Iran’s foreign minister has accused Europe of appeasing Donald Trump as the French foreign minister travelled to Tehran in an effort to salvage the 2015 nuclear agreement.
In an interview with an Iranian newspaper published before his meeting with Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday, Mohammad Javad Zarif chastised European countries for bowing to pressure from Washington and said concerns about Iran’s missile programme or its role in the Middle East were hypocritical and dangerous.
“In order to keep the US in the Iran nuclear deal, European countries are resorting to extremism … [we] will not remain indifferent,” Zarif told the reformist Etemaad daily in a front-page interview printed under the headline “Europe will regret”.
Trump refused last year to certify Iran’s compliance to the nuclear accord but he has so far stopped short of cancelling US participation in the deal, which promised to loosen sanctions in exchange for curbs to Tehran’s nuclear programme.
In January he reluctantly waived a raft of sanctions against Iran as required by the US Congress every 120 days, but warned this was “a last chance” and asked “European countries to join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal”.
Trump has vowed not to waive the sanctions again unless Europeans managed to make radical changes to the nuclear deal, including curbs on Iran’s missile development. The missile programme is not covered by the deal, and Tehran says it will not bow to pressure to halt it.
“At present, two groups have violated the nuclear deal: the United States and Europe. The Americans because of Washington’s policy and the Europeans because of the US policy,” Zarif said.
Although all nuclear-related sanctions were lifted in January 2016, Iran is not benefiting, mainly because top European banks, fearful of Washington, remain wary of doing business with the country.
The banking issue is preventing Iran from capitalising on huge foreign investment interest shown in the past few years. The Iranian embassy in London has faced obstacles in opening a bank account in the UK and in a recent example of frustration despite the removal of sanctions, Munich airport companies refused to refuel Zarif’s aeroplane while he was attending a prominent security conference last month.
On Monday the International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Yukiya Amano, said Tehran was fulfilling its obligations and warned “it would be a great loss for nuclear verification and for multilateralism” if the framework of the nuclear deal were to collapse.
Zarif’s interview appeared a day after Le Drian gave an interview to a French weekly in which he said Tehran risked “exposing itself to new sanctions” if it remained reluctant to discuss its missile programme.
A group of hardliners gathered at Tehran airport to protest against his visit, and newspaper front pages in Iran criticised him. “French foreign minister insults people of Iran before visit to Tehran,” said a headline of the ultra-conservative Keyhan daily. The Javan newspaper carried the headline “Trump’s Parisian lackey in Tehran”.
A poll conducted by IranPoll in collaboration with the University of Maryland, published last month, showed 92% of Iranian respondents believed the US was trying to preventing Iran from normalising its trade and economic relations, with 58% saying Iran should retaliate by restarting the aspects of its nuclear programme it agreed to suspend under the deal.
Why is Trump hostile to Iran?
The genesis of Trump’s particular antipathy to Iran is hard to pin down. Before entering office he had been sceptical of Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia. But during the 2016 election campaign all his closest foreign policy advisors, such as Michael Flynn, shared a worldview that portrays Iran as an uniquely malign actor in the Middle East and beyond. After the election, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were successful in capturing the ear of Trump and his son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner.