclear agreement took effect but most never did. He exhorted listeners to shout “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”

In response to what Israel has described as its aerial assaults on Iranian bases in Syria, Khatami also said Iran would “rob the Israeli regime of sleep” and threatened to “raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.”

The U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear accord is considered a serious political blow to Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, who had promised the agreement would end the country’s prolonged isolation and economic travails.

The withdrawal also reinforced the anti-American hostility of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who reluctantly had gone along with Rouhani and his nuclear negotiators.

The mood at Friday Prayer services was defiant in Tehran, where men burned American flags. One worshipper, Hassan Khedri, 24, with spiky hair and a sleeveless shirt, said: “I am an Iranian Kurd and I am ready to fight with America and Israel. I only wait for the command of the chief commander, our Supreme Leader Khamenei.”

Another worshipper, Hasan Biagi, 65, said the threat to the nuclear agreement caused by the American pullout showed the true faces of Iran’s enemies.

“We cannot even rely on Europe,” he said. “This is a big lesson for us. Never trust the West.”

The mistrust was an underlying theme in a statement issued by the government on Thursday denouncing what it called Trump’s “new extremist administration” for exiting the agreement.

“Mr. Trump’s absurd insults against the great Iranian nation indicate the extent of his ignorance and folly,” the statement said.

Warning the agreement’s European participants — Britain, France and Germany — the statement said they “must take the necessary action to safeguard the accord and to implement their commitments — which they proved incapable of fully performing even while the U.S. was nominally a party to the deal.”

Khamenei also expressed skepticism about whether the Europeans would keep their word. In a speech Wednesday to teachers in Tehran, he hinted that the nuclear agreement would fail.

“I do not trust these three countries either,” he said. “Do not trust them. If you want to sign a contract, ask for actual guarantees. I swear to God, they will do the same thing that the Americans did.”

Resentment and resistance to Trump’s decision also appeared to be deepening in Europe, where many officials view it as an arrogant act that could force European companies to acquiesce to American policy toward Iran.

“Do we want the United States to be the world’s economic gendarme?” Bruno Le Maire, France’s minister of economy and finances, said on the Europe 1 radio station. “Or do we Europeans want to say: ‘We have economic interests, we want to continue trading with Iran within the framework of a strategic agreement. We believe that this is the right approach, so we will continue.'”

Even so, there were new signs Friday that some big non-American companies were heeding the White House’s warning to wind down commercial commitments in Tehran. The Treasury Department, which oversees U.S. sanctions policy, has given businesses 90 to 180 days before it starts enforcing penalties.

Two leading shipping companies, Maersk Line and MSC, said they were reviewing their Iran operations, and Indonesia’s state energy company, Pertamina, said it might delay a contract to operate Iran’s Mansouri oil field, Reuters reported.

The U.S. restoration of sanctions also annulled the export licenses of leading aerospace companies to sell commercial aircraft to Iran, upending multibillion-dollar orders won by Boeing and Airbus. Boeing has played down the fallout, saying it had not committed to any production for Iran.

Airbus, which has already delivered a few aircraft to Iran, has not specified what it will do. Although Airbus is a European company, it needs an American export license because Airbus planes contain some American components.

“We’re carefully analyzing the president’s announcement and will be evaluating next steps consistent with our internal policies and in full compliance with U.S. sanctions and export control regulations,” Airbus said in an emailed statement. “That analysis could take a bit of time.”