Iran's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it would not agree to any changes to the nuclear deal, as President Donald Trump has demanded, and it vowed a "serious response" to new U.S. sanctions that it said crossed a red line.
The countries that negotiated the multilateral 2015 agreement with the United States were thrown into confusion, anger and disapproval over Trump's ultimatum Friday to withdraw from the deal within months if his conditions are not met.
Trump is insisting on changes to the nuclear deal and U.S. law that would be difficult if not impossible to finesse. He wants Iran to allow the immediate inspection of all sites as requested by U.N. inspectors, and he demands no lapse of the "sunset" provisions imposing curbs on Iran's nuclear program. He also wants Congress to modify U.S. law to link missile tests and nuclear weapons programs, as well as impose trigger points that would automatically snap sanctions back into place.
Russia called Trump's remarks "extremely negative." China said the deal now faces "complicating factors." And the European Union said it would "assess" the implications.
But the strongest reaction came from Tehran, which agreed under the deal to curb its nuclear program and allow intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities in exchange for relief from punishing economic sanctions. Trump reluctantly extended waivers on the sanctions Friday but said it was the last time he would do so without the changes.
A Foreign Ministry statement reported by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said Iran "will not accept any change in the deal, neither now or in the future."
It also said Iran will "not take any action beyond its commitments." It specifically mentioned its refusal to agree to linking its nuclear commitments, which even the Trump administration acknowledges Iran is technically adhering to, with other issues like ballistic-missile tests. Trump proposed to tie continued sanctions relief to Iran's ongoing missile tests, which do not currently violate the narrow nuclear accord.
The statement came a day after Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the nuclear deal is "not renegotiable," and demanded the United States live up to its own commitments under the agreement -- "just like Iran."
The Foreign Ministry also expressed its anger over the sanctions against 14 individuals and entities, in particular one against one of the most senior and politically connected officials in the country, judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani, for his involvement in punishing protesters who participated in anti-government rallies earlier this month.
A series of demonstrations over the economy, which also turned against Iran's Islamic establishment, broke out in nearly 80 cities nationwide the first week of the year, spreading very quickly, with several turning violent. At least 21 people are believed to have died during the protests, and nearly 4,000 people were arrested.
Two of those arrested died in prison in the aftermath of the protests, in what officials said were suicides. Protesters say the two men were killed.
The ministry said targeting Larijani was both illegal and a "hostile action" that had "crossed all red lines of conduct in the international community." It promised to retaliate but did not specify how.
The Treasury Department's sanctions hit 14 Iranian officials and companies and businessmen from Iran, China and Malaysia, freezing any assets they have in the U.S. and banning Americans from doing business with them.
The countries that negotiated with Iran alongside the United States seemed to be caught off balance by Trump's demands for changes.
China was cast in the reluctant middle and said it would play a "constructive role." Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi talked by phone with Zarif. He told him the deal had not been "derailed," but now must confront "some new complicating factors," the state news agency Xinhua reported Saturday.
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called Trump's remarks "extremely negative," according to the RIA state news agency.
"Our worst fears are being confirmed," he said.
The Europeans face the biggest potential dilemma.
Senior administration officials said the United States will discuss with them the modifications Trump demands but will not speak directly with Iran. In effect, he is asking them to act as mediators to accomplish changes that Iran is refusing to make.
Britain, France, Germany and the European Union all helped negotiate the deal, and the agreement is as much with them as it is with the United States and Iran.
But while Europeans also are concerned about Iran's behavior in non-nuclear issues, they have called the nuclear agreement successful and essential to their security. They also have said they don't think it realistically can be modified and have urged the United States to stick to its commitments and work separately on issues like human-rights abuses, corruption, ballistic-missile testing and Iran's support for militant groups in other countries.
Trump said he would work with European allies to remove so-called sunset clauses that allow Iran to gradually resume advanced nuclear activities in the next decade.
The next sanctions waivers come up for renewal in May, but Trump may not wait that long.
"If at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach," he said in a statement Friday, "I will withdraw from the deal immediately. No one should doubt my word."
Trump's ultimatum comes at a time when Iran's economy is struggling, and the nuclear deal has not delivered on the promises made by Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, for economic improvement.
"Naturally, officials are nervous over what the impact would be if Trump withdraws from the deal," said Nader Karimi Joni, a reformist journalist. "They fear the local currency could devaluate even further and prices could rise, if that is to happen."
One hard-liner, Hamidreza Taraghi, said he was not afraid that Trump's ultimatum would lead to a collapse of the agreement.
"He is a man who often changes his opinions," said Taraghi, an analyst and politician. "Now he wants to send the ball in the Europeans' court, so that if he fails to do anything against Iran, he will be able to say it is Europe's shortcoming."
Meanwhile, the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency reported that the ban on a popular messaging app has been lifted, weeks after the fatal protests waned.
The Saturday report said Telegram, which has some 40 million users in Iran, is accessible once again through both Wi-Fi and mobile networks.
The Associated Press spoke on Saturday with residents from several cities across the country, including Shiraz, Isfahan, Bandar Abbas, Rasht and Oroumieh, who all confirmed that they had access to the app.
Iran shut down Telegram and the picture-sharing app Instagram during the protests in early January, saying rioters were using them to spread unrest. Soon afterward, authorities restored access to Instagram but Telegram remained banned.
Information for this article was contributed by Carol Morello of The Washington Post; by staff members of The Associated Press; and by Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times.
A Section on 01/14/2018
Print Headline: Trump threat angers Iran, dismays allies