Trump threatens sanctions after Iraqi parliament votes to end US troop presence
Tehran will not abide by any of its commitments to the 2015 nuclear accord it signed with world powers, pushing the deal closer to total collapse as the fallout from the US killing of an Iranian commander intensified. Iran’s decision to no longer limit the number of centrifuges used for enrichment raised the spectre of the country developing a nuclear weapon.
Sunday’s announcement came after Donald Trump threatened to attack 52 targets, including cultural sites in Iran, if Tehran retaliated for the killing of Qassem Soleimani. The US president added that he would impose sanctions on Iraq if Baghdad followed through with a parliamentary vote to expel US troops from Iraq in retaliation for the American air strikes on its soil that also killed an Iraqi militia leader.
“If they do
ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them
sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever,” Mr Trump said on Sunday.
“It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
Mr Trump added that American troops would not leave unless Iraq repaid the costs of an air base worth billions of dollars. Tehran’s announcement came hours after hundreds of thousands of Iranians gathered in Mashhad, Iran’s holiest city, to mourn Soleimani. Iran’s nuclear announcement fell short of a total withdrawal from the accord.
It said it
would continue its co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency,
the nuclear watchdog monitoring the agreement. Mohammad Javad Zarif,
Iran’s foreign minister, also said on Sunday that Tehran could reverse steps
towards developing a nuclear weapon if the US ended punitive sanctions that
have crippled its economy.
Ellie Geranmayeh, from the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Iran’s announcement “could have been far worse, given [the] circumstances”. The Islamic regime has been steadily increasing its atomic activity since Mr Trump withdrew the US from the accord in 2018 and imposed tighter sanctions on Tehran.
It has increased its stockpiles of enriched uranium and stepped up nuclear research and development. John Bolton, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, greeted the news with gusto. “Another good day,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Iran rips the mask off the idea it ever fully complied with the nuclear deal, or that it made a strategic decision to forswear nuclear weapons.” He added that the US should now focus its efforts on “preventing the ayatollahs from getting such a capability”.
Tehran’s decision to stop abiding by any of the deal’s commitments will increase fear of a regional arms race and dash any lingering hopes among European powers that the accord could be revived. “This may initiate a nuclear crisis,” said Suzanne Maloney, a former state department adviser on Iran who is now at Brookings. “They can’t march to a bomb tomorrow, but this will dramatically change the dynamic and they can reduce the timeline.”
The Iranian announcement will make it harder for European signatories to support the accord. Under the deal, Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear activity in return for the economic benefits of some sanctions being lifted. Since Mr Trump adopted the “maximum pressure” strategy against the Islamic republic, Iran’s oil exports have fallen from about 2.8m barrels a day in May 2019 to fewer than 500,000 bpd.
Sunday’s Iraqi parliamentary vote to expel American troops the US had suspended
its operations against Isis in Iraq and Syria — a consequence of the attack on
Soleimani. The resolution, while not binding, underscores the fury in Iraq
triggered by the US strikes.
Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, revealed that Iraq had been acting as a mediator to defuse tensions between Tehran and Washington, with Mr Trump asking him to convey messages to Iran. Mr Abdul Mahdi said that Soleimani had been in Baghdad as part of those diplomatic efforts, saying the commander had “a message to me from the Iranian side, in response to the Saudi message that we sent to the Iranians”.
Saudi Arabia is Iran’s main regional rival. But there have been signs that Riyadh has sought to ease tensions with Tehran in the wake of a missile and drone attack that struck the kingdom’s oil infrastructure in September, temporarily knocking out half of its crude output.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas on Sunday called for a meeting with his European counterparts to discuss the developments. “Our overwhelming interest is to ensure that Iraq’s stability and unity does not fall victim to the current escalation,” he said.